Bringing native Maori art to the coloring world
Mitchell Manuel is a New Zealand artist with an interesting background. An IT tech, he’s also done script writing as a hobby, and has done some work in film, most recently as an extra on Avatar. He would like to do more with the New Zealand film industry in the future. Through a variety of online chats and emails, Mitch has given us some insights into his art.
Color On!: What inspired you to start creating art for coloring books?
Mitch: I wanted to provide a free resource for New Zealander Alzheimer and Dementia groups, allowing people to engage their loved ones in an activity that has proven therapeutic value. I also wanted the resource to reflect New Zealand imagery for New Zealanders. Unfortunately, after many hundreds of e-mails, and with the promise of two books in the pipeline, the dream didn’t develop past just an idea.
Based on my own belief in the genre of adult coloring and getting published via NewHolland publishing, I’m still keen to explore new dreams and new avenues. I’m looking into other options for making my coloring books available.
Color On!: How long have you been drawing?
Mitch: Mostly for the last 15 years. I love faces, feet, legs and other parts of the human anatomy. Humans are very hard to draw, and are great subjects when learning freehand and technique. At this time, my drawing of anatomy is below par and needs heaps of improvement. However, my latest images – based on abstract reinvented native symbols – are less rigorous in terms of skill level. These images and concepts are the mainstay of my adult coloring books: Maori Patterns and Symbols and Shapes released in August and October 2015.
Color On!: Do you work entirely digitally, or do you prefer pen and paper when creating?
Mitch: I start with pen and paper, and rarely use pencils. I use ball point nibs and felts to draw designs before they are digitized. I don’t use pencils to avoid errors, and concentrate instead on a final image for digitization. I then import the designs into Adobe Illustrator 6. I use the PenTool to re-digitize the imported art and make brushes and digital swatches from the images. I rarely embellish the images, preferring to use straight lines and create accurate, where possible, paths in which to add repetitive patterns. The end result is more precise for those colorists who prefer accurate lines to fill or adorn.
Examples of my work can be found here: http://www.maoriart.org.nz/ngati-apai-ngati-toorangati-taraare-mitch-manuel-p-539.html
Color On!: Do you make/sell other kinds of art?
Mitch: I make fashion wear swatch samples and have collaborated with fashion designer Mariana Razuk from Brazil who entered into the Rio fashion week 2013 for her AW 2014 range: http://www.marie-raz.com/Marie_Raz/Shows.html.
Color On!: When coloring your own art, what is your favorite medium?
Mitch: I don’t usually color but if I do I’d rather use Fabre felts which have a fine end for detailed work.
Color On!: Do you enjoy relaxing with coloring books by other artists? If so, do you have a favorite artist or book?
Mitch: I like Darla Tjelmeland. But If I had a choice to color another artist’s work, I’d color Frank Frazetta’s ink work.
Color On!: What color or colors do you most love to work with?
Mitch: Magentas and cyans.
Color On!: Tell us a little bit about your art. Do you have a favorite piece that you created?
Mitch: My images have a long history going back hundreds of years. I’ve taken native symbols (such as the fern frond, or Koru,) and reinvented the image into an abstract form to suit my own personal style, which I hope remains a niche market within the adult coloring genre.
The Koru is an ancient symbol of the Native brown skinned people, the Maori, ancient mariners who navigated and settled parts of the South Pacific, and eventually made it to New Zealand or Aotearoa (Land of the long white cloud), circa 1350.
Many varieties of the Koru can be found as Kowhawhai (ancient symbolic and repetitive imagery) inside traditional meeting houses as rafters highly decorative but with colors consisting of mainly White, Black, and Red but sometimes Brown and Green. It has been said that that many meeting houses or ancestral houses within New Zealand represent the anatomy of a woman, the rafters being the ribs of the women equaling 12 pairs.
There is also an ancient story that the ancient art was given to Maori from the second heaven. One oral account from Ngati Kahungunu about Kowhaiwhai:
When Whiro, Haepuru and Haematua climbed up to the second heaven to obtain carvings for their house, they were told by one of the gods that the art of decorating houses with woodcarvings had already been taken away by their younger brothers. Whiro and his two friends complained to the god that they could not go begging to their younger brothers for the art, so the god showed them how to embellish a house with painted designs, ‘painted it is said with red ochre, blue pigment, white clay and charcoal.’ Whiro and the two friends then descended and adorned their houses with painted designs.
Obviously I love Koru, and use the imagery in a myriad of ways. I have created an assortment of interpretations which have found a small but hopefully enchanted audience looking for abstract imagery from New Zealand.
I don’t have a favourite piece since I have over 2000 images and I create new pieces every week. My art is reinvented Native art based on the indigenous Maori from New Zealand. I also use Fibonacci inspired equations for creating work and repetitive combinations.
Color On!: Other than creating coloring book art, what interesting hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
Mitch: I write feature length screenplays and would love to be involved in the NZ Film industry again. I’m also keen to develop a Photoapp based on my abstract work as overlays for the App. 2016 is looking pretty good for this App to be revealed in both IOS and Android format for the huge smartphone market.
Color On!: Have you had any memorable responses to your art work from collectors?
Mitch: All my work and any interpretations of that work is memorable. I love to see other colorists view my images with such fresh and new approaches – seeing their vision for the first time and feeling privileged to have been given a rare glimpse of their viewpoint. You feel that you’ve been taken on a journey that is fresh, new and exciting. It’s a beautiful gift from another artist to see into their dreams and their psyche.
Color On!: If you had to choose one superpower, what would it be?
Mitch: Healing ability. God knows the World needs love and healing in abundance.
Color On!: Who is your favorite artist?
Mitch: Frank Frazetta. But I have many.
Color On!: Is there some person, place or thing that inspires you when you are creating your art?
Mitch: I aspire to inspire by forming new ideas and reinventions in order to create by following rules and then breaking them.