Anyone who loves books and bookshops and who visits France will not be able to miss the section on “art therapie” in every librarie (bookshop). It’s the bit where you’ll find people discussing which book to buy with smiles on their faces and it’s a sure bet that many of them will plump for a piece of paper paradise by Johanna Basford, a young artist from Scotland. Her first book Secret Garden has been a runaway best seller in France and her fame is spreading globally thanks to her “…coloring book even adults will want to use.” – MarthaStewart.com
On Amazon the book had received 556 5star reviews when I last looked and that’s no surprise. Johanna Basford is an illustrator and ink evangelist who creates incredibly intricate and hand-drawn illustrations rooted in the flora and fauna that surrounds her home in rural Scotland. Her books have started an “art therapie” revolution in France and we wanted to know more about this amazing artist whom the French have fallen in love with…
At what age did you start to draw? My parents say I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler and could grasp a crayon or pencil. I’d draw on books, walls, furniture, clothes, my sister… anything was a canvas!
Can you tell us a little about what inspires you on a daily basis?
This is the question I get asked most often, yet it’s the trickiest to answer! I think most creative people will agree that you tend to not seek out inspiration in specific places, more that you come across dozens of little snap shots of ideas every day which you file away in your subconscious to be called upon at a later date. It’s this imaginary filing cabinet of images, lyrics, ideas, sounds and even sometimes tastes that mingle together to form inspiration.
I think your natural curiosity and inclination towards certain themes do lead you down certain paths, for example I love botanicals and will often flick through vintage seed catalogues, my Grandfather’s horticultural encyclopaedias or wander through a beautiful botanical garden. But likewise sometimes the best ideas come from a leaf I found stuck to the dog’s collar after his morning walk!
As for mythical beasts and magical influences – I’ve got a very overactive imagination! I put this down to my parents’ strict ‘No TV’ rule when I was growing up. We weren’t allowed to stay indoors staring at a screen and instead were encouraged to get outdoors and play. This kind of ‘free range’ childhood; building dens, inventing monsters to slay and castles to conquer all helped to cultivate a wild sense of imagination and narrative that I think play a big part in my work.
How did your work lead you to start creating colouring in books?
My editor happened to come across a drawing of some owls in a tree that I’d created as a free to download desktop wallpaper. She liked it and dropped me an email to see if I’d be interested in making a colouring book. I think this is an excellent example of how personal projects and self initiated work that you put out into the world for free, can often lead to amazing new opportunities!
Initially my publishers wanted a traditional children’s colouring book but I was keen to make a more detailed book with intricate imagery aimed at adults. I’ve always worked in black and white and people have been telling me for years that they see my monochrome illustrations and want to colour them in. At the time Colouring Books for Adults wasn’t the growing trend that it is now, so I’m delighted we went for it, took a risk and made something new!
Do you have any idea why the French have fallen so deeply for your books? Believe me when I say no one is more surprised at how well received the books have been than I! When I started out on these projects my aim was only to make books that I myself would like to own and colour. I thought if I made something I loved, then hopefully a few other people would feel the same and buy it. We’ve now sold a million copies of Secret Garden worldwide. A million! It’s crazy!
I think perhaps the opportunity to loose yourself for an hour or so in a creative, analogue activity appeals to many people. I love to draw and feel so at peace when I’m doing so. I think for some people sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil can be a little daunting, but a colouring book offers a gentle buffer. I think of the colouring books as collaboration between myself and the people that buy the books. I create the black outlines and they bring those linear drawings to life with colour.
Do you have a favourite drawing? It’s always the next one I’m about to start! I’m one of those people that always a list of exciting projects that I’m on the cusp of beginning!
Did you create the books as “art therapy” knowing that this activity can be soothing, relaxing? No not intentionally. I just made books that I wanted to own and colour myself. I can understand the charm and appeal of colouring as a way of relaxing though. I know that when I’m creating the artwork I feel completely absorbed in what I’m doing, it’s like being in a bubble. That wonderful sense of being engrossed in a task, of being ‘in flow’ is so fulfilling and how I imagine people feel when colouring the drawings.
What do YOU do to relax? I love the outdoors so pottering about in our garden, taking the dog for a walk, feeling the sun on my face and smelling the flowers in bloom are all blissful to me!
Is there anywhere in France you’d like to visit to get ideas for drawings? Lots of places! The countryside areas are always my favourite places to visit. I’ve spent some time in Paris and loved all the beautiful architecture but the countryside with its flora and fauna will always be my preferred habitat!
What do you have planned for the future? My new book ‘Enchanted Forest’ was released spring 2015 so we are busy with the launch. It’s so exciting to see images of it start to appear on social media! Back in the studio I’m getting to grips with becoming a mother (my daughter is 8 months old and doesn’t like to nap!) whilst working on my 3rd colouring book.