Why we Love Johanna Basford

A close friend of mine gave me a copy of Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden. For several months, it sat on my bed till I decided to work the first page. It took me a week to complete it, and gained some insights in the process. Here are the reasons that might attract you to her magical inky world (and also to stay there):

1. Not everyone can draw –

To some extent, everyone can draw. Think of lines, shapes, a Venn Diagram for your mathematics test or the outline of a test tube. What I mean is not everyone has sufficient technical ability to express on paper the image that they would like to express.

As a teenager, while people were self-studying for exams in class, I was trying to draw outlines of faces from photographs. Sometimes there would be some resemblance and more often than not, it turned out looking like no one. It was after I had some proper art training did I learn to see and replicate real-life objects and people with some success. Johanna’s illustrations spares the average person from the frustrations and alleviates fear of drawing- by bypassing drawing altogether.

2. White space phobia –

Yes, I have it too. Basically it is sitting in front of a blank piece of paper and you go blank too. It also links to point No. 1 and also the fear that you end up with something you won’t feel like colouring in. If I ever had to draw a decent garden to colour in (as in something that doesn’t look like out of a child’s doodle),  I would have to first get reference photographs of trees, photographs of different leaves, photographs of different flowers, photographs of different animals… you get the point. And end up not starting in the first place.

3. Control and predictability – 

Colour pencils almost always give you the colour that you see, unless you layer it over a patch of black and forget to clean it off. (Then you end up with something like brown.) It also makes colouring within the lines a breeze. If you don’t agree, just try some watercolours or paints and witness them seemingly move of their own accord. Hence, colour pencils are really one of the more stable and fuss-free mediums that you can use in art.

Also, as an adults, we face many elements and people’s behaviour that are sometimes not really within our control. At the end of a work day, or a day of life for that matter, facing something that gives you more or less predictable results does relieve some stress. You know, like imagine the pencil tells you it is feeling emo today and asks you to try it another time.

Predictability also gives you the ability to plan time for your favourite activity. Oh yes, the average Singaporean loves to plan: plan for kids, plan for retirement, plan for emergencies. I have a habit of calculating the time I need to finish a picture. For example I look at the time I used to finish an area of leaves or a tree trunk, and then estimate it would probably take me 10 – 15 hours to finish one picture. (Anyway, took way more than that.) So this is very useful if you are aiming to set goals for completion.

4. Instant gratification – 

When you spend one hour colouring an area, you see the results of your progress immediately and how it relates to the bigger picture (no pun intended). The page comes alive with your application of colour. This itself, can be very satisfying. Colourists, I think you get what I mean.

5. Space for experimentation – 

In a picture that is as detailed as Johanna’s, what can go wrong if you do adopt a colour combination that is less than ideal? I mean like if you coloured one leaf ugly with bad colour choices, or how about getting it wrong ten more times before you finally found something you like. In the long run, you would be only one who will cringe over that teeny, near-invisible leaf while people marvel at the efforts you put into completing a beautiful page.

6. Being part of an introvert community – 

Honestly, colouring is more of a solitary activity than a group activity. I can see that it would appeal more to introverts than extroverts. Well, you could organise colouring sessions with friends, but eventually it all boils down to concentrating on your own picture. Johanna’s website has a public showcase gallery and her team also organises competitions from time to time. It fosters bonding as part of a community that is connected by their love of colouring. You don’t have to attend events with hype and ear blasting music. Nor do you have to have forced social conversations except for the occasional “Like” and comments like “Nice colours”, “What brand of colour pencils do you use?”; over Facebook that is.

7. Treasured keepsake – 

Intricate illustrations on thick paper stock and gold gilded covers aside, can you imagine ever throwing away a Johanna book after painstakingly weaving months of your free time into it? Perhaps after your 2 year-old accidentally stumbles upon it and takes whatever he/she can grab within reach to join in your colouring (soap, lipstick, marker, etc). It also makes a good-looking conversation piece in family gatherings alongside the ubiquitous photo album.

So whatever the reason that draws people to her books, I love that it allows more people to explore their creativity and aspects of themselves that they would never dare try otherwise. And that changes the world.

Version 2
From Johanna’s “Secret Garden”, Faber-Castell 12 Colour Grip

Update: I’ve had this picture put up on Johanna’s gallery page today, on 8 June 2016. I do believe they try to put up everyone’s work that was submitted to them.

Please note that I am not affiliated to Johanna’s products nor website, other than the sole copy of Secret Garden that I currently own. 


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