Author: Lucy

Rhapsody in the Forest – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Rhapsody in the Forest is illustrated by Kanoko Egusa, a Japanese artist, who very kindly sent me a copy to review. Kanoko’s work is yet to be picked up by a US or UK publisher which is a real shame because her work is truly stunning, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before in the UK but is similar to many of the other beautiful Japanese books on the market, they have such a lovely quality to them and are very whimsical and cute with plenty of detail. Kanoko has created two books so far, this one and a second called Menuet de Bonheur which I’ve reviewed here.

The book itself is just under 25cm square, paperback with very flexible card covers and a beautiful thick paper dust jacket with linework from inside the book. The pages are printed double-sided and the spine is glue-bound, the images are printed full-page and therefore do enter the spine so you’ll need to be careful when trying to reach the centre of the pages not to break the spine or you may end up loosening the pages. The paper is white, medium/thin and very lightly textured, it doesn’t bleed or shadow with water-based pens but do make sure you check this somewhere inconspicuous as we all colour differently, pencils blend and shade well despite the lack of tooth in the paper and sparing amounts of water were tolerated very well and didn’t cause bleeding when I used my Derwent Inktense Pencils. The images are a mixture of single and double-page spreads and the content is all heavily nature-based with lots of animal characters. The book is printed in Japanese so it’s not possible to read the text at the beginning of the book which I assume explains what’s happening through the pages but most of the scenes are pretty self-explanatory.

The illustrations contain all sorts of imagery from food to flowers, postage stamps to books, circus and nautical scenes and lots and lots of animals in various stages of anthropomorphosis from very animal-like, possibly wearing a hat, to very anthropomorphic and doing human jobs like decorating cakes, trick-or-treating, and even going to a ball. They are very natural and filled with detail, objects, and plenty to look at and the content is really wide-ranging and very pretty. I’m not entirely sure what the specific theme of the book is but it seems like it’s following the lives of lots of woodland and more exotic creatures and their travels, tales, exploits and even parties! It’s a really lovely theme for a book and the pictures are truly exquisite and beautiful! Five of the pages have black or grey backgrounds which is quite novel and a nice addition to the book.  Of the two books, I personally prefer this one as it’s more natural and less anthropomorphic which suits my tastes more, however, both are just gorgeous! At the back of the book are two light brown pages, the first has two postcard sized images which can be cut out and coloured, the second has 5 illustrations each with dotted lines drawn around them so that they can be cut out and attached to cards or used as gift tags etc either coloured or uncoloured.

In terms of mental health, this book is fantastic, it’s so calming and distracting and there’s just so much to look at in each picture so it’s really absorbing. It also offers wonderful escapism because you can create stories about what the animals are doing and what they might be baking a cake or wearing their best outfits for and immerse yourself in their lovely world. The book feels really peaceful and reminds me of my childhood reading Beatrix Potter’s wonderful stories about animals, I’m sure Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggywinkle would fit right in with Kanoko’s forest of creatures and you could have great fun naming all of the characters depicted in this beautiful book. The line thickness is pretty consistent throughout and is thin but not spindly thin so it’s perfectly colourable. The intricacy and detail levels vary throughout from very detailed sections with lots of intricate parts to much larger sections where you can really go to town with your blending and shading if you wish; this book would be suitable for those with moderate to good vision and fine motor control. This book will require a fairly good level of concentration but there are lots of natural stopping points so you can colour for as little or as much time as you want and still get a good sense of accomplishment. The amount of content in each page varies so some are centralised single page images, others are fully covered double-page spreads and a few have spaces where you could add your own imagery or backgrounds if you wish.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book and Kanoko’s second book, Menuet de Bonheur, both are truly beautiful, really natural and calming and just charming to look through. Having seen lots of coloured images from inside, these illustrations are really brought to life with colour and they look spectacular when finished.

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it is available on Amazon but price varies so do check there as well as Amazon Japan (postage is steep but does reduce per item if you buy more than one thing) and check Etsy too where an increasing number of Japanese and other International colouring books are being stocked for a reasonable price.

Amazon UK – Rhapsody in the Forest

The image below was coloured using Derwent Inktense Pencils activated with water.

Menuet de Bonheur – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Menuet de Bonheur is illustrated by Kanoko Egusa, a Japanese artist, who very kindly sent me a copy to review. Kanoko’s work is yet to be picked up by a US or UK publisher which is a real shame because her work is truly stunning, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before in the UK but is similar to many of the other beautiful Japanese books on the market, they have such a lovely quality to them and are very whimsical and cute with plenty of detail. Kanoko has created two books so far, this one and a second called Rhapsody in the Forest which I’ve reviewed here.

