A chat with Wendy Piersall

A chat with Wendy Piersall

This month we have the pleasure of exploring the creative world of Wendy Piersall. Her journey has been less of a straight highway from childhood crayons to adult art, and more of a twisting, winding, loop-the-loop path from artistic aspiration through online entrepeneurship, eventually leading back to art and coloring books.

Color On!: You’ve mentioned that a publisher approached you about some mandalas you had previously drawn. What made you start drawing mandalas? Were they similar in style to what you created for your coloring books?

Wendy: I started drawing mandalas for the most uninteresting reason of all time: I’d done keyword research and found out that people were looking for mandala coloring pages, so I drew some for my kid’s activities blog at WooJr.com. But unlike the other coloring pages I was creating at the time, I found myself to be very relaxed when I was done drawing mandalas – as if I had been meditating. It was because of that amazing experience that I drew 30-40 of them back in 2009 instead of a standard set of 6 that I normally created. They aren’t a very similar style to what I’ve drawn for my books, because they were a combination of drawing plus clip art I had licensed. Everything in my books I draw myself.

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Design from Wendy’s book, “Coloring Dream Mandalas,” colored by Mary J. Winters-Meyer.

Color On!: You talk about your coloring books bringing you “full circle” in your love of art, which is somewhat interesting considering your journey ended up with you creating mandalas. If you had to describe your journey as a mandala, what would it look like?

Wendy: This is SUCH a cool question!! But it’s difficult to answer – my career journey has been a very zig-zaggy, eclectic experience. I went from being an artist, to being a corporate trainer, to being a graphic designer, to being a recruiter, to being a business development executive, to being a blogger, and then BACK to being an artist again through my coloring books. So, if you could imagine a mandala that is both chaotic and yet divinely guided – then that’s what my journey as a mandala has looked like. I guess I could sum up both my career and drawing mandalas as an exercise in “trusting the process”. Both can start out weird and look like crap at times, but if I trust the process of drawing (as I did with my career moves) it always looks beautiful in the end.

Color On!: You’ve had a lot of success with online businesses, and the explosion of interest in coloring has led a lot of artists to try to make a success in an online environment. What can you tell us about your experiences as a coloring book artist, and the skills required to build a successful following online?

Wendy: I literally wrote the book on mom blogging (Mom Blogging for Dummies in 2011), and a lot of what made me successful as a blogger has helped me tremendously as a book author/artist. My number 1 advice to people starting out with their own coloring books is to build a following on Facebook and Instagram right away, well before their books come out. Having a mailing list and giving out free samples of your work are also hugely important to building a fan base.

I frankly see a lot of coloring books on bestseller lists that are not drawn by the author, and instead are pieced together with clip art. This means that unfortunately for all of us, great talent will not sell your books – but great PR, marketing and distribution will. Talent is sure helpful, don’t get me wrong – but on its’ own, talent is not likely to make you or break you. I spend just as much time marketing as I do drawing, and unless you’re willing to work twice as hard to promote your work as you do to create the work, getting into the coloring book business isn’t a great idea.

wendy-postcardsColor 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.

At the beginning when I am brainstorming ideas, I use just a regular #2 pencil and paper. For the book illustrations, I work in Adobe Illustrator with a Wacom drawing tablet. I use the custom symbols and custom brush tools extensively when creating replicating patterns for my mandalas. And now that I’m in the midst of working on 6th coloring book, I also have many templates set up so that I can just jump right in and have a finished drawing rather quickly.

Color On!: When coloring your own art, what is your favorite medium(s)?

My two top favorites are Polychromos pencils and Copic Markers. I prefer the pencils, actually, because I really enjoy layering colors and shading. But since I have carpal tunnel, I can’t use them too much or my hands pretty much stop working for a few days. I also like using watercolors, but they aren’t very practical most of the time, especially for use in actual books with regular paper.

Color On!: Do you enjoy relaxing with coloring books by other artists? If so, do you have a favorite artist or book?

I do! It’s hard not to love Johanna Basford’s work, and I’m also a big fan of Millie Marotta, Jenean Morrison and Hanna Karlzon. Their work is gorgeous!

