A Chat with Shelah Dow

What made you decide to become a coloring book artist?

As an watercolorist, I would originally draw my work in pencil, ink it over, then use a lightbox to transfer the work to watercolor paper. This led to a decent number of images that were line art just sitting around in sketchbooks and portfolios.

I went through a divorce when my daughter was young and spent far too much time apart from her. I wanted to do something special when she was somewhere between 9-13-years-old. I don’t remember her exact age at that time.  I took all of my line art and put it into a folder of print-outs for her to use as a coloring book. At that time, I filled the book with fairy cats and fairies. After creating that as a personal gift, I met Ellen Million online and learned that she published coloring books. I wanted to submit, but didn’t really get around to it.  Instead, I listed some things on Etsy and listened to the crickets. I knew nothing about what to do to advertise and didn’t think I could publish a coloring book on my own.  I didn’t know a thing about cleaning up my work. I was lost.

Years passed by. My friend, Julia, sent me a coloring book and I found that it helped ease my anxiety. That put me back into the mindset that I could do this.  I could turn all of this line art into something special. I was going to school more than half-time, working full-time, and still wanted to explore this idea that I’d had for years.  I figured out that I could create books on my own.  I learned what it would take to clean things up now that I had some graphic design courses under my belt. I’ve been hooked ever since. My daughter is now 22 and I have published 4 books and numerous individual coloring pages.
How do you create your art? Do you create your drawings by computer or do      you prefer old school pencil and paper?

I actually blend techniques. I always start off with drawing on paper first, then scan it in. I may scan in line art, paintings, or pen and ink work that has very raw textures. I use the computer to clean up and refine this work in whatever way the original requires. I’m very old school. My computer doesn’t travel well with me, so a pencil and sketch book work best. I prefer a brand new sketchbook for each new project now.

My originals are definitely raw. I’ll often use the computer to fix elements that my hands do not want to create properly. I can’t draw a perfect circle to save my life and my lines are often just as sketchy. I build my figures in feathery lines over shapes, refining as I go.  After the first, second, and often third pass in a drawing, I’ll cement the lines into what I want and then ink over them. The inking phase is when I make most of my mistakes. The scanning and cleanup process is when I fix them.
What is your inspiration for the different types of art that you create for your coloring books?

My inspiration comes from many different things. I prefer fantasy as a topic and I like things that are a little weird. I find inspiration in nature such as animals and plants, but I also love fashion. I’m the least fashionable person I know, but my fairies really like to strut their stuff. I love fabrics, wild hair, and unique elongated limbs. I used to sculpt dolls and my fairies are often an echo of those creations.  My dragons tend to be somewhat feminine, unlike the fierce dragons most artists create. I like circles and flowing lines and jot down any weird idea I have for future work.
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 do! I originally started as a watercolorist. Many of my pieces first started as paintings that were converted later. When I color now I tend to prefer color pencils the most. I like the more affordable brands like Leisure Art and I love my Prismacolors. I’m learning to use Inktense now, which are similar enough to my watercolors that they feel natural. Color is just another dimension of art. I prefer the raw of black and white, but sometimes like that venture into trying new things with color.

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

I’m not sure if I’ve ever defined success for myself. I think what I feel keeps me going the most is that I’ve connected with a lot of colorists now. I like interacting with people. I’m an introvert, but online I’m able to connect with people from around the world with art as the primary link. My art makes people smile and their creativity truly comes out in the little additions they add to the stuff they color.  They say it helps anxiety, depression, getting through taking care of family members and the hardships in life. I think that is the heart of success.

Besides yourself, who is your favorite coloring book artist?

This is a hard question. My favorite artist is Heather Gwinn. She did make a coloring book, but that isn’t her primary focus. If I go for my favorite coloring book artist, I’d have to say Alice Best Jackson. I’ve colored her stuff more than any others because I like to create the whimsical, but prefer to color the abstract. I lose my anxiety in her work because the colors choose themselves and I can let go of my focus to truly enjoy the blend of color. Sometimes an actual creature emerges from the design, but usually it’s my heart going into the creation and peace is the result.

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

Purple, aqua and olive green. Occasionally golden colors slip in there too.

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

I am a gamer. I PC game and play stuff like Ark: Survival Evolved, Torchlight II, Elder Scrolls Online, and many others. When I’m not doing that, I prefer to crochet tiny stuffed animals and do wire wrapped jewelry. I often pair the latter with paper beads. I love paper. I love wire. I love polymer clay. If I can make it into something, I’ll try it.

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

My next release will be a a long-awaited fairy cat book. I also have 3 other book projects I’m working on and not ready to announce. I tend to take at least 2-3 months to draw one book and at this point I’m pretty well done with translating older art into designs so everything will be brand new and fresh. I like to have at least 32 images per book. It’s going to be a busy year.

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

As a teen, I devoured books. As an adult, I have a harder time keeping focus on any book I read. The last books I read were in a young adult series by J.L. Bryan. The latest movies that truly stand out to me were Lovely Bones, The Last Witch Hunter, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Lovely Bones  was my favorite of those. I want stuff that makes me think in a heart-touching way, but I don’t want to watch anything that is stressful.

 If you were deserted on an island, what three things would you want to have with you? 

Things or people?  I couldn’t do without my people or my cat.  If we’re talking just items I’d need a pencil, a sketchbook, and something that could play music without electricity.  These are very impractical items because not one of these would save my life in a pinch.

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