The book itself is just under 25cm square, paperback with very flexible card covers and a beautiful, thick, dusky pink, paper dust jacket with linework from inside the book. The pages are printed double-sided and the spine is glue-bound, the images are printed full-page and therefore do enter the spine so you’ll need to be careful when trying to reach the centre of the pages not to break the spine or you may end up loosening the pages. The paper is white, medium/thin and very lightly textured, it doesn’t bleed or shadow with water-based pens but do make sure you check this somewhere inconspicuous as we all colour differently, pencils blend and shade well despite the lack of tooth in the paper and sparing amounts of water were tolerated very well and didn’t cause bleeding when I used my Derwent Inktense Pencils. The images are a mixture of single and double-page spreads and the content is all heavily nature-based with lots of animal characters. The book is printed in Japanese so it’s not possible to read the text at the beginning of the book which I assume explains what’s happening through the pages but most of the scenes are pretty self-explanatory.

The illustrations contain all sorts of imagery from flowers to teacups, baby clothes to fruit baskets, fireworks to vegetables and lots and lots of animals in various stages of anthropomorphosis. This book contains many more human-like animals than Rhapsody in the Forest and it appears to show family life from bathing the children to hanging up washing, reading a bedtime story to food shopping, preparing dinner to going on holiday and even depicting a wedding! The images are very natural and filled with detail, objects, and plenty to look at and the content is really wide-ranging and very pretty. Animal family life is a really lovely theme for a book and the pictures are truly exquisite and beautiful, it feels like you’re taking a peek into their life and stepping into their story. Three of the pages have black backgrounds which is quite novel and a nice addition to the book. At the back of the book are two light brown pages, the first has two postcard sized images which can be cut out and coloured, the second has 5 illustrations each with dotted lines drawn around them so that they can be cut out and attached to cards or used as gift tags etc either coloured or uncoloured.

In terms of mental health, this book is fantastic, it’s so calming and distracting and there’s just so much to look at in each picture so it’s really absorbing. It also offers wonderful escapism because you can create stories about what the animals are doing and immerse yourself in their lovely world. The book feels really peaceful and reminds me of my childhood reading Beatrix Potter’s wonderful stories about animals, I’m sure Peter Rabbit and Mrs Tiggywinkle would fit right in with Kanoko’s creatures and you could have great fun naming all of the characters depicted in this beautiful book. The line thickness is pretty consistent throughout and is thin but not spindly thin so it’s perfectly colourable. The intricacy and detail levels vary throughout from very detailed sections with lots of intricate parts to much larger sections where you can really go to town with your blending and shading if you wish; this book would be suitable for those with moderate to good vision and fine motor control. This book will require a fairly good level of concentration but there are lots of natural stopping points so you can colour for as little or as much time as you want and still get a good sense of accomplishment. The amount of content in each page varies so some are centralised single page images, others are fully covered double-page spreads and a few have spaces where you could add your own imagery or backgrounds if you wish.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book and Kanoko’s first book, Rhapsody in the Forest, both are truly beautiful, really natural and calming and just charming to look through. Having seen lots of coloured images from inside, these illustrations are really brought to life with colour and they look spectacular when finished, they’re also ideal for practising colouring fur!

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it is available on Amazon but price varies so do check there as well as Amazon Japan (postage is steep but does reduce per item if you buy more than one thing) and check Etsy too where an increasing number of Japanese and other International colouring books are being stocked for a reasonable price.
Amazon UK – Menuet de Bonheur

The image below was coloured using Derwent Inktense Pencils activated with water.

The Labyrinth: Mythical Beasts to Colour – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
The Labyrinth is published and was kindly sent to me to review by Michael O’Mara Books. This is the fourth book created in this series, all illustrated by Richard Merritt who this time has been joined by Sabine Reinhart. This book is exactly the same size and format as the predecessors (it’s non-perforated like The Aviary and The Aquarium) but in case you missed those here are the specs. The book is huge at 29cm square, it’s paperback and has beautiful teal and purple foiling on the cover. The pages are not perforated but they are easy to remove by cutting as close to the spine as possible so you can still frame them if you wish. There are 32 images, all printed single-sided and very little of the image enters the spine so hardly any of it is lost. The paper is bright white, fairly thick and lightly textured. My water-based pens didn’t bleed or shadow at all and there was no sideways bleeding so these images are ideal to be coloured with fineliners or fibre-tipped pens as well as coloured pencils, you could also use alcohol markers as long as you pop some protective sheets of paper behind your work. Each image is just like a portrait of a person but each one is of a mythical beasts instead, some are zoomed in a little, some are drawn side on and others are pictured front on, all are pictured individually. The images are beautifully drawn and very varied as Richard and Sabine’s art styles are quite different from each other, if you’re a fan of mythology and mythological beasts then you’re sure to love this book! This new instalment to the The Menagerie series is just gorgeous and a worthy sequel to The Aviary and The Aquarium, this series is really different from any other books I’ve seen in the way it’s presented and the content of the images and this title is no exception.

