A Chat with Ruth Sanderson

Our feature artist for September is the fabulous Ruth Sanderson. Ruth has drawn six exclusive images for us!

What made you decide to become a coloring book artist?

I was invited by Fairy Magazine in early 2016 to contribute to a coloring book, Winged Beauty, along with a number of other fantasy illustrators. When I began to create the pen and ink pictures of fairies, I enjoyed it so much I decided to do a fairy coloring book myself. After creating a small limited edition and selling through my website, I decided to go with Amazon’s Create Space print-on-demand publishing for a wider distribution, and The World of Fairies was launched in December 2016. I loved this new coloring book art world so much, and so enjoyed connecting with fans and colorists, that I just wanted to keep going and create more books.

I love cats, and decided my next book would have a cat theme…and so I began sketches for Fantastic Cats,— from simple Zentangle-like patterned cats to elaborate cats dressed in Elizabethan garb. Around that time I saw a few of my own paintings, probably taken from Pinterest,  grayscaled, colored, and posted on coloring groups. (Happily most groups don’t allow this, and educate people about artist’s rights.) I did politely point out to the individuals that they should not do this without the artist’s permission. That same artist might want to create a book of grayscale images….Hmm… After searching on Amazon I saw that people were indeed creating grayscale coloring books, mostly from nature photos, but also from paintings and drawings. I thought to myself—my elaborate oil paintings would be really fun to color if converted to grayscale!

And so after a great deal of work carefully adjusting my paintings for grayscale coloring, the Beautiful Fairytales series was born, based on my fairy tale picture books for children, starting with The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Cinderella, and Goldilocks in the first six months of 2017, with more titles planned in the future. And now I am finally back to finishing  the line drawings for Fantastic Cats, which hopefully should be released in time for this issue, or soon after.

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

For the line art books, I use Copic, Sakura, and Micron technical pens in various widths. I do a detailed pencil drawing first, tape a piece of smooth Bristol paper over it, tape that to a light tablet, and then draw the final black lines. I work larger than the finished book –about 10″x13″ or so. I scan the finished line drawings, then adjust and and clean them up in Photoshop.

My grayscale coloring books are usually created by carefully adjusting the high resolution scans of my oil paintings, to suit being colored with colored pencils.. It took a full month and 5 proofs to adjust and test-color the images in the first book! (Twelve Dancing Princesses) I discovered it is best to have the images a bit on the light side so the gray does not overpower the colors, especially in faces. Rich bright colors work very nicely over gray. For Goldilocks, I included the detailed pencil drawings I created for the original picture book, along with some fully grayscaled images from the paintings.

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

As I mentioned, the grayscale books are versions of my own paintings— mainly my fairy tale illustrations for children. My style is really not just for kids—I paint to please myself, and hope others like my vision and style, which I’d label as “Romantic Realism.” Many adults collect my picture books for the artwork, and a number of women have designed their wedding dresses around my princess costumes.

The main influences for my illustration style are the English Pre-Raphaelite painters, and illustrators like Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth. Like those artists, I am a traditional oil painter. I also create a great deal of Christmas art—I have been doing the annual holiday plate for Lenox for many years and license my Christmas art on tins, puzzles, greeting cards, etc. My Santa’s Christmas coloring book is comprised of 24 images of holiday art that I carefully converted to grayscale, and includes artwork from my Night Before Christmas picture book. (I sell the only available copies on my website as it is currently out of print.) I like to create Christmas pictures that look very traditional and nostalgic.

For my line art style I do look at the work of other pen and ink artists, but my style is my own. I love narrative art—pictures that tell a story—and my preference is creating realistic-looking pictures with a lot of ornate detail. I want my Victorian cats having tea to look like they could just walk off the page. I am also branching out, creating some designs that have a Zentangle or Mandala influence, as the decorative shapes in those styles lend themselves well to coloring with practically an endless variety of colors, and people seem to find them relaxing and stress-relieving. I included pictures in various styles and levels of complexity for Fantastic Cats.

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?

 I’ve always been a fan of Prismacolor pencils, and I use both the Premiers and the Verithins. I just bought a fine white gel pen, a tip from colorists, and I am having fun  playing with that. Some folks love markers, but I’m not a fan of them, especially for grayscale. I have also discovered that blending pencils do not work well on grayscale. I either burnish with the lightest pencil of each color, or use Gamsol, odorless mineral spirits. Recently I created a series of five step-by-step colored pencil tutorials for one of my Cinderella grayscale images, and invite readers who are not familiar with grayscale coloring to check out my demos. (YouTube link at bottom of article.) I often post my colored pictures on my coloring group, Ruth Sanderson Art Coloring Group (and other Facebook groups). I invite you all to request to join my group.  All colorists are welcome!