Color On!: What color or colors do you most love to work with?

In every other area of my life (wardrobe, home décor, collecting other’s art, etc.) I prefer a muted palette with limited colors. But when I color in coloring books, I absolutely cannot resist using nearly every single color in the box. And the brighter the colors, the better!

Color On!: Tell us a little bit about your art. Do you have a favorite piece that you created? Do you create other art besides designs for coloring books?

Let me preface this answer by saying that I spent the first 44+ years of my life telling myself I couldn’t draw. So I adapted my “art” during this time to my horrible limiting belief and I did everything except draw – crafts, graphic design, photography, etc. It wasn’t until 2013 when Ulysses Press asked me to do my first coloring book that I actually DREW and found that I wasn’t nearly as bad at it as I had been telling myself. So even though I’ve had a long and pretty successful career, I’ve only had a career as an actual artist for just over 2 years.

wendy-artI could honestly create coloring books for the rest of my life and be 1000% happy with my career. Realistically, though, I don’t know if this adult coloring trend will last that long, so I am building up a backup plan. 🙂 I illustrated a gardening book last fall, and I am giving myself drawing lessons in 2016 to be able to draw people and characters better so that I can get work illustrating children’s books, greeting cards, and other non-coloring projects.

My favorite book I’ve done is Coloring Dream Mandalas, though I think that my upcoming Coloring Bird Mandalas book will be my new favorite. My favorite mandala that I’ve ever drawn is the woman with the peacock feather hat in Dreams – I even had it tattooed on my back last summer!

Color On!: Other than creating coloring book art, what interesting hobbies or activities do you enjoy?

I love going antiquing, and I collect antique books, vintage figurines, Halloween & Christmas decorations and nautical items. I also garden, sew, write, meditate, cook, and I’m an amateur photographer. Most of all I love family time, and I carve out time to spend with my husband and kids at least once a week – more often in the summer.

Color On!: Have you had any memorable responses to your art work from collectors?

The most memorable responses I’ve gotten from people have definitely been the ones who have used coloring my books as a part of their therapy for depression, anxiety or PTSD. While I love to hear compliments on my work, knowing that my art is helping others find their way to happiness is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

Color On!: If you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?

I would definitely be a time traveler!! I’m so inspired by vintage art, I would absolutely LOVE to go back in time to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and be a part of the art scene back then!

Color On!: Who is your favorite artist or artists?

This is a perfect question to follow the last one – I’d say that I’m most inspired and influenced by Gustav Klimt and Alphonse Mucha from the art nouveau period. I also go crazy for the vintage fashion magazine cover illustrations from publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazar and Vanity Fair before photography took over in the 30’s/40’s. I was also moved to tears once by studying a Van Gogh painting at the Chicago Art Institute – I felt like I was walking around inside the mind of another artist and it was profoundly moving.

Color On!: Is there some person, place or thing that inspires you when you are creating your art?

I get most of my art ideas from two places – my morning meditations and my vintage book, magazine and ephemera collection. When I need to drum up inspiration, I meditate, go through my collection, and turn on my favorite playlist that I only listen to while working. The combination of those three pretty much never fail me, even though it works better some days than others!

Color On!: Tell us about your plans for 2016. You’ve created some beautiful non-mandala designs for our magazine, and mentioned you want to do more of that. Are there other books being planned?

Yes! My fifth book, Coloring Flower Mandala Postcards, is all done and going to press soon, and will be out in the spring of 2016. As mentioned earlier, I am currently working on Coloring Bird Mandalas to be coming out in the middle of 2016. I am also planning on self-publishing some non-mandala adult coloring books, because my publisher Ulysses Press and I are talking about working on some new projects that aren’t coloring related. That could keep me busy all year, but I’m also taking a few art classes to build up my portfolio to go after other illustration projects such as children’s books, greeting cards, and hopefully a line of fabrics. Since I’m such an art career late bloomer, I’m purposefully trying to bite off more than I can chew – I’ve got no time to let grass grow under my feet! 🙂

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