Each picture has a bit of colour added to the background in the form of blue mountains, pink and purple thistles, lilac clouds, and yellow lightening bolts, but the creature itself is always colour-free ready for you to make your mark. These images would look stunning framed on their own or as a set and I’m already making grand plans for some of my favourites! I have put a photo below of the list of mythological beasts included but some of my personal favourites are the faun, gnome, jackalope, unicorn, and fairy, but that’s just to name a few. Unlike in the previous books where a few of the animals were naturally black which made it difficult to colour them realistically if you so chose, in this book none of the beasts are naturally black though I’m not sure what colour many of the creatures are “supposed” to be so it’s worth going all out with your colour schemes and get your brightest colours working!

In terms of mental health, this book is fabulous! As seasoned readers of my reviews will know, I think natural images are best, very closely followed by fantasy-based images and you’ve got an abundance of those in this book so it’s a great one for getting lost in! I found it great fun to colour ready for review and this is sure to be one of my go-to books when I need energising or feel like my mood needs a boost. The images aren’t of real animals so you can really go to town with your colour schemes and there are really no wrong choices though there will be plenty of depictions of most of these creatures if you have a quick search online so you could copy someone else’s colour schemes if you wish or you can do what I did and just pick a colour and roll with it. There’s no right or wrong way of colouring this book and having seen other people’s finished versions of the previous books’ pictures online, I’m still not sure which I prefer out of realistic or outlandish and I’m intending to mix and match through my copy! The mythical beasts themselves are drawn with a varying line thickness which ranges from thin to medium but none of it is spindly thin which is ideal. The intricacy and detail levels also vary throughout but mostly these images are pretty intricate and are made up of lots of teeny tiny sections. However, you don’t have to colour in each section a different colour and could easily colour whole chunks and just use the black lines as texture behind that rather than guides for where you must colour within. A number of the images really lend themselves to beautifully blended pencils and I most certainly won’t be colouring within every section and will instead be using those to colour over. There are loads of possibilities with these images so this is one book that you don’t need to be put off from just because at first glance it looks too intricate. You will need a moderate level of fine motor control and good-ish vision but neither need to be perfect for you to be able to create a mythological masterpiece! These images will take ages to colour so they’re great for keeping you distracted from difficult thoughts and calming you down when your mind is racing and your anxiety is off the chart. The size of the images means that you’ve really got something to get your teeth into and you can just colour small sections on bad days when your concentration isn’t so great, or the whole image on days where you’re feeling more focused.

I would highly recommend this book if you love mythology and mythological beasts and really like intricate, detailed books with plenty of different sections to colour. This is one of the nicest colouring books of mythological creatures that I’ve seen. The Labyrinth is a fantastic book for keeping you focused and distracted from mental illness and I found it really helpful for calming down my anxiety and slowing down my thoughts so I could focus again.

I have recently created a fan group for artwork by Richard Merritt and Claire Scully (and now Sabine Reinhart too) which you can find here, please do join and share your finished pages from this and the other books in the series.

***This book has been published under the title Mythologica in the US and their edition has perforated pages whereas ours in the UK doesn’t. If you’d prefer perforated pages, I’ve included purchase links for the US edition as well as the UK edition below.***

If you’d like to purchase a UK edition it’s available to pre-order here:
Amazon UK – The Labyrinth
Book Depository Worldwide – https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Mythologic-Richard-Merritt-Claire-Scully-Sabine-Reinhart/9781910552612/?a_aid=colouringitmom

If you’d like to purchase a US edition it’s available here:
Amazon UK – Mythologica
Book Depository Worldwide – https://www.bookdepository.com/Mythologic-Richard-Merritt-Sabine-Reinhart/9781438009520/?a_aid=colouringitmom

I scoured the internet looking for places that sold frames that fit these images and found these ones on Amazon were perfect and are available in various colours to suit your image no matter how it’s coloured.
White 11 inch square frame
Oak 11 inch square frame
Beech 11 inch square frame

The image below was coloured using Stabilo 68 Fibre-tips.