I do enjoy coloring my line art books— The World of Fairies and the upcoming Fantastic Cats, so far. In addition to colored pencils, I also like using watercolors after printing the line art on Hot Press watercolor paper—I have created illustrations that way for children’s books over the years. And for some of my books I create detailed grayscale pencil drawings and tint them in oils after sealing the paper with mat medium. (Goldilocks) I am all about mixed media! Make-up Q-tips are a great tool…

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

 I feel that a book is a success if people get enjoyment from coloring my images. The coloring groups on Facebook are fantastic communities where colorists can post work and get lots of support and positive feedback. People from around the world interact in these groups— it is like nothing else I have seen. In terms of financial success, my hope is that my coloring books will sell well enough for me to be able to afford to keep creating them! So far this is the case, and I consider the venture a success. Much as I have loved illustrating children’s books over the past 40+ years, right now what I enjoy the most is creating line drawings for coloring, as well as converting many of my existing paintings into grayscale coloring books. It is exciting for me to see the new imaginative versions of my pictures, and the feeling of collaboration with colorists is something totally new to me, and really fun. Sometimes I like their color schemes better than mine! I hope to do lots more tutorials, and color-alongs in my coloring group, to help people develop their coloring skills.

Beside yourself, who is your favorite coloring book artist?

I was totally blown away when I first saw Joanna Basford’s book, The Secret Garden, which I believe was instrumental in starting the whole adult coloring book craze. There are so many others now producing fabulous coloring books, but she still stands tall among them, and her success is well deserved.

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

In my fairytales for children I create a different color palette for each book. Golds predominate in my picture book The Twelve Dancing Princesses, with blue and teal complimentary colors. The princesses wear these colors in the magical  underground golden forest and magical castle where they dance until their shoes wear out every night. The colors in their dresses echo the background colors. During the day they wear pink, burgundy, reds and oranges, all warm colors, to differentiate the daytime costumes from the nighttime ones. It took me about three weeks just to figure out the color schemes for all the costumes and scenes in that book.            Contrast is very important in a picture, and colors all have a “value” from light to dark. To make something stand out, usually the object is darker against a lighter color or light against a darker value. My goal is to create pictures that have a strong unified “value pattern” of light and shade, whatever the colors happen to be. Red, for instance, is actually a very dark color, so there has to be a balance of other dark colors in the picture tying the composition together so the red looks harmonious, otherwise it will stick out too much. Accenting with too much black can also make a picture look “out of key.” This is particularly true in grayscale on faces. I do recommend folks do a bit of research on color theory if they are at a loss with choosing colors. There are also some great sites that talk about choosing seasonal color palettes, and that can be inspiring and less intimidating than doing color wheels and learning triads, etc.

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

I have a wonderful quarter horse named Shadow and enjoy trail riding in the beautiful New England woods. I also enjoy gardening, walking, going to movies and plays, traveling, visiting museums, and reading.

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

I have plans for quite a few more books in the coming year. I will be working on more books with grayscaled images of my paintings, in both the Beautiful Fairytales series, and a series based on my fantasy art. (dragons, unicorns, etc.) I have lots of horse paintings, so that one is on the list for the future, too! And I will continue to create coloring tutorials for my YouTube channel. People who sign up for my newsletter at ruthsanderson.com will receive a free sample illustration to color from each new release.

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

 I just read Some Writer: The Story of E. B. White, (author of Charlotte’s Web) written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I really enjoy reading biographies of writers and artists, and Sweet did a great job with both text and pictures. I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy II, which is clever and witty and pokes fun at the genre in a hilarious way. And I was enchanted by Wonder Woman, and so impressed with its character development. And it’s not all about the action— it has a great story, too.

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

A horse, of course! Horses have always been my favorite animals, and when I was young, I drew them exclusively over everything else. (I was so thrilled to get the job of illustrating the covers for the Black Stallion series paperbacks early in my career in the late 70’s. Yup, I am that old…) I have always loved carousels. There is a restored carousel near us that is spectacular, and has a black stallion that is my favorite. I might need to do a carousel coloring book, now…..no, I think I absolutely must do a carousel coloring book! Thanks for the idea!

Happy Coloring!



LINKS for Ruth Sanderson:

Main Website: http://www.ruthsanderson.com

Ruth Sanderson Art Coloring Group:   https://tinyurl.com/ybaz2g33

Facebook Art Page: https://www.facebook.com/ruthsandersonart/

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ruthsander

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ruth_sanderson

Amazon author page: https://tinyurl.com/l86hlf7

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RuthLSanderson

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ruthlsanderson/

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