This month’s feature artist, Vivid Owl Coloring, is the brain child of two Finland residents, Arto Törmänen & Mika Haikonen. Arto is the artist who brings us the designs to color, and Mika is the manager who helps Arto create the books and market them. They both were happy to answer questions for Color On! this month.
Color On!: Arto, you’re an award-winning graphic designer. Why did you decide to add coloring book artist to your other achievements?
Arto: I draw a lot in my free time, especially with markers. I just start to draw something that comes to my mind and often those drawings turn into fully finished art pieces. When Mika proposed a joint project, I immediately responded “Absolutely, let’s do it.” I thought that my style of marker drawing would be a good fit for this kind of work.
Mika: In the spring of last year I was feeling that I need to try something new. I had plans for a few things, but I must say launching an adult coloring brand was not one of them! However, I was driving across the country with my girlfriend last summer, and when we stopped at various places I browsed through quite a number of adult coloring books, and thought of an idea I absolutely wanted to try. I then quickly contacted Arto with a project proposal, and I‘m so glad he was ready to work on this. We’ve worked together previously on other projects. I like his drawing and art style a lot and thought it would be excellent style to apply to adult coloring designs. While creating our first book, we founded a company and started to build our business models. Eight weeks after our decision to create an adult coloring book, the first version was ready.
As for the other plans I had, lecturing at a Finnish university was one of the dreams I was able to accomplish. The rest are on the back burner waiting for their time.
Color On!: Your first book is a series of beautiful, artistic designs, with a very sensual undertone. In contrast, your designs in this issue have a very whimsical feel. For example, several of us on my coloring team were trying to figure out why there is a roll of toilet paper in the design of the dragon running past the duck. Are there stories behind the designs you submitted for the magazine?
Mika: We have a few ideas for upcoming publications – design sets and books – and these illustrations are from one of them. The story behind the illustrations is an old story about the monster of Lake Loukusa, a small, deep lake in northern Finland. The story about the monster is very old and has been passed down from generation to generation. The story has not (yet!) reached same level of fame as the Loch Ness Monster, though! We wanted to give the ColorOn magazine a set of high-quality coloring designs that have a common theme, and Arto proposed using these coloring designs. The book is in the pipeline and it’s called A Peculiar Friendship. We hope to finalize the story and the coloring designs this year. As for the toilet paper, it’s one of those funny details Arto likes to add to his designs! He thought that the first time these peculiar main characters of the story meet must be a very peculiar situation. Here the dragon is possibly emerging from the forest after, hmm, taking care of business – he certainly wouldn’t soil the lake, his home! – and he bumps into the duck. A peculiar situation to start a peculiar friendship!
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.
Mika: We both think about the theme of the book and the style it should have. We then generate ideas (characters, settings, scenes) for designs and Arto draws a few samples, which we discuss. Do they express the theme and idea? What kind of further development and fine-tuning is required? From there on, the artwork is pretty much Arto’s area of responsibility.
When he, for example, works on these fairy-tale like illustrations, he creates a draft design with pencils to capture the idea that he has in mind. He continues sketching as long as is needed and produces version after version until he is satisfied with the end result. Sometimes the drawing flows so well that the first draft is exactly what he is looking for; at other times he needs to work on an illustration for a long time to get it just right. Once the pencil draft is ready, he starts drawing with markers (different width Micron markers, depending on the line style, and 300 gm2 high-quality drawing paper), adding details and more content as they occur to him. From time to time during the drawing process, we evaluate the designs together.
As Arto is creating the art, I work on the book’s name, text content, translations and publishing process. Once we have all the content in place, we put together the first draft and make decisions about the order of the designs. We want to have a certain kind of rhythm in the pictures instead of having them in just any random order. Once both Arto and I are happy, we publish the book. We are independent publishers at the moment, which gives us a lot of freedom to do things in our own way. However, we are looking for an agent to work with us to get our books published by a more heavy weight publisher.
Color On!: When coloring your own art, what is your favorite medium(s)?
Arto: I like to use aquarelle and acrylic paint with brush and airbrush. Nowadays, I do quite a lot of art and drawing with digital media, too (scanning a pencil draft and then using Photoshop.)
Mika: I love to use watercolor pencils and watercolors with brush.
Color On!: Do you enjoy relaxing with coloring books by other artists? If so, do you have a favorite artist or book?
Mika: Sadly, Arto does not have much time to color. As he works on the coloring designs on top of his daily work, there is not that much time for coloring. I did color on many different books when doing research for our first book, and would also like to find more time to color as I enjoyed it a lot. We both agree on a favorite though: it is absolutely Johanna Basford, for her line art and style. It would be very interesting to see different themed designs from her.
Color On!: What color or colors do you most love to work with?
Arto: I don’t really have a favorite color; they change over time. I may have a green period, then a black one. When coloring or painting I choose a color theme, for example green. I then create a painting with different shades of green, and highlight approximately 10% of the surface by using the complementary color, in this case red. The rule of thumb is that the complementary color should cover about 10% of the area of the painting – this keeps the picture and texture interesting.
Mika: If you are asking my favorite color, I like to use black to create depth in the designs. For the colors, bright blue and deep red are perhaps my most favorite colors.
