Adult coloring book artist: 'I honestly can't believe this is my career'
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Theo Nicole Lorenz thought she was going to be a novelist. But five years ago, her career took a sharp turn that led straight back to her childhood.
Now, Lorenz uses her storytelling abilities to create coloring books suitable for teens and adults — a demographic that, until recently, had thought they had outgrown such things.
In 2015, coloring book sales in the U.S. exploded, skyrocketing from 1 million in 2014 to 12 million last year, according to Neilsen BookScan. Five of Amazon's Top 20 bestsellers in 2015 were adult coloring books.
The trend kicked off in 2013 with artist Johanna Basford's intricately designed Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book; since then, the artist has sold more than 16 million books.
“It’s nostalgic, and it’s a bit old school,” Mary Amicucci, chief merchandising officer at Barnes & Noble, told the Washington Post. “It reminds people of their childhood.”
"I think the main thing is that coloring is an activity that, for a lot of people, reminds them of being a kid and not having all of these big responsibilities. You sit down and start coloring, and a switch goes off in your brain that says, 'this is all I have to do right now.'
"It's very relaxing."
Lorenz will hang out and color with fans during Ama-Con, the Amarillo Public Library's comics, gaming and anime convention that runs Saturday and Sunday in the Amarillo Civic Center Complex, 401 S. Buchanan St. (For more details on all the fun at the con, check out my preview story.) She'll also host a Make Your Own Coloring Book presentation at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Heritage Ballroom.
It was at a con — WisCon, a feminist sci-fi convention — that Lorenz first started dabbling in coloring books — and entirely by accident.
"I went to a panel on body positivity ... and a friend on the panel asked where all the fat women in space were, so I started sketching a fat woman astronaut," said Lorenz, who self-identifies as a fat woman herself in a way to reclaim the term. "When I showed it to her, she got very serious and said, 'You need to draw more of these. I need a coloring book.'"
Half-joking, Lorenz made a coloring book for her friend, then decided to start selling copies of Fat Ladies in Spaaaaace.
"I wound up selling enough copies the first month to pay my electric bill, so I started thinking that maybe there's something to this," she said. "That was in 2011. ... Five years later, coloring books have become enough of a thing, a big enough market, that I'm now doing this full time."
Her career path is "kind of nuts," she admitted.
"I honestly can't believe this is my career," she said. "I'm just ridiculously lucky."
(For example, she was recently commissioned by actress Gabourey Sidibe to create a special coloring book for the actress' Empire co-stars. Check it out here.)
Unlike Basford's complex design work, Lorenz focuses more on storytelling.
"The concept comes first, then I figure out the underlying message of the book," she said. "This was not my first plan for a career — I was going to be a novelist — so I think that I think harder about the storytelling aspect of coloring books than anyone really should."
So, in a book like Unicorns Are Jerk, her biggest seller to date, "every caption in the book should support (a distinct) message. For Unicorns, the message is simply 'don't do that.'"
After deciding on her story and its message, Lorenz begins drawing.
"It comes last even though it's the thing people see the most," Lorenz said.