Twilight Garden Artist’s Edition (Blomstermandala Tavelbok) – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Twilight Garden Artist’s Edition is published and very kindly sent to me to review by Gibbs Smith Publishing. Twilight Garden is the English title of the hugely successful series of colouring books called Blomstermandala by Swedish artist, Maria Trolle. I have previously reviewed the Blomstermandala Colouring Book HERE and this is the Artist’s Edition of that book, it’s identical in format to other Artist’s Editions published by Gibbs Smith and Pagina (the Swedish publisher of all of these books) and therefore much of my review is identical to those, this Artist’s Edition is also identical to the Swedish version of it apart from the language. The book measures 29.5x21cm (A4), it’s paperback with thick but flexible card covers which are black with muted coloured flowers from inside the book and gold foiled text on the front, back, and spine. The book has a matte gold tape binding meaning the pages lie completely flat when the book is open and they can be removed for framing. The pages are made of thick cream card which is lightly textured and absolutely fabulous for using pencils on as they layer really well and blend seamlessly. Water-based pens also work really well on this card and don’t bleed through or sideways and there isn’t even a hint of shadowing either. For my page I used Derwent Inktense Pencils activated with minimal water which worked brilliantly with absolutely no buckling or warping at all. The illustrations are all single-page designs and are printed single-sided so you can use whatever medium you fancy without worrying about bleed-through.

The content is a little strange, the book contains 20 pages, 16 of which are illustrations from the original book, 1 is a floral alphabet where each letter shape consists of a single flower (oddly the letter W is missing), and 3 of which are black-background images with full colour printing of what look to be photographed petals, leaves and flowers so these 3 pages are unable to be coloured, a strange choice I feel. However, the other 17 images are lovely choices and are all single-page spreads from the book printed either the same size as the originals or a little larger. 7 of the images have white backgrounds and 10 have black backgrounds (some of these were printed with white backgrounds in the original book). The images are all of flowers and plants and none contain any animals, birds or objects so if those were you favourites then this Artist’s Edition may not be for you. A huge range of flowers are included from daffodils to tulips, lupins to forget-me-nots, foxgloves to grape hyacinths, and fuchsias to peonies and so many more! I’ve included photos of all of the pages below so that you can see the range and make an informed choice. None of the images reach the edges of the page and those with a white background have space where you could add your own backgrounds or imagery if you wish, though this is by no means a requirement, and this will make all of them very easy to frame for yourself or to gift to others.

In terms of mental health, this book is just wonderful, seasoned readers of my blog will know that I strongly believe that natural images, and those depicting nature are the best for mental health and calming you down and this book is no exception, the images are very relaxing and very realistic and details have been added to these that weren’t in the original illustrations (see photo comparisons below). The line thickness is consistent throughout and remains medium/thin so it’s definitely manageable to colour. The intricacy and detail vary throughout from medium to high and this is higher than the original book due to the added details in the larger spaces of each section, these are easily coloured over if you prefer larger sections to colour or they’re manageable to colour within so this book is good for a range of levels of vision and fine motor control depending on how you want to use it. I found this book and the illustrations within it great for my mood, just looking through it and noticing all of the different flowers and leaves made me feel calmer and the images are just beautiful so they’re sure to lift your mood and keep you distracted from any difficult thoughts or persistent symptoms. The images do vary a little in size and difficulty and they mostly consist of a collection of components which is ideal for good and bad days because you can work on one tiny flower or leaf on a bad day, or a whole page on a good day so it’s ideal for those with fluctuating conditions or concentration levels. The fact that the pages are printed single-sided and are removable is fantastic because it means you can remove your works of art and frame them or gift them which is a great way of reminding yourself of what you can achieve and brighten up the darkest of days.

I would highly recommend this book (despite the inclusion of three uncolourable images) to those of you who like to colour flowers and plants, those who have the original book, those who love to gift or frame their colouring, and those who like to use alcohol markers or wet media as there’s no worry about ruining any reverse images. The illustrations chosen are beautiful and very calming.

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s available here:
Amazon UK – Twilight Garden Artist’s Edition
Book Depository Worldwide – https://www.bookdepository.com/Twilight-Garden-Mari-Trolle/9781423647072/?a_aid=colouringitmom

The image below was coloured using Derwent Inktense Pencils activated with water.

