Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Creating a Coloring Book - Part 1: I Am A Sponge!

I’m getting started on my next coloring book, and I thought it might be fun to document the process on my blog as I go along.  

 I have a file folder on my computer with several book concepts that I'm developing.  I jot down whatever ideas come to me, make notes, do some sketches, start thinking about how the idea can be expanded into 30 or so art pages.  Some ideas I can pretty easily envision as supporting a book project – others I have to kick around for a bit before they start coming together for me.  Sometimes they end up scrapped or incorporated into other ideas. 

My first book, Sacred Beauty, was basically a collection of art pieces I had done over the previous few years that I re-worked so they could be colored.  I also did several new mandalas and patterns to fill out the book.  Looking back now, there are couple of images I think I should have spent some more time on, but it was a learning experience, and I think I'm getting better with each book.

At the time, I had just found out about the “Adult Coloring Craze” and I felt a massive sense of urgency to get something out there as soon as possible.  So often, trends such as this hit fast and hard and then fade just as quickly. I’d often found out about trends too late to actually participate in them, which is just as well since they don’t often end up being  long-term opportunities anyway.
 I feel like this trend is different though – I think it has potential to become an established and permanent category of books (as well as an awesome opportunity for artists). So far, that seems to be the case.  And I love it! 
 I truly love the whole concept of coloring books – they are like collaborations between the artist and the colorists.  There are so many ways a picture can be interpreted as far as color choices and different mediums.  I love seeing how the same image can take on a variety of “flavors” depending on each colorist’s unique style.

After putting together the first book, I was hooked.  The self-publishing process has gotten much easier since the last time I looked into it.  I won’t claim that it’s easy to do everything yourself, but most of the skills required are things I’ve learned over the years of being a professional illustrator and artist, and the things I didn’t know how to do, I could learn by doing research on the internet and exploring the various programs now available. 
I am mainly self-taught, and I started when I was a child.  I would look at a cool drawing and really want to draw like that, so I figured out how to analyze and experiment until I was able to mimic the effect I was after.  This was back before the internet, so I was mainly working from comics, animation, books and magazines about movies and art books.
I think “learning how to learn” has been a big part of my journey as a person – both in art and in general.  It’s a pretty darn useful skill!  And now that we have the internet, there is this massive resource for learning how to do things, and most of it is free!  Amazing!
 In any case…

          After publishing my last book (The Lumina Chronicles), I took some time to redesign my website, put some downloadable print packs together and do some marketing and promotion to get the word out.  Since my books haven’t been picked up by brick-n-mortar stores yet (though they are available in the biggest book distributor catalog out there), I’ve got to let folks know my books exist and are available online. 
                I’ve also learned that buying coloring books online can be risky, since it’s often the case that the buyer can’t look inside the book, and are sometimes disappointed with the contents.  I’ve tried to eliminate that risk by making video tours and watermarked images available that show what’s inside my books. 
                In any case – that’s the boring part of being an artist, but it’s essential if I want to actually sell things to people!  I think I’m doing pretty well, for a self-publisher!  My sales have basically doubled in the last 2 months, so I must be doing something right!

So… I knew I wanted to do more books, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet. To be honest, I was pretty burned out after finishing The Lumina Chronicles.  It was a pretty intense project, and I think it turned out well and I’m really proud of it, but it was a lot of work!

I decided to take some time off and go into “Sponge Mode”.

I’ve found that I tend to move through a creative/receptive cycle as an artist.  There are times when I am full of ideas and inspired to create and produce, and times when I need to take a break and re-charge my creative batteries. 
                This usually involves watching a lot of movies and documentaries, looking through books or researching stuff on the internet, and sometimes playing video games.  A lot of this is just something passive to do that doesn’t tax my brain too much, but it is also often the source of new ideas that I can tuck into my Inspiration File.  Anything and everything goes into the mix!  I am a Sponge, soaking up what's around me and letting it swirl around in my brain until something new and interesting comes out!

                This time, the video games ended up being more inspiring than time-wasting.  I discovered that there’s a whole genre of YouTube videos of people playing video games – which sounds kind of stupid and boring, but I’ve become quite a fan.  I’m not a particularly skilled player, (and my reflexes and eyesight aren’t getting any better!) but I love video games as an art form.  Watching a skilled player go through the game allows me to appreciate the artwork and design without having to spend the hours (or hundreds of dollars on different game systems) to actually play it.  

from the "Dragon's Lair" arcade game.
               When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Dragon’s Lair arcade game.  It was like an animated movie that you could play!  So cool!  But I sucked at it, and back then you had to pay with quarters to continue if you used up all of your lives.  I just wanted to watch the cartoon, especially the end scene, which you could only see of you were good enough to progress to the end of the game. 
                So instead of burning through my limited quarter supply and not getting very far because I was crap at it, I’d actually give my quarters to skilled players who had already made it halfway through the game – so I could hopefully watch them get to the end and see the whole story. 

                So – watching folks play on YouTube isn’t much different – except that I don’t have to spend quarters on it!  Win/Win!

                I also discovered that video games as an art form have really taken off.  There are some truly beautiful and unique games out there now, and the genre is gaining in popularity.
                The one that really blew my mind recently is Journey.  It’s difficult to describe, so if you’re curious, check out this video:

from the "Journey" video game.
               This game literally took my breath away – there are moments that are just epic and glorious, others that are quite frightening, or heartbreaking, or heartwarming.   The story is told completely through sound and imagery - there's no dialog at all.  You just wander through and try things and discover how it works and what's going on as you go along.  And the colors – WOW!   The artwork is so simple, yet elegant and evocative.  It truly creates a sense of atmosphere and mood and exotic mystery.
               I started seeking out other “artistic” games, and found some really cool stuff.  Another wonderful one is Ori and the Blind Forest.  The story is quite touching, and the artwork is just gorgeous - look at the colors!  Don't you just want to jump in there and explore?  Don't you want to COLOR this scene?  I do!

from "Ori and the Blind Forest" video game.

               It got me thinking about how much I love the imagery of a lot of games, which often involve designing entire worlds; scenery, costumes, characters, creatures.  I’ve done this kind of work on role-playing games before and I love it.  It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid.  I learned how to draw by copying other people’s designs, but then once I mastered the skills, I could apply them to creating my own characters and whatnot.
                I began revisiting a lot of the stuff that I loved as a kid – fantasy movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, comics and graphic novels like Elfquest, animated films and anime that created entire fantasy worlds.  I started looking at them from the point of view of pure visual imagery and coloring opportunities.

                I started thinking about doing a book that was set in its own unique world.  I had a few ideas of that nature in my file, but none of them quite felt right yet.

                I felt like doing something light and fun.  
                I pay attention to when colorists mention what they enjoy coloring (which is just about anything, truly!), and since a lot of folks color for stress relief, I thought that working with uplifting themes would be good.  Whimsical, charming, cute, but not too simplistic or sugary. Something that would appeal to both adults and kids. Something that was both familiar and exotic. Lots of fun details. 
I decided I wanted to create a fun, beautiful world that people could escape into for a bit and fill with their own colors.
                I began sketching out some little characters, playing with shapes, thinking about what my world would be like.  As I sketched and explored, the concepts began to coalesce into something that began to take on a life of its own.  The framework became clearer, and the details began to naturally bubble up.
                My Sponge was full and ready to release something new!

Continued in Part 2!

Are you a video game fan?  What games do you think have the best imagery and design?  Let me know in the comments!

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