Mika: With our first book we wanted to create a sensual world with the ever popular garden, leaves and trees theme. We think we did well and that the level of sensuality is just right. Not too much to be explicit and downright dirty; not too little to be banal. There are a few pictures that are bit more daring, but if someone finds them a little too much there are plenty more modest ones to choose from! For the next book, Arto has further developed his drawing style to be even more flowing and artistic, and the coloring designs are drawn in A3 size. We will publish sneak peeks of our future projects on our Facebook page and blog!
In addition to coloring designs, Arto has a few other ongoing projects. One is related to Sinuhe the Egyptian, a famous Finnish historical novel by Mika Waltari, and one to the Finnish national epic Kalevala. With Sinuhe the Egyptian, the idea is to transfer the story into distant future, a bit in the style of H.R. Giger, and create a piece of art of the main characters of the novel, using acrylic paint and airbrush. These pieces have been in a few art exhibitions. In the Kalevala project Arto will also create a character gallery of the main characters. Here, he has used digital media: Cinema 3D, zBrush and Photoshop. The plan is to create a calendar with 12 character pictures. You can find Arto’s illustration and art at his website www.3dart.fi.
Color On!: Who is your favorite artist or artists?
Arto: John Howe and H.R.Giger. I had the privilege of visiting Giger’s art exhibition a few years ago in Tampere, Finland. There were not that many pieces on show but the artwork was amazing. Frazetta is also one of my all-time favorites. Alan Lee is excellent with aquarelle colors and did a wonderful job illustrating The Lord of the Rings. Nowadays I also check out almost every animated movie. In my opinion, the first 10 minutes of UP are top-notch fabulous. I highly recommend that everyone see the movie!
Mika: I love H.R. Giger too: the doomy and gloomy style is one of my favorites. Giger also created cover art for one of the top doom metal bands. And we must mention that Giger was the man behind the alien in the movie series Alien! Similar surrealistic, post-apocalyptic art created by Zdzisław Beksiński intrigues my darker side, too.
Color On!: Is there some person, place or thing that inspires you when you are creating your art?
Arto: I’m inspired by nature. Nature and plant life produce all kinds of shapes and forms, even sensual or daring ones at times. Advertisements are also a good source for ideas: the best ads and commercials these days are true works of art. I visit art exhibitions – both figurative and abstract art – as seeing other artists’ techniques and ideas is always inspiring. I also visit cgsociety.org for inspiration and new ideas.
Color On!: Other than creating coloring book art, what interesting hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
Mika: It might be easy to categorize me as business person, but I really enjoy doing things by hand. I’ve spent hours upon hours renovating my 1940’s house: it is a never-ending project! I love beautiful things like old American classic cars, and after a 10-year break from car tinkering, I just imported a 1958 Buick Century from the US. It requires some attention and maintenance in order to be in good shape by next summer. I also build cigar box guitars – one of the ways in which my obsession for music manifests itself! I love many styles of music, from blues to the darkest heavy metal. I used to play bass in a blues band and still write songs and lyrics when time permits. In addition, I’m a board member and the treasurer of our local blues association, which organize blues gigs for local and international blues bands.
Arto: I also have a variety of interests. I like to find out about new things and enjoy reading. I’m a movie buff – cartoons in particular. I exercise a lot, going to the gym several times a week. Over the past few years, I’ve become passionate about cycling.
Color On!: Have you had any memorable responses to your art work from collectors?
Mika: We have been working on our social media presence and have been lucky to have people post their coloring art of our designs. Colorists seem to appreciate the style of the art in our designs very much. They find them beautiful, intriguing and flowing. However, the sensual approach is something certain people have found too much! On the other hand, others say that sensuality is THE thing they have been looking for in adult coloring designs. We thank you all who have sent us feedback and encouraging comments and are happy the designs have brought you joy!
Color On!: If each of you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?
Arto: Precognition – the ability to predict the future. I wouldn’t mind knowing the lottery numbers… 😉
Mika: Time travel would be an interesting superpower to have. It would be great to meet people like Leonardo Da Vinci, John Lee Hooker, Isaac Newton; see what nature was like 10,000 years ago; be there when the first ancestors of Finnish people arrived on Finnish ground. And be there when our first manned mission enters a new solar system out there!
Color On!: Tell us about your plans for 2016. Any other coloring books planned?
A- We have several book ideas! Right now, we’re planning another “serious” adult coloring book. Based on what we’ve heard from adult colorists, we’ve set out to provide artistic, unique adult coloring designs for discerning adult colorist, produced on high-quality paper. We have just started work on the new book project. In order to get better funding for the project, we are planning to launch a crowdsourcing campaign.
In addition to the book project, we have ideas about a few coloring design sets that we would like to publish. The first design set, called FLOW, has been just published and is available at our Etsy Vivid Owl Coloring shop. Depending on the time available (and naturally on how well the books sell!) there may be more books coming up during the year 2016. Together with new book projects and design set projects we will continue working to get more visibility in this very interesting but fairly crowded field of adult coloring art production.
Mika and Arto would like to thank Mari Aro for helping a lot with editing the content and language checks!