This month we explore the humorous worlds of Candian writers and artists, Anisa (J.A. Early Riser) and Travis (T.J. Crayons.) J.A.’s unique brand of humor is brought to life in their Maniacal Confessions series of books, with feral faeries, sock monsters, warrior gnomes, drama llamas, sugar frenzies, Grumplestiltskin, and other characters that encourage colorists to use their craziest color combinations. In this interview, they give us a peek into how they create their wacky coloring books!
Color On!: You have several writing-related online magazines. What made you add coloring books? Is there a connection?
J.A. EARLY RISER: There is a connection, actually. I’d been writing journal entries as J.A. Early Riser for a few years and always wanted to do something with them, but could never figure out exactly what. Travis (T.J. Crayons) and I discussed making a zombie survival guide, or an illustrated comic-type book, but the ideas never seemed quite right. Then, one day, my friend Juanita, who is mainly responsible for talking us into doing coloring books, came to town and asked if we could check Chapters for adult coloring books. I told her, good luck… that I’d been searching for such a beast my entire life and had never found any. Of course, I had no idea it was trending at the time.
I joined a few coloring groups, actually the very first one I joined was Adult Coloring Group. I was totally inspired by everything I saw and then it hit me… why not do an activity coloring book and use my J.A. Early Riser alter ego. So that’s what we did. The first book, Maniacal Confessions, was released at the end of July, 2015.
T.J. CRAYONS: My response to Anisa when she first approached me about doing coloring books together was… “Seriously?? Coloring books?? For adults?! Hahaha!” At the time, I didn’t really know that was a thing. But then I thought back to how many times when I wanted to color, I had to buy books with pictures of big trains with happy faces on them and giant bounding cartoon dinosaurs. That sort of killed my drive for coloring. So the thought of making something that I would want to color was very appealing. We were lucky enough to get in when the adult coloring craze was still sort of in its infancy. I’m glad we did because it has grown into quite a massive following now.
Color On!: Most of your books have 2 versions – a JUST coloring book, and a combined coloring and activity book. Tell us about them. Why did you choose to release them like that?
J.A. EARLY RISER: We did a lot of market research before we released. There were a few things we noticed… First of all, there were a lot of complaints about the cover picture not being in the book, so we made sure to include our cover. The next thing we noticed was a decent sized demand for single sided pages. People who use pencil crayons don’t mind the double sided books, but people who color mainly with markers can’t use the double sided books. That’s when we decided to release a Just Coloring version on top of the Activity version. The activity version really explains all of the characters and their stories and there are different activities plus bonus coloring sheets in it.
Another reason we released the Just Coloring version is because of the price difference. We wanted to offer a more affordable version of the book. Because the activity books have pages printed in color, and it’s much longer than the Just Coloring version, Amazon forces us to list them at a minimum of $16.85 USD.
Color On!: What can you tell us about your experiences being a coloring book artist and the skills required to build a successful following online?
J.A. EARLY RISER: Hmmm. Not sure about the skills part, to be honest. We just sort of… jumped in and went with it. We spend a lot of time interacting with people in the coloring groups and take the time to comment on their pictures, especially if it’s one of our pictures that they’ve posted. We both enjoy just being in the communities and hanging out with everyone who colors. It’s a lot of fun.
The experience has been incredible. Drawing is actually a secondary thing for me. I mainly write, which is another reason I wanted to do the activity books – so I could combine both. Travis mainly draws, but he also writes poetry, so we’re a great team for this kind of thing. We’re both really enjoying ourselves so far.
Color On!: How do you create your art? Do you create digitally or with pen and pencil? Tell us about your process for creating new work.
T.J. CRAYONS: I draw digitally, using an art app on my iPad. I spent a lot of time drawing as a teenager and then stopped for a long time. Recently, I picked it up when Anisa decided to open Writer’s Carnival. She asked me to do all the art on the site and I thought, sure, why not… Haha. I’ve learned a lot since then.
Anisa typically draws with pencil and paper and then traces it digitally so that our pictures are in the same format. We didn’t do that for the first book but have for the rest of them.
I struggled a little bit at first with the humor aspect of it, I’ve never been great with cartoon characters or coming up with crazy ideas. My focus was more on the patterns, covers and structures. Anisa would mainly brainstorm the nutty characters and scenarios. Eventually, though, I became a part of that process more and have been dipping into drawing my own Absur’D characters, as well.
Color On!: When coloring your own art, what is your favorite medium(s)?
T.J. CRAYONS: I definitely prefer pencil crayons. I’ve tried markers and gel pens, they’re fun, but I can’t shade very well with them.
Color On!: Do you enjoy relaxing with coloring books by other artists? If so, do you have a favorite artist or book?
