Sunday, July 19, 2015

Q&A: SARAH MANGLE, creator of The Affirmations Colouring Book

The seemingly sudden arrival of what's being sold as "adult colouring books" have had as many customers scratching their heads as grabbing for their pencil crayons. There's been a lot of discussion of the calming effects of colouring, or of a return to creative endeavors, but I think the most cogent description comes from Sarah Mangle, speaking with the Globe and Mail back in February. “I’m not a digital artist – I still draw pencil to paper,” she told the paper. “It really is a tactile thing. I like how the paper feels, how the pencil or marker or crayon smells. It’s a real and physical experience – more than screen time.”

Mangle's comments reminded me of a great many artists commenting on the root passions for their particular forms. For painters, it's often the simple smell of paints that compels them over any grander endgame; for writers, it's the words themselves, the constructions of sentences more than any larger story. As soothing or therapeutic as any colouring book may be, chances are it will be the sensualness of the process that's bringing many adults back to the activities of their youth. 

Mangle, an artist, musician, and early childhood educator – from Wolfville, NS, of Guelph for a spell, and now Montreal-based –  released The Affirmations Colouring Book last year, ahead of the recent trend. Immobilized by a knee injury, Mangle began drawing the Affirmations as a means of "to pass the time and encourage herself. Through suggestions of friends and family, the colouring book project grew into a reality." By the time the "adult" colouring books became news, Mangle's Affirmations had been selling out across the country. Just recently, the Bookshelf finally got some copies, and figured we'd find out a bit more about her Affirmations and get her thoughts on the larger trends.

The Affirmations Colouring Book came out ahead of the curve. Were you at all surprised to see this somewhat sudden mass interest in and return to colouring?

Adult colouring books have existed for a long long time in the tradition of mandala colouring books. They were not so trendy. You could find them in the New Age and Self Help sections. Big publishers have recently realized they can create a new market through this angle of 'adult colouring books' and they're going for it and they're quite successful. Honestly, I feel cynical about that part of it. It's another moment where Amazon and other similar companies are winning the biggest from this new market they have invested in. So, I'm cynical about the big business capitalism part of it but the part where many adults I know are returning to colouring as a way to bring creativity, reflection, play and comfort to their lives, I love that part. It's beautiful. I'm an adult who has always drawn, like, my whole life. I have always identified as an artist, so, for me, this idea that I don't draw or colour as an artist personally doesn't commute. I didn't return to colouring. I never stopped.

You distinguish The Affirmations as being for all ages – as opposed to just adult. When I first heard about "adult" colouring books, I just sort assumed they would bawdy or raunchy – Baby Blue Colouring, you know? But from all the adult books I've seen, kids would have a ball with them too. Why the distinction, do you think?

There are sexy 'adult' colouring books out there for sure. And I think they have also existed long before this current trend. For me, the distinction of the 'adult colouring book' that is not carrying sexual or violent content is just about market creation. The distinction of 'adult colouring book' is about suggesting to adults that they buy something they wouldn't consider buying if it was just called a colouring book. My book doesn't care what age you are because I don't care what age you are. The pages don't care, the pictures don't care. Everyone is invited to colour. I also wanted people of different ages to share the book and colour together. 

Pretty much every kid draws, every kid colours, whether or not they're being creative or just passing the time – or I guess there really isn't a distinction at that age. What happens to that casual creativity?

Drawing is so great and our school system doesn't do a good job of nurturing authentic creativity as children age. At a certain point, drawing is seen as a waste of time unless a person is "talented" but what does that even mean? Why is only figurative drawing impressive at a certain moment? It's a widely held narrow-minded belief. I was proud of being interested in art when I was in high school but I also had the benefit of really sucking at science. People who were good at science were considered to be the most smart and very promising. I failed chemistry. I didn't care about physics and actually studying it made me angry. So, I had the benefit of being outside of what would be really successful and I cultivated my own interests.

Maybe you could provide a little background to The Affirmations. Did the animals come before the affirmations? What was the process of pairing one with the other?

If I'm completely honest about this, it has to do with my relationship to my own dog who gives me a great deal of comfort. He witnesses all my feelings and has been with me since my early 20s (I'm 34 now). I'm a private person. I hate crying in public. I have a few close friends, but for the most part I'm private. For me, my pet is my closest creature, and he's with me in my studio in my house as I make all my artwork. When I think of comfort, I immediately think of my dog. So that is the root of it. Otherwise, it is also a way to be inclusive. If I attempted to draw people in the book, I would want to make sure I included many many different bodies of many different kinds, but even then, it can be tokenizing really easily, so I thought about pets and patterns as a more accessible equalizer. People also love seeing drawings of their own individual pets. It hits them in heart and I like that.

You're casting the net for animals for your next book. Where'd you get the furry buddies for this first one?

All the pets in The Affirmations Colouring Book are portraits of actual animals except for the one on the cover. I started drawing from friend's internet posts of their pets, and then people started emailing me photos of their beloved creatures.

You're a writer and musician as well. With the book, though, there's a level of literal interaction (as opposed to, say, intellectual or emotional interaction) that not exactly applicable to those other forms, right? 

The book is direct and simple sure, but it's also a lot about emotional support and recognition. It's about colouring, reflecting, relaxing, sharing,comfort, feeling the feelings and vulnerability. In that way, my writing (song or story) is all about emotional connection and recognition, same as this book. For me the real plot is the emotional trip, and the rest (music, tone, voice language, line, shape) is the vehicle that delivers you there.

What's the experience of having people colour in your work?

I love it when people send me photos of their coloured work. It feels like a real artistic collaboration. People are colouring the pages in beautiful ways.

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