13 Questions with Johanna Basford

Johanna Basford is an illustrator and author of 9 incredible colouring books (we bet you own one!) that have sold an incredible 21 million copies worldwide. Her latest release Worlds of Wonder takes people on an imaginative journey through wondrous realms of floating islands, treetop castles and underwater cities.

First off, how are you and how is your 2021 going?

Grateful and optimistic! 2020 challenged us all, but I remember reading a quote that said ‘adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it’ and that really spurred me on! I became a single mum to my 2 little girls last year and I feel a huge reasonability to show them that however tough things can feel, we have to work hard, be kind and keep smiling!

You have such a unique career; can you sum up to our audience what you create?

I’m an illustrator. I create black and white, hand-drawn artwork usually for Adult Colouring Books, but also sometimes for freelance commercial clients.

Can you tell us more about your books and how you started them?

It all began with Secret Garden. I had been working as a freelance illustrator creating black and white artwork for lots of big brands like Absolut, Starbucks, Nike and H&M. I was approached by a publisher to make a children’s colouring book, but I pitched the idea for an adult colouring book that would feature beautiful, elegant and intricate artwork like the stuff I was doing for champagne bottles and perfume packaging! The idea was a book of art that adults could colour without feeling silly! That was back in 2011. Fast forward 10 years and I’ve made 9 books, we’ve sold 21 million of them worldwide, adult colouring has become a key part of many people’s self-care and creativity practises and we have a flourishing online community of the most wonderful people!

What is the end-to-end process like for creating one of your colouring books?

I get an idea for the theme of a book, then spend a few weeks writing notes to myself, making little sketches on post-its, the back of receipts, the margins of invoices…!

Then I sit in my studio and just start drawing everything I have imagined! I draw in pencil first, then lay a fresh sheet of paper over the top and redraw in ink. Finally, I scan the artwork into Photoshop and tidy it up a little – I rotate things, put things into repeat, remove chocolatey fingerprints (happens a lot) and erase notes I’ve scribbled to myself (mainly shopping lists!). The computer is an editing and polishing tool for me, rather than something I create on.

Why do you think adult colouring has gotten so much bigger more recently?

I think we all just NEED an outlet for our creativity and a distraction from those screens! Colouring is a wonderful way to pause and reset. It’s analogue and no screens means no doom scrolling, no alerts to interrupt your flow and no opportunity to get distracted. It’s one of the few times you give your permission to sink into deep concentration and find yourself in flow, that gorgeous feeling when the world just melts away and you are absorbed in the task at hand. It’s incredibly soothing, like a spa break for your brain!

Other than colouring, what do you like to do in your spare time to be mindful?

Walking outdoors in nature (with no ear pods! I like to hear the birdsong!)

Baking – without my children. It’s a totally different experience to the carnage that is baking WITH them. Both fun, only 1 is relaxing though.

Reading, Journaling and pottering about in my garden.

Can you tell us about your Guinness World Record and how it came about?

I want to inspire as many people to be as creative as possible. Lots of people told me that the thing stopping them from drawing, was fear of the blank sheet of paper. So, in solidarity,  I thought I’d tackle the world’s BIGGEST sheet of paper! If I could accomplish that, then everyone else could for sure take on a post-it! The finished drawing was over 501 sq m and created in 12 straight hours (I couldn’t get a babysitter so despite there being no time limit, I had to draw the entire thing in 12 hours!)

What are you currently working on?

This week my new colouring book, Worlds of Wonder is released. It was due to be launched in October, but I brought the launch forward 6 months when we saw the Pandemic was going to last longer than we’d all anticipated – I thought people might need a little blast of joy sooner rather than later! It was created almost entirely in lockdown and takes people on an imaginative journey through wondrous realms of floating islands, treetop castles and underwater cities. In a year when we couldn’t go anywhere, I wanted this book to allow people to leave their troubles behind and escape on a journey that would inspire and delight them!

Who are some of your favourite illustrators online?

I tend to be drawn to work that is unlike my own for example Jenna Rainey’s watercolours. I’m currently in love with Denise Gasser’s gorgeous potion pictures, big bold, colourful paintings inspired by jars of water and petals that her kids make in the garden!

What does your perfect weekend look like?

Sunny and warm, mainly outdoors, with my kids and some friends. Lots of picnics!

What do you always carry with you?

A staedter pigment liner – I’ve used these pens since art school and create every single illustration with them and Burt’s Bees lip balm.

What would your last ever meal be?

As long as it wasn’t cauliflower cheese, I think I’d be ok…!

What is one positive piece of advice you could give to our audience?

Practice makes PROGRESS, not perfection! Keep going, don’t aim at some imaginary goal (for perfection is a moving target and you’ll never pin it down!) instead, focus on consistently getting better. Make each piece of work, better than the last. Sometimes I achieve this, sometimes I don’t, but it’s the single underlying aim in everything I do. From parenting to baking, to drawing. Just make each endeavour better than the previous one and you are onto a winner!