J.A. EARLY RISER: Oh yeah, definitely. Hmmm… I have a few favorites! Well, yours, for starters, Mary! [Editor’s note: Dragons, Knots, Bots and More!] I also love Coloring on the Edge (Karlon Douglas), Narwhalidays (Tracey Johnston), Chroma Tomes (especially their Gnome ones), Color with Komfort: Mind’s Eye of a Gypsy, and then some of the bigger ones would be Doodle Invasion, Unicorns are Jerks, the Game of Thrones book. I’m a huge fan of Rick St. Dennis – I absolutely love his work – and From the Broken Mind of Joe’s Ink. I could go on and on, but that’s a few of them. Oh, and I really like a lot of the artists that have been published in Color On! Magazine, to be 100% honest. I really enjoyed the November issue with Ellen Million.
Color On!: What color or colors do you most love to work with?
T.J. CRAYONS: Greens and blues and yellows to reds.
J.A. EARLY RISER: I’m really not a fan of red… I know, I know. But it’s true. I rarely use it. I love purples and turquoises. Most recently, I’ve been enjoying oranges and yellows.
Color On!: Tell us a little bit about your art. Do you have a favorite piece that you created? Do you create other art besides designs for coloring books?
T.J. CRAYONS: Oh. Tough question. My favorite so far is probably the Frenzy Fabricator in our newest book, Candy Coated Kaos. I love the little character’s that are hidden in Anisa’s head that she brings to life on her pages. They seem to come in extra handy for our latest book, Candy Coated Kaos. I was a big fan of the Feral Fairy Hoarder in Maniacal Confessions and Angry Chicken Mob in the same book. I do the covers for Reader’s Carnival and Long Story Short magazines and all the site art on Writer’s Carnival, Long Story Short and Maniacal Confessions. I also design book covers for people.
J.A. EARLY RISER: Not sure I can pick a favorite! I know my favorites so far from Travis are Grumpy Flowers in Maniacal Confessions, the Octopus Ride in Carnival Carnage, the Ice Cream Globe in Candy Kaos and Grumplestiltskin in Feral Fairy Tales. For my own picture… I think it’s Granny and the Big Sad Wolf in Feral Fairy Tales. Other than Absur’D, no, I don’t really do much else for art. I’m more of a writer. Well, unless planning parties for people and hand making all the decorations counts. Haha.
Color On!: Other than creating coloring book art, what interesting hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
J.A. EARLY RISER: Reading, reading and more reading. Did I mention reading? Haha. Writing stories, playing guitar, playing video games, camping, coloring, weird arts and crafts, animals (is that a hobby? Because I have a lot of them!), gardening, baking sometimes.
T.J. CRAYONS: Woodworking, writing poetry, camping, playing guitar, coloring, building the perfect campfire, playing video games, drawing.
Color On!: Have you had any memorable responses to your art work from collectors?
T.J. CRAYONS: Yes. We’ve had some great responses from the pictures we do from the coloring books. Honestly didn’t imagine this would go any further than a little hobby project, but so far the response has been pretty amazing.
J.A. EARLY RISER: Too many to list! It’s been a surreal experience. I was really nervous when we put the first book out, thinking nobody would be interested, but I couldn’t be happier with the response so far. It’s been incredible.
Color On!: If you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?
T.J. CRAYONS: Oh, that’s easy. Flying. No question. Ever since I was a kid, that’s all I’ve wanted to do.
J.A. EARLY RISER: I’d definitely want to be able to time travel or something. That would be pretty awesome.
Color On!: Who is your favorite artist or artists?
T.J. CRAYONS: That’s an impossible answer. I really like Karlon Douglas and Rick St. Dennis.
J.A. EARLY RISER: I already answered above, but if we’re talking just art in general… Brian Froud, for sure.
Color On!: Is there some person, place or thing that inspires you when you are creating your art?
T.J. CRAYONS: Probably not really any one thing. As far as influences go, though, I’m a big fan of Dr. Seuss and always have been. I love the wacky pictures, but more importantly love the way he writes.
J.A. EARLY RISER: Hmmm. Not really. I live, eat and breathe humor. Love it. Anything that makes me laugh, or others laugh, that’s my go to. So I’m constantly thinking about the weirdest things I can possibly think of and that’s where I draw my inspiration from.
Color On!: Tell us about your plans for 2016. Are there other books being planned?
T.J. CRAYONS: Oh, most definitely. I think each book gets a little better than the last and Anisa and I have some more ideas in our head that we’d love to put to paper.
J.A. EARLY RISER: Way to not spill the beans, hey, Travis? Haha! We’re thinking about doing another book in the Faerie Trimmings line, possibly Wizard Wares. Then we’d like to do Baby Absur’Dians and a holiday edition of Absur’D featuring Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, New Years and Halloween.