Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Urban Sketching doesn't happen in colouring books

I'm very disappointed in North Light Books.  I used to think they were a great publishing firm for artists. I always used to look out for their new publications and was delighted when I found out my book would be published by them.

The reason I'm disappointed is that North Light Books have put out a Call for Entries for urban sketchers to contribute pen and ink art for a COLOURING BOOK!

the beginning of the Call for Entries
(The referenced sketch is from a VERY different sort of book by Marc Taro Holmes - as you can see from the title
Make sure when signing a book contract that your sketches can NOT be used for colouring books!)
I'm not a fan of Colouring Books. I used to enjoy them when I was a small child. I can sort of see the meditative point of the mandala types ones. However they are essentially for people who like colour and colouring and they are very definitely NOT about drawing and sketching.

The thing is colouring books are selling in the millions.

They are the latest fad. They're keeping WH Smith's bottom line looking good right now.  If you put "drawing" into Amazon, and search for the featured books all you can see is colouring books.   Try it.

It's very, very depressing. People colour in a design and think they're drawing.

Let's be very clear. Colouring books do NOT teach anybody about how to draw or sketch.

It's therefore very sad that a movement like urban sketchers - which does place an enormously helpful emphasis on going 'on location' and 'drawing from observation' - using hand and eye - should in any way be associated with a Colouring Book - irrespective of whether or not they were asked (and I don't think they were).

I've written to Kristin Conlin, the Editor of North Light Books - in response to the invitation to contribute that was sent to me - and told her what I think of this latest 'wheeze'.

Here's some extracts
I take an extremely dim view of what North Light Books is doing with this sort of email.

. It's emphatically NOT about colouring books!

I want to emphasise that IMO your book  can in no way, shape or form can be associated with "urban sketching"!
I'll also be writing about this idea on my blog and the London Urban Sketchers Blog and will be emphasising to artists that

  • urban sketching is ALWAYS DONE ON LOCATION AND FROM OBSERVATION - and NEVER EVER by copying the work of other urban sketchers
  • Colouring books with pre-printed sketches do NOT help people to become better urban sketchers - quite the reverse. 
Sadly, I think urban sketchers who want to see their drawings in print will ignore the underlying philosophy of urban sketching and will grab the opportunity to send in their pen and ink drawings.

I'll be very sad if they do...

If anybody reading the email from Kristin Conlin feels tempted to do this, all I ask is that they reread the Urban Sketchers Manifesto first - and reflect on it.

Maybe North Light Books could do the same?
Our Manifesto

  1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation.
  2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel.
  3. Our drawings are a record of time and place.
  4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.
  5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles.
  6. We support each other and draw together.
  7. We share our drawings online.
  8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.
This is another extract from my email.
If and when you publish this book, I shall make a point of reviewing it on my blog and on Amazon. I think you can by now guess what I will be saying! I would imagine rather a lot of other urban sketchers might do the same.
So the questions for all urban sketchers are:
  • Do you want to get out and about and use your hands and eyes to draw and remain true to urban sketching? 
  • Or do you want two free copies of a book - so you can sit at home and colour it in?
What's your view?


  1. I agree with your concern about color books but the magazine is in business to make money no matter what it takes!

  2. I couldn't agree with you more Katherine. I also see it as denigrating to the pen and ink medium. Pen and ink artists have a hard enough time having to prove over and over that their black and white work is as valuable as colorful paintings. Providing black and white drawings to be colored just takes us "three steps back" by suggesting that people have created art but also that they've made the pen and ink drawings more legitimate by adding color to them. I think the coloring book craze is a continuation of the "dumbing down" of people when it comes to art.

  3. Totally agree with you, I sell art materials (not craft) in my studio/gallery had loads of people asking if I sold Adult Colouring Books last year, being a plein air artist & tutor, I had already decided I wasn't going down that route. Thank you for affirming my decision

  4. I completely agree, Katherine. As a drawing and painting instructor (high school)for 32 years, I never saw any student who came into my classes saying that coloring books had contributed either to their talent or desire to learn to draw. At best, I think that it is a pastime that acquaints children with the 2-D image, with line, shape, and the options (in color) that an artist has available to create images--BUT COLORING BOOKS DO NOT TEACH CHILDREN TO CREATE IMAGES!

