Bringing Old Illustrations to Life: The #ColorOurCollections Project

Bringing Old Illustrations to Life: The #ColorOurCollections Project

Are you a history buff who loves to color? Do you enjoy skimming through old books, studying the techniques used to illustrate a beloved fable or admiring the work of a talented artist from long ago? How about old maps or sketches of landscapes or cities as they were in the 19th Century? Do you often wish they were in color to enhance the brilliance of the artist’s’ work? Thanks to a project called #ColorOurCollections (COC), many images like these are now digitized and are only a hashtag away!

Accessing the Collections

The project is a cooperative effort by a group of libraries, museums and archives worldwide that came together to make it possible for the public to color and share some of the artwork from their special collections.

The campaign went live the first week of February, 2016, offering digitized versions of illustrations from books in the public domain (pre-1923 works no longer in copyright). During the campaign, colorists were encouraged to share their finished work on Twitter using the hashtag #colorourcollections.

Even though the initial campaign is officially over, these files are still accessible. In addition to searching the hashtag on Twitter and Facebook, you can find links to many of the participant’s collections on the Open Culture website. Some institutions have also put their content on Pinterest and flickr. Simply googling the hashtag works, too.

Illustrations: Use, Subjects, and Techniques

The illustrations in these special collections are visual representations of stories, fables, poems, historical events, inventions, etc. There are also drawings of flora and fauna, fashion, travel, landscapes, villages, maps, wildlife, random patterns, anatomical drawings, toys, playbills, hieroglyphics, castles, anamorphic figures, and much more. There is even a Coloring Book of Patents put out by The National Archives of the United States. Check out the patent for eye protectors for chickens, circa 1903.

Various art techniques used for the original illustrations in these collections include woodcut or other engraved images, black and white hand drawings, sketches, and etchings. The Biodiversity Heritage Library even selected some original colored images that were turned into coloring pages for the project.

Learn and Get Creative

Coloring illustrations that were hidden inside old tomes on dusty shelves is a fun way to bring history to life. While we browse through these digital collections to select images that are interesting to us, we can get a glimpse into cultures of earlier times. We might pick up knowledge about artists of old who spent hours painstakingly creating beautiful images to illustrate a story, or we can make a note to read the story that inspired the artist’s rendering.

From quirky drawings, we can learn a little about the inventions that the determined inventors of old created in their shops during late nights of tinkering under dim lights. Can you imagine the time it took to get all of that creativity out on paper?

We can enjoy or own creativity not only by enhancing an intricate drawing with different color mediums available to us today, but also by using our finished pages in so many different ways.

Some people enjoy creating albums of their different colorings organized by theme or subject. If you enjoy studying cultures from different decades, you might choose to create an album of colored drawings of clothing fashions from 1900 – 1910, or a binder filled with pages centered on travel in the 1920s. Maybe you’re a colorist who is an avid collector of maps of all types. If so, The Digital Public Library offers a PDF of a cool celestial map published in 1801.

Beyond the Project

There is no end of things that can be turned into coloring pages! If you’re interested in historical content in the public domain (pre-1923 publications), you can spend hours searching out images in your areas of interest. Just searching Google Images will result in a wealth of content. I had some fun searching for old newspaper ads. There are tons of old ads on that topic alone! Colorings of images of newspaper ads featuring odd products and clever ad copy would make a fun album.

A word of caution: If you do decide to take your search for old images beyond those selected for the COC project, be sure that they are out of copyright before you download and print.

I look forward to discovering some colorings of these old images in the Facebook coloring groups!

Feature Image – Photo:Marcus Annaeus Lucanus. Source: Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University, 2016 Colouring Book

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