A Chat with Cristina McAllister

What made you decide to become a coloring book artist?

A friend of mine posted an article about the adult coloring book trend on my Facebook Wall about a year and a half ago.  As I read and saw the gorgeous new books and artwork that was becoming popular, it just struck me that I could do this.  In fact, it felt like my twisty path through the art world had perfectly prepared me for this endeavor.

As I started exploring the coloring book world, rediscovering the joy of coloring and putting my first book (Sacred Beauty) together, I realized that I was really falling in love with the whole thing.  It’s one of the most rewarding and satisfying art jobs I’ve ever had and I am loving every moment.  I love the interactive/collaborate aspect, communicating directly with fans and seeing all of the different amazing interpretations of the images.

I love the idea of creating images that offer people a lot of opportunities to activate their own creativity.  I want to create pages that inspire people to get excited about exploring color and help them develop their own unique color sense and improve their skills and techniques so they get great satisfaction not only from the process, but in the end result.

I feel like I’m learning with every book I do, getting better at designing images for coloring, experimenting with different ideas.  I am having a blast exploring the possibilities of the genre.

How do you create your art? Do you create your drawings by computer or do you prefer old school pencil and paper?  

I generally start with a hand drawn pencil sketch.  I usually get my conceptual ideas in the evening and keep my sketchpad handy, jotting down ideas, making notes and sketching out designs.  Sometimes the sketches are really rough – just general shapes and compositions that lay out the skeleton of the design.  Other times I spend more time with the sketch and fill in more details and refinements.

Then I scan the sketch into my computer and use Adobe Illustrator to finish the illustration.  That program allows me to very precisely control my lines and shapes and values, and experiment and change and tweak things as I go along.

I’ve been recording my design sessions and making time-lapse YouTube videos of my process in recent months as I am working on my books and you can see how I play with shapes and forms and put everything together.  (My YouTube channel is called “Cristina McAllister” and there are several different Playlists to explore).

What is your inspiration for the different types of art that you create for your coloring books?

Over the years I’ve studied and explored many different art styles and techniques; fantasy art, comics, Art Nouveau, Celtic knotwork, sacred art such as mandalas, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts and ritual body decoration, fashion design, traditional art from many different cultures.  I find inspiration in Nature, films (especially animated films), video games – really anything that catches me eye.

I think my main goals are creating images that are visually beautiful and balanced with enough of a theme that people have something to start with but plenty of room to develop their own interpretations and details.

Fantasy themes are great because there’s a lot of freedom to create things that are new and interesting and visually striking.  I like creating characters with details that express their personality and exploring different aspects of character that inspire me.

It was interesting with the Lumina Chronicles book, because as I was working on my previous books, I was getting these ideas for designs that were like “mandala fairies”; combining the intricate pattern-based aspects with magical figures and characters in a way I hadn’t quite seen before.  I started sketching some really neat stuff, but I felt like there needed to be some context for them – some kind of explanation of what they were.

So I started developing a background and story to go with the artwork, and realized that I could do something really new and different – a coloring book that was more than just a collection of images – but an immersive experience that enhanced and inspired the coloring aspect.  So the story is actually about color and creativity and inspiration, and includes ideas that you can apply to your pages if you want to.

Eventually the concept kind of took on a life of its own, and the Lumina emerged as spirits of Creativity and Inspiration that work on a subconscious level, kind of like Muses.  And because they are ever-changing in their aspect, they can be interpreted many ways.  I love the sense of mystery that creates, and it’s fun to research and play with the idea of how people may have interacted with the Lumina throughout history and how those encounters were interpreted in different ways.  I’m working on the sequel, “Lost Lumina” now, which will explore this aspect more deeply.

At this point, it sometimes feels as if the Lumina are real, and I didn’t create them, but merely discovered them.  It creates this wonderful sense of magical reality that I think actually does generate inspiration!

As for color inspiration – I can find that anywhere!  One of my favorites was my friend’s dog – this beautiful pit bull with a lovely taupe/tan coat who was wearing a lavender/purple collar.  That color combo really struck me and I actually ended up painting my bathroom in those colors!

Do you ever color your own work? And if so, what’s your favorite medium? Do you like pencils, markers or are you dipping into random reserves around the house for anything that can apply color in an interesting fashion?

When I first started creating coloring books I would test-color every page.  This really helped me learn what worked and what didn’t and develop a sense of scale as far as how much detail you could put into a page and still have it be fun to color and not too finicky.  These days I still color every page, but I sometimes do it digitally just because it tends to be a bit quicker and I am trying to keep up my momentum and get the books done at a decent pace.

For hand coloring, I’m a multi-media girl.  I usually combine colored pencils, gel pens and markers.  They are each great for different things – the markers are good for larger areas and I like to use the mid-to-light range colors over grayscale areas because they go down transparent.  The gels are great for the smaller spaces and for adding some fun glitz and sparkle.  I find that colored pencils are best for doing skintones and shading and color blends.