    I believe they could be a useful tool in combination with focused instruction in life drawing, and perhaps in exploring different palettes. Different media (as well as the crayon) should be introduced to younger children to help them to experience possibilities that exist for their own mark-making, expression, and image creation.

    The number one characteristic that employers want to see from graduating students, high school or college, is creativity. A coloring book might be one small step in preparing children and older students to begin building this skill, but there are certainly better ways to learn and build these skills.

  5. I rarely post a comment on a blog but to this I must make an exception. Hurrah for you. For me, it would definitely be a step back to color within the lines, and to add to the injury, someone else's lines at that. From an artist's point of view, the only positive aspect that I can think of is possibly "playing with color." I'm behind you 100%.

  6. Gosh Katherine!
    That was straight from the heart.
    I agree with you 100%.
    Colouring books feed into the idea that everything should be polished and finished and if you draw from the real world it's rarely polished or finished. In fact the joy is the uncertainty of it all.
    Thank you for fighting the good fight.

  7. I TOTALLY agree. I dont understand the thoughts behind it. Really what is the point?

  8. I understand your view. Thank you for speaking out. And even more, thank you for creating a dialog!

    However, I believe that companies/corporations are out there to make money - this is what they do. I guess I don't blame them. Generally speaking, I am never shocked to learn that a corporation has pursued profits at the expense of the environment, the health of the population, or anything else that they can get away with. Corporations cannot possibly disappoint me more than they have done already.

    Thus, I am not really disappointed (of frankly care at all) if a company would publish a coloring book. I don't even blame an artist for sharing his work to be published in such a book - if he is getting paid for it, or if this publicity can improve his art sales. I am disappointed in a society in which there is a huge market for such a product. I am disappointed in a society of short attention spans (140 characters) and detachment from the real values of art.

    There was a time, when I thought that it was funny that adults are going crazy after reading children's books. I guess it was better than not reading at all. Now we are taking this a step further and adults are buying coloring books. :) If such an adult really believes that he is working on improving his art skills ( which I doubt such an individual could exist) - then let them. Is there really hope for them becoming a quality artist?

  9. So happy to hear that I am not the only one who really hates those coloring books. They have even taken over the art book section at the bookstore. I love shopping for books on techniques and artists. Now it is all coloring books everywhere! What are we 5 years old ?????

    Some of my favorite artists are even jumping on the bandwagon. I get it that it seems to be a cash cow at the moment for them but really. It is not art. people who color are not artists and that is that.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  10. I understand where you're coming from. I'm not sure, though, that many of the people who buy colouring books think that they are drawing. The books don't appeal to me, but for those who enjoy the activity of colouring in, maybe colouring in an interesting, well drawn sketch might stimulate curiosity and nudge people towards seeing urban environments in a different way. For people who can't get outdoors or into urban areas and experience sketching for themselves, for health, confidence or other reasons, I'd imagine it'd give at least a taste of that experience. Who knows where that might lead? But at the same time, not everyone wants to learn to sketch or draw, they just like colouring in, and I don't think it necessarily detracts from the spirit of the urban sketching movement to share the fantastic work coming out of it. I do appreciate there's a risk of trivialising, which I get the impression is one of your concerns, but it's still a creative activity, choosing colours and losing track of time being absorbed in something, and appreciating the original artist's vision and skill. At the very least, iit will increase awareness of the movement and that can only be a good thing.

