British illustrator Johanna Basford was working as a commercial illustrator for major brands like Nike and Absolut Vodka and drawing to unwind when she had a brilliant idea: Why not create a coloring book, but for adults?
Basford, who describes herself as an “inky illustrator” who draws intricate black and white scenes, was approached by Laurence King Publishing after posting some free desktop wallpapers online four years ago.
“Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is to give your work away for free,” she told BuzzFeed News.
The publishing company wanted to commission Basford for a traditional children’s book in 2011, but she had other ideas — though she said the editors took some convincing.
“For years people have been telling me that they would like to color my monochrome creations, so I pitched them a coloring book for grown ups,” she told BuzzFeed News. “At that time coloring for adults wasn’t the global trend that it is now, so they were understandably a bit skeptical.”
After she sent them a few pages of art, though, the editors were sold. Nine months later, Basford had created Secret Garden, a stunning coloring book inspired by Scotland’s Brodick Castle Gardens, where her grandfather was the head gardener.
“The formal rose gardens of the castle, the Bavarian summer house and lily-studded ponds were wonderful places to play as a child; a great place to cultivate a wild imagination!” she said.
Basford, who lives in Aberdeenshire, said Secret Garden has now sold over a million copies online and been translated into 14 languages, “a fact that still noodles my brain.”
It’s even outsold the most popular cookbook in France.
“I love the idea of chic French ladies shunning saucepans for coloring pencils,” she added.
The charming, intricate coloring book features tons of hidden little details to find in the illustrations, like “rogue butterflies and curious squirrels,” making for an inky treasure hunt.
“I think everyone has a creative spark; they just need the opportunity to let it flourish,” she explained. “A blank sheet of paper can be daunting, but a coloring book has the outlines already there, making it easier to pick up a pencil and begin making your mark.”
She added, “When I started out on this project my plan was always just to make a book that I would love to own and color, then hope that a few other people would feel the same and buy it.”
The illustrator also just released her second book, Enchanted Forest, inspired by the woodlands around her grandparents’ house on the Isle of Arran, where Brodick Castle Gardens is located.
She said she’s working on a third now.
Basford said she likes to see the books as a collaboration between her and the reader. “I create the artwork and the owner of the book brings the color.”
Adults likely get so much joy from the books because coloring can often be a cathartic activity after a busy day full of draining adult activities, she said.
“Chances are last time you spent an hour or so coloring in you didn’t have a mortgage,” she said, “and you weren’t worried about a nagging boss or the financial crisis.”
“Coloring seems to help people think about a time when life was simpler and more carefree.”