As the kiddies go back to school today, I am thinking about pencils and paper and stationery packs. And it took me back to the first time I read in the Financial Review about Johanna Basford, the Scottish artist and commercial illustrator who specialised in black and white patterns for wine labels and perfume bottles. It was 25 April 2015. I still have the paper clipping. I was fascinated because I learned that it was Basford who created Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Colouring Book for adults which was released in 2013. Basford did not invent the adult colouring book phenomena (the French are mad for it… Art Therapie: 100 Coloriages Anti Stress published 2012 has sold nearly 4 million copies) but she certainly gave it one heck of a nudge, helping to create a whole new industry category and putting coloured pencils back on gift lists.
I rushed out and bought Basford’s beautiful book and her follow up title Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book and lovingly poured over each page. But I didn’t ever start colouring in. I didn’t want to ruin the perfection of the intricate masterpieces.
My obsession with colouring books grew as did the piles and piles of colouring books appearing in the shops with an ever expanding array of titles. There’s the Mindfulness Colouring Book – so much Mindfulness – and its first cousin Colour Me Calm. What about Doodle Invasion? The Colouring Book for Lawyers, Colour Me Drunk: A Drinking and Drawing Activity Book, Dinosaurs With Jobs: A Colouring Book Celebrating Our Old School Co workers and of course Thrill Murray which touts 23 scenes from Bill Murray movies, from Groundhog Day to the Wes Anderson cannon. There are rude and lewd titles too but we shan’t go there. Supermarket Coles even has generic brand colouring books – jut like generic plain but you colour in. Who is buying all these books I want to know? Who are all these colouring in people? There seems to be 50 colouring books in stock for every Australian.
This means there are plenty of colouring books available now at reduced prices. I am buying them up. If the world turns bad, I will have something to do in the bunker. I still won’t be colouring them in. I tried that over Christmas. It took me 12 hours to complete a fairly mundane pattern with hideous results. Didn’t look too bad at night but in the light of day it was untidy and dull – altogether too much for a relatively precise person.
No, I am using colouring in books as a source of beautiful black and white patterned gift wrapping paper. I am not the first to deploy this technique but I might be the first to be totally consumed by it. The black and white patterns are perfect for smaller gifts, are gender neutral and speak to many different occasions. I have always loved the simplicity and boldness of black and white prints and illustrations which look stunning paired with a coloured embellishment.
I have found the repeating patterns are safest to wrap with. Illustrations require a lot more thought (though striking if you nail it) regarding gift size and paper placement. If you are not careful you’ll cut the head off a central creature or fold the best part of an illustration under a flap here no one will ever see it.
Colouring books represent great value. I won’t be colouring mine in but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from doing so provided they were a) neat b)had a bucket-load of time on their hands c)had a great set of pencils d) had a really good metal sharpener. I’ll be sticking to gorgeous black and white and if the mountain of stock in store is anything to go by, I’ll have plenty of options.