  11. Mark Holmes is pretty unhappy with Northlight as well, because they are using his sketch from his book to advertise this, he gets nothing for this, and apparently they can use his book to shamelessly promote this without his permission. He made the comment on his Facebook account on February 1st

  12. I could not agree more. The "adult" coloring book fad is just that and a waste of paper and money and time. I am willing to bet that most, if not all, of the people who buy these coloring books color a few pages and never touch it again because it is boring and infantile. Just when you think contemporary culture cannot possibly be dumbed down any more than it already is, Northlight comes up with this pathetic idea. I don't usually buy any books published by Northlight (with the recent exception of your new drawing book which I own and like VERY much) because they are usually not as in depth as I prefer. I agree that an urban sketcher coloring book will almost certainly NOT encourage anyone to go out and do their own sketches. I would think that coloring someone else's sketch would be even more boring than coloring complex abstract designs. It is just a terrible idea and a way to fleece already insecure people out of money. I think it also perpetuates the absolutely silly notion that going out of your home and making a little sketch of what you might see is some sort of impossible task that you need an "expert" to do for you!! It is just sketching, not, as someone humorously said "rocket surgery"!!

  13. On further reflection - if they'd called the book something like "Cityscapes to colour" and done a general crowd-sourced call for entries I don't think I'd have been anywhere so upset as I am about this proposal.

    It's the specific linking of the book to a phrase "urban sketchers" which stands for a very clear philosophy which is precisely NOT what this book is about that makes me so very disappointed with the publishers.

    1. Ah now I understand your ire.

      I think that colouring books are very therapeutic and am very much in favour of non-artists getting some enjoyment from the art world. It's only one more step for them to join a class and learn to draw themselves.

      However I am in full agreement with you re the title - city scapes is precisely what they are, this is not urban sketching.

  14. Thank you all for your comments - I'll be sending a link to this blog post to the publisher.

  15. A member of Urbansketchers' group spends hours under sun/rain or bear cold to make a sketch. They do not produce them inside their studio for others to colour in. Trying to turn those sketches of labor into colouring book entries is devaluing the efforts that went into making those arts.

  16. I have to agree with Caroline Greene's post, and will add that your criticism of this book reveals a lack of sensitivity to creative sources of inspiration to both, artists and non-artists, while supporting artists that have built walls of limitation around their own creative processes for whatever reason.

    I have no idea what "adult coloring books" look like, but I imagine such a book using the Urban Sketches would be a lot more interesting, and inspiring for both aspiring artists, and those happy to just color, than the standard fare.


  17. Right on, Katherine, right on. What a travesty.


  18. @Bill Marshall - you have no idea what "adult colouring books" look like but comment on them in any case? Are you a troll?

  19. What is the motivation behind all this anger? Hating colouring books just because you do not do colouring, you draw seriously. Everyone doesn't want to draw, everyone doesn't have serious artistic ambition, but it is very rewarding to create something pretty. However small. And sometimes people who start by colouring or copying others' work may end up trying real drawing as well. Or if not, at least colouring keeps them away from all kinds of modern gadgets :) Drawing is a wonderful skill, I will be pursuing it for the rest of my life, but come on, what's the point of getting upset and judging something so nice and harmless? Sounds elitistic and quite silly to me. Live and let live. Be as high art as you want, and let others be what they want. Yours, Leena Lönnroth

  20. What's with the misinterpretation of what I said?

    I love drawing and sketching. My post is entirely to do with a colouring book undermining the philosophy of the urban sketching movement which is all about drawing from observation. It's a VERY SPECIFIC CRITICISM. It is NOT a criticism of all colouring books.

    However let me repeat in case anybody is confused - colouring books are nothing whatsoever to do with drawing and sketching.
    To draw and sketch you actually have to observe and draw what you see.
    It's not about filling in-between the lines with colour

    All sorts of experiences may lead people to start drawing and sketching. Actually having a go at creating your very own drawing or doing a sketch are by and large the activities which seem to work best.

    I'm not a fan of colouring books. Why does that make me elitist? Am I not allowed an opinion?

  21. BTW Leena - drawing is not high art. It's something all kids do without any prompting by adults. It's what all cultures have done going back to those people who lived in caves thousands of years ago.

    It's original. It's an expression of what people see. It can say how people are feeling. It can record objects and people and artifacts which are part of people's everyday lives.

    It is very highly valued - but it's not high art! Anybody can draw - if they would but try!


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