Johanna Basford, whose fanciful, hand-drawn illustrations launched a worldwide craze, is back with flying colors.
Not far from Johanna Basford’s home on the northeast coast of Scotland lies a parabola of golden-ocher sand where the proportion of sky to land is unlike anything you’ll likely see outside of a Bertolucci film.
A wildlife Eden, this stretch of heathland serves as a motorway for birds that wheel in from the Arctic—red-throated divers, pink-footed geese and long-tailed ducks with cream and chocolate plumage.
During the summer months, strong gusts combined with the powdery sand can ruin a perfectly good sandwich.
Throughout the winter the shoreline is invariably a few degrees warmer than inland. On this biting afternoon, the sea changes shades with each shift of cloud and rain and wind. Basford sits in a pub in nearby Ellon, her hands wrapped around a cup of English breakfast tea, comparing the colors of nature with those found in a 120-pack of Crayola crayons.
“As a child, I used to think the yellow and the white were just a bit redundant,” she says in a soft burr that tends to drift upward at the end of a sentence, making statements sound like questions. “But I don’t think I had any specific favorite colors.
I do remember the day that I learned that if you heated up the crayons, you could bend them. And that was a revelation.”The 35-year-old Basford is something of a revelation herself.
She’s a pioneer—possibly the pioneer—of the modern adult coloring book, a childhood pastime retrofitted for frazzled grown-ups.
When the genre stormed the best-seller lists five years ago, Basford’s debut, Secret Garden, led the charge. It’s filled with filigreed visions of ferns and flowers and frogs rendered delicately in black and white, all drawn by hand.
“I had a hunch that there were adults out there who would love to return to the days of finger-paints and carefree playing with color,” says Basford, a freelance illustrator whose initial pitch to a publisher was met with baffled silence.
“The first print run was a tentative 13,000 copies. I was fairly certain my mum was going to have to buy a lot.”Secret Garden turned out to be a runaway sensation, selling 12 million copies worldwide, including nearly four million in China over less than three months.
Translated into 45 languages, it was also a huge hit in Brazil (1.6 million), the United States (1.7 million) and France (350,000), where it outsold the country’s most popular cookbooks.
“I love the idea of chic Parisian ladies putting down their saucepans in favor of gel pens,” Basford says. In South Korea, sales of 1.5 million suggest that nearly 3 percent of the population owns a copy.
By 2016, adult coloring books had their own dedicated sections on Amazon and in big-box stores. Demand caused worldwide pencil shortages, and Faber-Castell, the planet’s biggest wooden-pencil manufacturer, had to add shifts at its Bavarian factory to keep pace with global demand.”