Bestselling colouring book artist Millie Marotta

She’s one of the leading artists in the current colouring-in book craze, having created two books which spent weeks in Amazon’s top ten. Emma Barlow interviews Millie about her life and work…

No one is more surprised by the sudden rise of colouring-in than Millie herself; the author of bestselling books Animal Kingdom and Tropical Wonderland. We spoke to her about her work and why we’ve fallen in love with colouring in 2015… 

How long have you been an illustrator?
I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for just over seven years. Before that I was a full time art teacher in a local secondary school. I really enjoyed the teaching – I loved it – but I had this itch that needed to be scratched so I quit my job and it’s just been incredible. Now I get to earn a living doing something that I would be working on in my spare time anyway. It doesn’t even feel like work!

Nature is a big inspiration for you, isn’t it?
Aside from art and illustration, nature is my biggest passion and it always has been since I can remember. I had a very country bumpkin upbringing – I lived in a rural area and we had lots of pets, so it’s in my blood really. When I went on to study illustration I spent the first two years specialising in wildlife illustration so it’s just really great that I can blend both of my passions into this one thing.

Have you always loved colouring in?
Yes. Even as a child I felt that I got something out of doing a creative activity, and that’s what’s really interesting now with the rise in popularity of colouring books, especially for adults. The general population is also beginning to realise that doing that kind of creative activity can be really beneficial.

How did the colouring book come about?
I was actually approached by my now-publisher quite out of the blue to see if I would be interested in discussing the idea. They came across my work because somebody in the office bought one of my screen prints as a leaving present for one of their colleagues. I felt my work would lend itself to a colouring book and especially an adult one because it’s detailed, so it just grew from there really.

So many of us spend our days just glued to a screen and people are really hankering after something that can take them away from that

How long does an illustration take you?
It’s a long process! This most recent book, Tropical Wonderland, took about six months. My work is so detailed so it does take time – I actually have to stop myself sometimes and think ‘hang on, people need to be able to colour this in!’ I think I get as lost in that drawing world as people who get lost in their colouring world.

Have you been surprised by the response to your colouring books?
Yes, It’s been quite overwhelming. I hoped that the first book would do well and that people would appreciate the work and enjoy it, but to be honest I was just hoping people would enjoy colouring the images as much as I enjoyed putting them together. I wasn’t really thinking much beyond that so to see how well it’s doing now is quite amazing – it’s gone crazy.

Do you think there’s a reason why colouring-in has become so popular now?
I think that us being so busy all the time is very pertinent to why colouring in is popular now. So many of us spend our days just glued to a screen and people are really hankering after something that can take them away from that and give them a sort of creative outlet. It takes you back to something a little more hands on.

And what is it about colouring in that is so relaxing?
I think it’s because it makes you focus on the here and now – you don’t have to think too hard about it but it’s a very absorbing activity and can help you switch off from the things milling around in your mind, or things you need to remember to do later. Plus, it’s accessible to everyone and easy to pick up and put down. Just have 15 minutes to spare? Even for that short space of time, colouring in can be really beneficial.