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Encore: Artist Makes It Big With Adult Coloring Books


Last spring, we asked something on social media not expecting to get much of a response. We asked if you enjoyed coloring, and we received hundreds of responses - adults saying, yes, I love coloring; I thought I was alone. This afternoon, we checked Amazon's list of best-selling books, and get this. Half of the top 20 are coloring books. Several are by an artist we spoke to last year. We're going to revisit that conversation, starting with our listener confessions. Here's 35-year-old Aleesha Zappata.


ALEESHA ZAPPATA: First thing in the morning, my 3-year-old daughter and I sit at our kitchen table. I grab my cup of coffee, and we each have a coloring book.

CORNISH: Others don't need kids as an excuse to color.

TERRY FRIDAY: I think it's very soothing...

CORNISH: Terry Friday was one of several people who told us they picked up the hobby while laid up in the hospital.

FRIDAY: ...You know, when you're stuck in a hospital room where it's very sterile and fluorescent to have these gorgeous flowers and these neat trees to color.

CORNISH: And we even heard about coloring clubs, like Jenny Fennelson's in Minneapolis.

FENNELSON: I have always liked to color, and so I threw out the idea that we should start a ladies' coloring club. A bunch of people I don't even really know responded really favorably to the idea, so we meet, like, once a month and just color at a coffee shop.

CORNISH: All of these responses - again, we received hundreds - came after we noticed the incredibly popular and sold-out work of Johanna Basford.

JOHANNA BASFORD: What I wanted to do was to make a book where every page was just beautiful, so it was, you know, almost like an art book, not a children's coloring book, where the drawings were quite simple.

CORNISH: Basford is the illustrator of the new adult coloring book "Enchanted Forest." Her first, "Secret Garden," sold nearly one-and-a-half million copies worldwide. And she described for me the intricate black and white outlines featured in her book.

BASFORD: Everything is hand-drawn, just pen and ink. Every illustration has little things hidden in it, so it might be a rogue butterfly or, you know, a cheeky little squirrel gathering nuts, that, no matter what the picture, there is just layers of depth and detail.

CORNISH: People also send you copies of what they do, right?

BASFORD: Yeah, my inbox was getting absolutely jammed with people sending photographs of all the different pages of the coloring book. And it's just amazing to see how so many people can take the same collection of images and make them so different and unique.

CORNISH: What do you think the appeal is?

BASFORD: I think there's something quite charming and nostalgic about coloring in. And chances are last time you picked up pens and pencils, you didn't have a mortgage or, like, a really horrible boss or anything. it's just a really nice way to be creative. You don't have to sit down with a blank sheet of paper or, you know, have that scary moment of thinking, what can I draw? The outlines are already there for you.

CORNISH: Can you describe your favorite picture?

BASFORD: Sure. In "Secret Garden," there is an owl. And I don't know why, but he just reminds me of my husband's grandfather. I think it's something to do with his stature or pose. But I love that little owl.

CORNISH: Well, Johanna Basford, thank you so much for speaking with us. Best of luck with this next book.

BASFORD: Thank you so much. Thank you.

CORNISH: Scottish illustrator and author Johanna Basford - we spoke to her last spring, and her coloring books remain on Amazon's list of best-selling books. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.