If you'd told me three months ago that I would imagine, illustrate, and publish a whole coloring book by the end of the summer, I wouldn't have believed you. Not because I haven't always wanted to make a coloring book (I have) but because I never thought it would happen. It was just one of those things I occasionally fantasized about, like traveling to the Galapagos Islands to commune with sad, old turtles, or reproducing that magical, berry-filled crème brûlée I had in the Welsh countryside years ago. Sure, I could book a flight to Ecuador. And yes, I could bust out that butane torch we got as a wedding gift.1 But will I really?
Excuses were plentiful. First, I figured nobody would want a coloring book. Dover's kind of cornered the market on children's coloring books, you know? (I had not yet realized that adults--adults who were not me, that is--loved to color.) Second, who has time to write and illustrate a book? I run my own business. I work two part-time jobs. I have an extremely demanding cat.
I've had goofy dinosaur images floating around in my head for years, but I'd always tucked them away into the "well, this is useless" idea pile and refocused on grown-up things.2 But it turns out, coloring is a grown-up thing now! This was a very lucky break for me and my imaginary dinosaurs.
2. Makin' tracks
On August 2, 2015, I started drawing. I drew every night for three weeks. I drew a stegosaurus having an accidental balloon adventure, an all-star ankylosaurus, a plesiosaur napping at the beach. I researched velociraptors to ensure they'd look right while dancing ballet. I asked myself ridiculous questions: How many kittens will it take to make a tyrannosaurus rex seem cuddly? What's the dumbest looking pterosaur I can find?3 I drew a triceratops fast asleep among succulents and immediately wanted one for my own garden, then was sad because it didn't exist.
I got some wonderful advice from Kate, the illustrator behind The Dapper Jackalope. She made a coloring book of her own earlier this year, You're Weird, and her accomplishment gave me the courage to finally start my own book. I showed friends and family my pages as I worked on them, and the enthusiasm was overpowering. My life became a cycle of work, sketch, ink, sketch, ice cream, sleep, work again. I never left the house. My family wondered if I was still alive. My cat cried and sulked when I explained that my sketchbook was not for chewing on. My wife stayed up with me while I drew late into the night.
Once it became clear that I was really, truly making a book, I had to set myself some goals. And because I'm very
insane determined, I decided that I had to finish the whole book (24 pages, 20 full-page illustrations, color matching, and layout) by the end of the month.
I finished on August 29, with two days to spare.
By September 4, I had 100 copies of my coloring book sitting in a box in the middle of my living room. (For those of you who are good at math and have also counted the number of dinosaurs in my book, that's roughly 8,000 dinosaurs in my living room.) It was one of the happiest days of my life.
The next day was happy, too, because I got to send preorders out to all those amazing people who had enough faith in me to buy my book, sight (mostly) unseen. Now I get all these awesome photos in my Instagram feed, Facebook, and email-- photos of people coloring in my book and making it their own. (And some downright adorable videos of ecstatic children with their new coloring books.) Together, we made goofy dinosaurs even more goofy. I'm hoping that there will continue to be people who love coloring, love dinosaurs, and love to laugh.
In short, I made the book I wanted to color. I'm not good with mandalas and endless patterns. I like the ritual of coloring and intricate lines, but I need more than just soothing repetition. I need stories. So my coloring book tells a story on every page.
I've been drawing and writing my whole life. I'm a professional graphic designer. There was so much I didn't know about making a book! What did I learn?
- Recycled paper costs more than regular paper!4
- Remember to erase pencil lines after the first round of inking. Not the third. I had several unfortunate smudging incidents when trying to erase pencil underneath thick pen lines.
- Note to self: yes, you do need to use a ruler for straight lines. You're not superwoman.
- Coins of varying sizes and nationalities make great stencils when you need to draw a ball pit full of velociraptors.
- Assembling a book for print requires counting forward and backward at the same time.5
- "Saddle stitched" is just fancy printer-speak for "stapled along the spine". Why can't they just say "stapled"? This is one of life's great mysteries.
- Ice cream does run out.
- If you drop your pen on the couch and it leaves a mark, you can always blame the cat's dirty paws. Nobody will be the wiser.
- No matter how fastidious you are in your packaging, you can't account for USPS. You can send your mother three copies of your book inside the world's most rigid cardboard mailer, stamp it with "do not bend" on every side, and her friendly neighborhood postal worker will still fold the whole thing in half6 and shove it into her tiny mail cube.
- If you're binding a book by hand, it's okay to use baker's twine. It's not okay to use a needle to punch the holes. You will make holes in your fingers instead of the book.
One of my biggest dreams (as a child, as a librarian, as a designer, and definitely for the rest of my life) is to be a children's book author.7 This is my first step. I am so, so grateful to everyone who has helped me with this book. My friends, virtual and otherwise, whose enthusiasm has kept me going. Everyone who's ordered my coloring book so far! (When someone buys my book, it's like a tiny validation of my life goals. I get jump-up-and-down-and-frighten-the-cat excited every single time.) The wonderful community of makers and artists I've met over the past few months, who constantly inspire me with their beautiful work and ceaseless optimism. And my oh-so-patient wife, who has always encouraged me where needed, discouraged my worst ideas8, and absolutely hates being asked to brainstorm puns but does it anyway because she loves me.
I know it's corny, but you're making my dreams come true, one awkward dinosaur at a time.
Out of all the items in my kitchen, this is the one that I'm 98% sure will cause my eventual death. ↩
You know, like endorsing strangers on LinkedIn and eating peanuts instead of dinner. ↩
Answer: all of them. ↩
If you're an aspiring author who cares about the environment, I'm going to save you a ton of time and tell you right now that Neenah is one of the only brands that carries 100% post-consumer recycled paper. I looked everywhere. Their paper is also manufactured in facilities run on renewable energy, so bonus! ↩
My printing company did this step for me, but I made a few miniature copies of the book by hand, and it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out which pages should go on which spreads to end up in the right order once folded. You know that thing where the first and last numbers in a set are supposed to be the most memorable? I can't remember any numbers in the set. ↩
SUPERHUMAN strength! I want to meet my mom's mailman and find out which radioactive animal bit him in his youth. ↩
Preferably one who makes enough to live on. ↩
Read: most offensive. ↩