It’s a Magical, Curious World: an Interview with Adult Coloring Book Artist Millie Marotta
What do seahorses, lions, and the duck-billed platypus have in common? They are all lucky enough to be drawn up in full detail by adult coloring book artist Millie Marotta.
From zebras to flamingos, coral reefs to tropical vines—the artwork of Millie Marotta is a dazzling portrayal of the natural world in all of its intricately patterned beauty. We recently connected with the UK-based artist to talk about her art, inspiration, and a few exciting new projects!
When and how did you learn to draw? When did you know you were going to be a professional artist?
I don’t honestly know what age I was when I began to draw. I can’t recall a specific time when I became aware of being interested in it, I think it was just more of a case of drawing being something I always gravitated towards from a very early age. I grew up in the countryside and had a pretty ‘free-range’ childhood, surrounded by animals, which obviously had quite a lasting impact on me and what I liked to draw.
Even though I went to art school to study Wildlife Illustration, it wasn’t until quite a few years after graduating that I finally took the plunge into full-time freelance illustration as a profession.
If you could make a coloring book about anything in the world, what would it be?
Luckily for me I already get to make coloring books about my favorite subject, wildlife.
Your designs mainly feature animals and plants. What inspires you about the natural world? Do you have a favorite animal or plant to draw? What’s the craziest creature you have drawn?
I’ve been completely fascinated by the natural world since as far back as I can remember and this is really what’s at the core of my illustration work.
That attraction to all things nature is a very inherent thing so I never really have to think too much about where to find inspiration for my work, it’s just always there. I grew up on a smallholding in rural west Wales so I was very much immersed in nature throughout my childhood and I’d say that’s probably where my ‘obsession’ began. With an entire planet’s worth of plants, animals and habitats out there to explore and discover I honestly cannot see a day where I would begin to tire of it as a subject for my work.
My next book, Curious Creatures, is full of all sorts of weird and wonderful animals from around the world, which has been a joy to create and certainly gave me plenty of opportunity to draw all kinds of crazy animals, such as the lovable but totally bizarre duck-billed platypus.
Can you give us some insight into your creative process? How do your illustrations come to life?
I draw each illustration at the same size as they appear in the book and will begin with a rough hand drawn sketch of the complete illustration. I say rough, but these usually end up being quite detailed pencil sketches by the time I’ve finished as I like to have the image as planned out as possible before I begin the final piece. Some images will come together very quickly while others may take a little more thought and planning, although for most I do have a pretty good idea in my head of how I want it to look like before I begin. I use a range of reference material including photos, books, nature documentaries and various sources online.
Once I’m happy with my rough it’s time to draw up the final artwork. For this I use a very fine steel-nibbed pen, using my pencil sketch as a guide, this time adding even more detail as I work. Once the inked drawing is complete it’s simply a case of scanning the illustration, ready for sending to my publisher. The only other process that I sometimes go though is to turn an illustration into a repeat pattern, which I will do digitally.
Your designs are some of the most intricate and complex drawings available in adult coloring books today. How long does it typically take you to finish a drawing? (And do you use a magnifying glass or do you just have the eyesight of a peregrine falcon?)
One illustration can take anything from 1 to 3 days depending on the size of the drawing and the level of detail. I don’t use a magnifying glass but would actually love a pair of magnifying goggles!
What is your workspace like?
I work from home in a little studio, which overlooks the back garden, so my morning commute is a pretty short one. The walls of the studio are usually covered in sketches, printouts, research and reference material for whatever projects I have on the go.
It’s a relatively small space, so with Curious Creatures being my fourth book my little room is now bursting at the seams with drawings, sketches, books, proofs, research, paper samples etc. The window in my studio overlooks the back garden, which is lovely but can sometimes be a terrible distraction. Especially in the springtime when it becomes a hive of activity with all the bird life. I lose quite a bit of time completely absorbed by what’s going on out there instead of doing what I should be doing in here!
You have designed some beautiful tableware in addition to your coloring books. Can you tell us a little bit about that project? (And we all want to know—are they going to be available in the US?)
Working on the tableware range has been a whole new experience for me and I’ve loved bringing a collection of designs together to be used across various products such as mugs, plates, dipping bowls and platters amongst others.
The process has been quite different compared with creating the colouring books in the sense that I had to make the artwork applicable to all sorts of different shapes, sizes and surfaces. Whereas with the books, while the images change each time the format remains the same. The style of the artwork is very much the same as you would expect to see in the books with the little addition of a splash of color here and there.
The collection, inspired by the country garden, will be launching this autumn but for now will only be available here in the UK I’m afraid. However, I would love to bring something similar to the US audience and do plan to explore a few opportunities so watch this space!
What are you working on now—or what’s next?
I’m really looking forward to starting work on coloring book number 5, which I will begin any day now but can’t say too much about just yet, but of course it will be another nature based book. We’ve been busy working on a range of stationery products including a calendar, journals, diaries and weekly planners as well as a few other exciting products that are in the pipeline.
I’m also hoping to dedicate some time to support the wonderful work of The Born Free Foundation. I became a patron of the charity earlier this year and am very excited to be working with them and helping to raise awareness of the vital work they do protecting wildlife around the world.
So, I’ve plenty going on to keep me busy for a while!
If you weren’t drawing and/or making coloring books, what would you be doing?
I think I would probably be working with animals in some way. As a very young child I always thought I would become a vet, but quickly realized that I had neither the stomach nor the emotional strength for that!
What is the best part about being a part of this adult coloring book phenomenon?
I think the best part for me is seeing how coloring has had such a positive effect on so many people’s lives. I love hearing from people from all walks of life who have rediscovered the joy of coloring in and have made it a part of their everyday lives. It’s also amazing to be able to share my work with such a responsive audience. It’s been amazing to watch the colouring community grow and I love to see fans sharing their work over social media on a level that I really wasn’t expecting at the time of putting the first book together.
I hadn’t anticipated having so much insight into how users of the books would be coloring and working with the illustrations and am stunned everyday by examples of the most beautifully coloured pages from my books.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our community of coloring enthusiasts?
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has bought a book or who has encouraged someone else perhaps to get into colouring. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to earn a living doing something that I love and am thrilled that I get to share my work with so many talented people, without them I would not be able to do what I do.
You can learn more about Millie’s artwork and connect with her on Facebook. Her coloring books and postcards are available at stores across the US and on Amazon—you can pre-order her new book, Curious Creatures, coming out in October!