I haven’t done too much experimenting with non-standard art supplies, though I did try out the Vaseline trick and I am always interested and impressed with the creative ways people are using makeup and other things.

How do you define success and how do you measure it?

For me, the satisfaction and enjoyment of the colorists is the best indicator.   Seeing their work and hearing that they enjoyed the experience and are happy with their finished pages is the best reward.

Of course, some financial success is also necessary in order to be able to continue to spend my time creating more books.  So far, sales have been good enough to keep me going and they seem to be getting better, even though the industry overall has slowed down quite a bit this year.  So I feel like I’m doing  something right, and plan to continue creating the  best books I can.

Besides yourself, who is your favorite coloring book artist?

Bennett Klein blows me away.  I also love Paul Kidby, who has illustrated Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books and did a Discworld coloring book.  He is a master at creating wonderful characters with so much personality and humor.

What color or colors do you most love to work with?

I tend to work in brights when I color.  I’m usually keeping in mind two major considerations when developing a color scheme; 1. Contrast and 2. Harmony. When I want something to pop, I will use contrasting colors next to each other, and when I want things to harmonize, I’ll use Analogous colors (colors that are next to each other on the Color Wheel).

For instance, a “harmonious” color area might be filled in with various shades of greens and blues, which naturally blend into one another, while a contrasting color area would have maybe yellow against purple – colors that are very different from each other and make each element pop.

A red rose against a pink background would create a “harmonious” effect, while a red rose against green background would creating a contrasting effect.  Working out what I want to pop and what I want to harmonize is part of the process.  The colors I have already laid in often determine what colors will go in around them, depending on what kind of effect I’m going for.

I also find it useful to “tune up” colors sometimes by doing some colored pencil overlays at the end.  For instance, maybe there’s a shade of green that’s not quite working, so I’ll layer a bit of yellow or blue over it to shift the hue a bit.  Maybe I’ll darken or deepen some colors.  A lot of it comes down to experimentation, and I always have a “Scribble Sheet” handy to test out colors and blends before I commit them to the page.

Outside of creating coloring books, do you have any other hobbies or activities that you love?

Several years ago my husband and I collaborated to build ourselves a gypsy wagon.  We do some local traveling and camping in that, which is always a lot of fun, sometimes attending festivals and Burning Man events.  Burning Man and the community I’ve connected with through it have been a big part of my artistic journey as well as my social circle.  I’m surrounded by creative, loving, interesting people, which is a great motivator and inspiration.

I enjoy watching documentaries – especially nature ones.  Recent advances in photography technology and graphics have really opened up that genre and there are some truly incredible films being made these days.  Anything with David Attenborough in it inspires me and makes me fall in love with the world and connect with the a sense of awe and wonder at how amazing and wonderful and complex and precious our planet and the life on it truly is.

I also enjoy video games, though I’m not particularly good at them.  Watching others play on YouTube videos is good because it allows me to appreciate the design and artwork of the genre, which I find very inspiring.  VR is finally starting to come together so it’s going to be exciting to see how the vast potential of that medium is explored.

What are your plans for the next year? Do you have any new coloring book releases planned?

I’m working on the sequel to “The Lumina Chronicles” now, and yes, I have ideas and some designs for several more books, both continuing some of my popular themes and trying out some new concepts.

What are the titles of the last three books you have read or movies you’ve watched?

Well, the last book I loved was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I enjoyed the movie, but the book is so much better – it has such a lovely sense of magic and mystery and a delightful mixture of darkness and whimsy.

The two films I’ve most enjoyed lately are The BFG, which I found to be gorgeous and magical and charming, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which has some delightful visual things going on.  Both of these films are great for color inspiration, btw.

If you could be any animal on a carousel, what would you be, and why?

I actually have a favorite carousel horse that lives on the carousel in Fantasyland at Disneyland.  It’s a white horse with strands of jingle bells hanging down from it’s saddle.  But I think maybe I’d like to be more of a fantastical creature.  Can I be a hippocamp (half horse/half fish) with wings, so I can both swim in the ocean and fly in the sky?  That would be pretty sweet.  🙂

PS:  I invite you all to join my Cristina McAllister Coloring Club group on Facebook.  You can Share and admire colored pages from my books, trade tips, get free coloring downloads and tutorials, participate in coloring challenges and keep up with my projects and releases.  We have fun – no drama!


Cristina McAllister
Main website: http://www.gypsymystery.com/
YouTube Channel: Cristina McAllister
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Cristina-McAllister/e/B01G9H6010/
Facebook Art Page: https://www.facebook.com/cristina.mcallister.art/
The Cristina McAllister Coloring Club (a private Facebook group) can be found if you do a search for it on Facebook
Twitter: GypsyMysteryArts @ GypsyMcAllister
Instagram: cristinamcallister
Pinterest: Gypsy Mystery Arts
Blog: http://cristinamcallister.blogspot.com/

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