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An Interview With Colouring Book Illustrator Millie Marotta

in Interviews by Cass Art
An Interview With Colouring Book Illustrator Millie Marotta

With the growing popularity of the adult colouring book craze, and the art world's timeless love of all things colourful,  this season we are celebrating with Colour Your Summer, led by the charming illustrations of Millie Marotta.

Adult Colouring has been classed as a kind of therapy, proven to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, asking a person to focus on the act of colouring instead of their daily worries and tasks. Illustrator Millie Marotta has released some beautiful colouring books that explore the wonderful world of exotic animals, overgrown jungles and wild plant life, so you can escape the pressures of everyday life and get lost in the tropical worlds of her books.

Millie's first colouring book for adults, Animal Kingdom, has been translated into 31 languages and recently topped the Amazon Top Ten list. With the release of her new book, Tropical Wonderland, we caught up with Millie to explore her designs and discover why she thinks colouring is enjoying such hype in our digital age.

Tropical Wonderland by Millie Marotta 

Hi Millie! Congratulations on your new Tropical Wonderland, set to be as beautiful as Animal Kingdom. What inspires your illustrations?

I've been pretty fascinated by the natural world since as far back as I can remember. That attraction to wildlife and our natural surroundings is a very inherent thing for me and so I never really have to think too much about where to find inspiration for my illustrations.

I grew up on a smallholding in rural West Wales and I would say that’s probably where my obsession with all things flora and fauna first began. All those years spent in the countryside, very much immersed in nature, firmly cemented a fascination with the natural world. With an entire planet's worth of plants, animals and habitats out there to explore and discover, it’s such a rich and vibrant subject with endless potential for visually interesting themes and ideas; I can’t imagine that it will ever cease to fascinate me.

Millie Marotta 

How did you get into illustrating adult colouring books?

Initially it was my Publisher who approached me with the idea having already seen some of my commercial work. I felt quite confident that the style of my work would lend itself very well to colouring book pages for adults and the more I thought about it the more sense it made…

Colouring is something we all enjoyed as children so why should we stop simply because we have grown a little older? At the time I wasn’t really thinking much beyond the idea of creating a beautiful book that people would enjoy colouring as much as I had enjoyed putting it together. I never thought for a moment that the books would become as popular as they have and it’s so wonderful now to see so many people enjoying the books as a creative outlet in their everyday lives.

Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta 

So why do you think colouring has become such a trend for adults?

Colouring is a wonderfully simple, creative outlet. As we grow up we tend to have less time or inclination to allow for this type of activity. That's not to say that we don't enjoy it, it's just that other things become more prominent. I think in today's busy and fast paced world colouring in can be a great way to de-stress in the form of an activity which is familiar to us all and is also very accessible.

Colouring in really encourages us to focus the mind and concentrate on that one activity, offering a much needed distraction from all those things in the grown-up world which may be causing us worry or stress, a little bit of escapism if you like. It has actually been proven that these types of creative activities where we are focusing the mind and working with our hands do in fact reduce levels of anxiety and help relieve stress.

I also think there are a lot of people out there who for work or study are spending their entire day or working week in front of a screen of some kind, be it a laptop, a phone, a tablet, a monitor. They need something to draw them away from that, to offer them a step away from the digital world and back to something a little more hands-on.

Did you study illustration? If so, where, and would you recommend an illustration degree?

I studied Wildlife Illustration at Carmarthenshire College (now West Wales School of Arts) and did a further additional year at Swansea Institute (now Swansea Metropolitan University). For me the Wildlife Illustration course in Carmarthen was ideal as it was so specialist, but sadly it’s no longer running.

I think there are some excellent Illustrations degrees out there offering amazing facilities and resources, not to mention incredibly experienced and passionate staff. I do think though for anyone who may be looking to study Illustration that choosing the right course for them will be a very personal decision. It's important to spend as much time as possible researching your course, finding out about course content, structure and the opportunities that different institutions might be able to offer outside of the general teaching aspect, work experience for example, and what links they have with the commercial industry.

Millie Marotta 

Which art materials couldn’t you live without? Do you have a favourite pen/pencil set to produce your illustrations with? 

I definitely couldn’t be without my trusty Rotring Rapidograph fine liners. Almost all of my detailed black and white line drawings to date have been created using these pens and while I do occasionally dabble with others the Rotring pens have definitely become my firm favourite. (Having said that the Staedtler Mars range come in a very close second). More often than not I like to draw on marker paper as it has a lovely smooth surface, which the steel nibs of the pens I use glide over really nicely.

What is your favourite colour, animal and holiday destination?

Oh gosh, I’m going to struggle to narrow any of these down to just one favourite.

I honestly don’t have a single favourite colour! Mustard and teal are pretty strong candidates but if I really had to choose I would probably just go for simple black and white. They can’t be beaten as a combination. I’m afraid choosing a single favourite animal is impossible. If I tried, I would be here for a very long time just changing my mind hundreds of time over!

As for a favourite holiday destination, I went to Sri Lanka few years ago and that certainly made a huge impression. But there are just so many amazing places that I’ve yet to travel to, which I hope I will get to visit one day. Madagascar and the Galapagos islands are certainly two on my list. Basically anywhere that allows for a bit of adventure and has great wildlife is always going to appeal to me. A bit of sun always helps too!

 Butterfly

Your illustrations have also been put to commercial use, with clients like Marks & Spencer and ASK Italian. Do you enjoy working to a brief as much as creating your own wonderlands?

Working to a client’s commercial brief is a very different process to creating the colouring books. A commercial brief will normally follow quite a rigid timeline with dates for roughs, feedback and development, all usually planned out before the project begins.

Working on the colouring books allows a little more freedom in the sense that once the initial roughs and general layout have been agreed, I am free to work away on the illustrations without much interruption. Commercial briefs often come with pretty short deadlines whereas the books are a much more lengthy process, however they both actually demand very tight schedules so they do have that in common. I love the freedom that working on the books gives me and to have such a long time to work on just one thing has been a real treat for me. I was so used to having to turn things around very quickly on commercial projects and I must say that I have found it quite refreshing to be able to concentrate on just one project for a few months.

Jellyfish by Millie Marotta 

Which other illustrators/artists/designers would you say have most inspired you over the years?

One of my all time favourites has to be Ernst Haeckel. I love that scientific wall-chart style of illustration and the level of detail in his images is just incredible. 

Finally, what other projects are on the horizon for you – colouring books, illustrations or otherwise?

I’m currently working on adult colouring book number three, which is keeping me very busy indeed and I hope to continue with further colouring books after that one. The books are a format that I really enjoy working with and it’s been great to see how people are responding to and interacting with them. As for other projects, there are a few discussions going on at the moment for potential future ventures. Illustration work aside I’d really like to take a little trip away somewhere for a bit of an adventure - perhaps a research trip to somewhere exciting for the next book!

Feeling inspired?

You can find Millie Marotta's books Animal Kingdom and Tropical Wonderland online and in-store.

Shop all of our Colour Your Summer products for up to 60% off. 

Image Credits: Gareth Davies Photography and Caspar Beck Photography.

Millia Marotta's books are published by Batsford.