A Chat with Ellen Million

Not only does Ellen Million’s artwork leave me with a sense of wonder and whimsy, but so does the lady herself. In doing my research to give her a proper introduction to the Color Oh! family of readers, I was intrigued to find the bio on her website was just a single sentence: An unstoppable creative force! Enough said.

What made you decide to become a coloring book artist?

My professional start to artwork was illustrating for small press fantasy and science fiction ‘zines, and these publications were all printed in black and white. I grew to love the challenge of restricting my work to line work, and focused a lot of my attention on capturing expression and atmosphere in lines and dots. One of my penpals (this was before the Internet had pictures) said, “I’d like to color these!” I ran a little mail-order stationery business at this time, which also involved selling the work of other artists. I put out a call for art and shortly released a coloring book called Sword and Sorcery; a Coloring Book for Adults. It was 22 single-sided pages, included work by 9 artists, and sold for $9. It quickly became one of my best sellers. This was in 1997, and I never stopped! Since then, I’ve published more than 40 titles, four of them solely of my own work.

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

I’m old school. I’ve dabbled in digital, but I find that I really enjoy the tactile experience of creating art, and working on a computer never clicked with me. I sometimes thumbnail ideas in a sketchbook, but often jump right into designing a page, starting with a very rough idea and adding (and subtracting!) parts until I feel like the composition is complete. I erase copiously at this stage, and look at reference photos if I find myself struggling with anatomy or architecture. Once the sketch has been thoroughly refined and corrected, I start adding ink. I use Pigma Micron pens, the smallest size of 005 for almost everything. Once the entire piece has been inked (which can take 10-20 hours all by itself), I usually go back with a slightly thicker pen and emphasize the important areas with a bolder line. The pencil is entirely erased, and I scan the work to convert it to digital and clean it up using Photoshop. From start to finish, it can take 40 hours for a complicated piece. I usually work 9×12 on bristol, but occasionally do 11×14 inch pieces.

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

Fantasy is my first inspiration. I grew up reading fairy tales and was heavily influenced by Arthur Rackham and Henry J. Ford, two fantasy illustrators from the late 1800s, as well as the Alaskan illustrator William D. Berry. All of these artists did fanciful, detailed illustrations in black and white, filled with tiny surprises and bits of magic. I draw even more inspiration from the wilderness of Alaska, where I spent many of my formative years.

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?

While I am definitely most comfortable sticking to black and white and letting other people add their own visions of color, I do occasionally venture into the world of hues. My favorite medium would have to be Copic alcohol markers, but I also dabble in Prismacolor colored pencil (I especially like using these on tinted pastel paper), acrylic and watercolor paints, and even oils once in a great while.

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

Success is one of those concepts it’s easy to get caught up in measuring by comparison – do you make more money or less than another artist? Are you more or less popular? But success is more like happiness; it can’t be measured like that. If you feel like something has succeeded, it has. I am by no means the most famous or richest coloring book artist out there, but I know that I’ve made people happy with my artwork, and that’s success enough for me!

Besides yourself, who is your favorite coloring book artist?        

I’ve met so many amazing and inspiring artists over the years. Having to pick just one is incredibly difficult, but I have to go with Selena Fenech, who is a gorgeous, creative soul.

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

Teals and greens are my favorite, but I like a range of natural tones.

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

I like painting ornaments, hiking, writing, and organizing group projects. I have several collaborative projects in motion that are really important to me. Torn Word  is a shared world platform based around a science fantasy setting I created nearly 20 years ago, and I’ve written thousands of pages of stories set there. Now, many writers and artists create fiction and artwork to expand the story even further. I also have put together a Portrait Adoption  site where artists can collect their random portrait work and offer it to role-players and writers as a shortcut to commissioning character portraits. And every month, I host a Sketch Fest , where anyone can leave prompts and artists of every media and skill-level can use them for inspiration for sketches, spending no more than an hour on any given piece before sharing it. I like projects that encourage creativity and reward creatives.

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

I am hoping to get a new Coloring Alaska book out this year, with a theme of Wild Birds. I am looking further ahead and thinking that I will probably do a Kickstarter early next year to fund a few multi-artist titles and hope to have a new solo fantasy book ready to put out at that time.

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

Some recent books include The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Protector Panther by Zoe Chant, and Roses in Amber by C.E. Murphy. Recent movies: Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Dr Strange, and Equestria Girls (about seven hundred times – I have a five-year-old).

If you could be any super hero, who one would you be? Why?

Hmm. Maybe batgirl? I like her sassy, not-too-sexy style, and I’m all in favor of superheros who have no powers, just brains and ethics.

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