A Scottish illustrator has been credited with boosting the fortunes of the global pencil industry after the surprise success of her “colouring-in” books for grown-ups.
Johanna Basford’s books of elaborately-crafted fill-in drawings have tapped into a huge demand from those seeking to switch off from I-pads, laptops and computer games.
Now, having already topped the Amazon best-seller lists, her tomes are also giving a massive boost in global sales for high-quality pencils, as colouring-in fans compete to make masterpieces of their work.
Far from being a casualty themselves of the digital age, pencil manufacturers are now struggling to cope with demand, with Faber Castell, the world’s largest wood pencil manufacturer, revealing last week that it was now having to run extra shifts at its factories.
“People like colouring-in because they are fed up with digital,” Basford, 32, told The Sunday Telegraph. “There is something nice about picking up a pencil and a pen. You are not going to get interrupted by Twitter, and there is also a childhood nostalgia element to it. The last time you did a bit of colouring in, you probably weren’t about thinking about mortgage or Brexit.”
Rather like other recent middle-class crazes like allotments, ukulele playing, and home-brewing and baking, colouring-in appeals to a nostalgia for a simpler, analogue era.
However, while it might be healthier than tucking into a home-made sponge cake inspired by the Great British Bake Off, there is still an element of a guilty pleasure to it.
For not everyone approves of university-educated adults dedicating their spare hours to a pastime that – in the view of critics anyway – ranks somewhere below puzzler books and Ludo.
Leading the chorus of disapproval is the comedian Russell Brand, who produced a recent sketch entitled Adult Colouring Books: Is This the Apocalypse?
“What has turned us into terrified divs that want to live in childish stupors?” he raged, accusing colouring-in fans of being scared of the modern world.
Indeed, according to Basford, 32, even her own publishers had doubts when she first suggested the idea to them five years ago.
At the time, the Aberdeenshire-based artist was working as a commercial illustrator, doing hand-designed drawings for companies including champagne and perfume brands.
“I used to do all my work in black and white, and some of my clients used to joke about how they would like to take them home and colour them in,” she says. “I was then asked to do a children’s colouring book, and I said ‘how about doing an adults’ one as well?’. They were a bit tentative, but eventually they went for it, and printed 13,000 copies that sold out within a few weeks.
Basford’s first three books of drawings – some of which can take three days to produce – have now sold some 16-million copies worldwide, with three million alone in China. A new one, Magical Jungle will generate excitement worthy of a best-selling novel when it comes out in April, and her work is also generating all manner of spin-off versions.
There are now colouring books for fans of Game of Thrones, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Who, as well as a Tattoo Colouring Book and even a Corbyn Colouring Book. It features the Labour leader in various guises including as a soccer star, the Mona Lisa, and Moses parting the Red Sea.
Meanwhile, “colouring-in” clubs have formed worldwide, meeting in cafes and online to compare their works, and keeping the lead in the pencil of the stationery industry.
Carlotta Lein, a spokesman for the Bavaria-based Faber Castell, says: “We have noticed the effects of the colouring trend very strongly. Colouring doesn’t require artistic training to get started yet offers a great sense of accomplishment when finishing a piece.”
Basford adds: “Colouring-in fans just love their pens and pencils, they become real artists. I get messages from people in New Zealand and Australia saying there are big shortages now. It’s really nice that something I was passionate about is now shared worldwide.”
And what about detractors like Brand? “It’s a case of whatever makes you happy, there’s no right or wrong about it,” she says. “Who knows, maybe he just hasn’t found the right colouring-in book yet.”
By Senay Boztas and Colin Freeman for www.telegraph.co.uk