How to colour in – according to an expert

People are reaching for the crayons in lockdown. Our expert author sheds light on the best ways to get involved.

Johanna Basford / Mica Murphy / Penguin

What’s the strangest hobby you’ve taken up in lockdown? Perhaps the words 'banana bread' and 'sourdough' transport you back to the early days of the pandemic, and now you’ve been through several other phases – knitting, Couch-to-5K, landscape painting and bushcraft. Or maybe you’re yet to start, still grappling with the telescopic shifts in time that lockdown can induce.

Thousands of people, though, have been turning to colouring in. Some publishers have been reporting sales increases of 350% on colouring books during April on last year’s figures.

But while many have acknowledged the meditative and creative benefits of colouring in, others just don’t know where to start. So we spoke to Johanna Basford, creator of colouring books including World of Flowers and Lost OceanHere, she lays out her top tips.

Pencils not pens

Pencils are so much more forgiving – and they won’t bleed through your paper! Try, though, to never drop your pencils as this will shatter the lead inside the wooden pencil. Disaster! If your lead keeps breaking when you are sharpening your pencil, try holding the pencil still and turning the sharpener instead. It feels odd, but I find it works. 

Cheap pencils are fine

Colouring is not an elitist sport – you don’t need super expensive professional art supplies. A simple pack of kids’ colouring pencils from the supermarket is a great starting point.

Johanna Basford colours in
Johanna Basford colours in. Image: Penguin

Go lightly and layer your colour

Take your time and add colour in multiple light layers instead of going in heavy-handed, this allows you to gradually build up the colour. Get your pencil strokes all going in the same direction, this stops the picture looking scribbly. 

Layer up

Pop a sheet or two of blank white paper beneath the page you are colouring on. This stops any indentation on the pages below and also captures any transfer of ink from the reverse of the page you are working on, to the next page.

Choose your colours

There are NO wrong colours! Just pick ones you like and stop over thinking things! If you are really struggling, try picking three shades of the same colour and using a limited colour palette - for example, a dark navy blue, a mid-tone denim blue and a very light sky blue.

Smooth it over

Use a white pencil as a blender. Go over your colouring with a layer of white to blend two colours together.

Lighten up

Colour in good light – preferably daylight – as this will allow you to see the “true” colours, i.e not tainted or effected by the yellowish glow of artificial light. It will also stop you getting headaches!

Don’t worry about the lines

I go over the lines all the time! Creating can be messy and unpredictable. If colour should escape over a boundary, don’t worry. Either just leave it as is, or draw an extra little bit of outline to enclose the escapee and colour that section too. Hide the mistake.

Don’t be a slave to the book

Don’t feel you have to complete every picture you start. Full disclaimer: I have never completed a single page from one of my books! I like to dip in and out of pictures, start something, add to something… if your interest is floating to a different inkscape, explore it. Colouring should feel fun and free.

Bring the colour

You don’t need to feel you have tonnes of artistic skill to colour, you just need to make your mark. The great thing about colouring is there is no scary blank page, I’ve created the outlines for you – now all you need to do is bring the colour!

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