Lost Ocean Artist’s Edition: 24 Illustrations to Colour and Frame – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Lost Ocean Artist’s Edition is illustrated by Johanna Basford and published and kindly sent to me to review by Virgin Books. This book contains 24 of the original images from the Lost Ocean colouring book all printed single-sided. The book is 25x33cm, paperback with thick card covers with beautiful gold foiling accents on the cover and blue text on the spine. The book has a lay-flat binding meaning there is no spine to contend with and that you can reach the whole image to colour it. The pages are all removable, they’re not perforated so there’s no risk of them not being fully perforated and you ripping a page when trying to remove it, they’re all glued onto the spine in the same way as postcard books so they’re easy to remove if you wish but they’re not stuck very strongly and in the process of colouring my page I’ve managed to detach nearly half of the pages so this book won’t stay together unless you’re extremely careful with it. The removable nature of the pages is ideal for two reasons, firstly, its main purpose, which is so that they can be displayed, framed, or gifted to friends or family so your colouring is no longer destined to stay hidden away in a book; secondly, it makes it much easier to colour if you remove the page first – the book is very large when fully open which makes it difficult to colour on your lap or even on a clipboard because it’s over A3 size when opened, but when you remove the page you can turn it to any angle you please so that you can colour each section easily without having to have your hand hanging off one corner or be rubbing over previously coloured areas and accidentally smudging bits. The pages are made of thick card which will hold up to just about any colouring medium (this is the same card as used in the Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest Artist’s Editions). I tested my Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners and they didn’t even shadow onto the back and they also didn’t bleed sideways or into the card, they seemed to glide on top instead of saturating the paper like so often happens with thick pages. The card is cream which I know isn’t everyone’s favourite, however, I love it because it makes it feel like a classic book with age and luxury. It also means there’s a less harsh contrast between the colouring and the background if you leave the background uncoloured and also allows you to easily add white as highlights or as a colour where white paper simply doesn’t.

The images included are from the original Lost Ocean book and I think they’re a really good selection. There aren’t any pattern or filler images this time and they’re all definitely frame-worthy. Of the 24 illustrations, 5 are landscape and the others are portrait orientation, 3 are printed smaller than the original illustrations but the others are all printed larger to varying degrees from 4mm to the largest being the skull at an extra 7cm larger, 5 of the images are taken from double-page spreads where a section has generally been enlarged (a couple have been shrunk but not drastically so) and the rest are from single page spreads. Because the majority of the images have been enlarged, at least a little bit, they mostly have larger spaces to colour which allows you to really go to town and the possibilities for blending and shading are increased. If you’re new to using pencils and want to learn about blending and shading then the slightly larger print would be ideal for practising these techniques.

As with all of the Artist’s Editions, this book doesn’t have a treasure hunt aspect. The Secret Garden Artist’s Edition arrived wrapped in thin plastic film, but this one didn’t, however that may be because it’s a review copy so do be aware that it may have plastic film on it in the shop and you may not be able to look through it in stores, this means that the cover is well protected and won’t be at risk of staining or marking which I personally think is pretty sensible, though it’s a shame they didn’t do a preview on the back of what images are included. Because of this, I have included pictures of all of the images from inside the book below so that you can “see inside” before you buy it, as well as comparing the size to the original images.

In terms of mental health, this book is wonderful. Colouring this book ready to review it has provided countless hours of calming distraction and the card is such a joy to colour that I’ve enjoyed every moment of colouring it and was almost disappointed when I finally finished my picture and had to move onto another review. This is a book where you really don’t notice the hours passing because you’re so engrossed and focused on colouring each section. Johanna’s books are not for the faint-hearted and are quite an undertaking and they’re not for those of you with poor eyesight or challenged fine motor control. However, for anyone who is mentally ill and doesn’t have poor eyesight, this book is ideal because not only are the images stunning but they’re also completely grounded in nature which is perfect for calming you down and relaxing you. When colouring these images, it feels like you’re going on a wonderful adventure into Johanna’s Lost Ocean, the journey is less obvious but the images are printed in the same order as they appear in the book so it does have a feeling of flow. It’s sure to lift your mood and focus your thoughts so that even the most racing of minds will be quietened, at least for a short while. The details and intricacies force you to concentrate and become immersed in a watery world filled with brightly coloured fish and enchanting sea creatures and you’re sure to feel your anxiety lessen and your dark thoughts soften a little. It’s by no means a cure, but this is a fabulous book for distraction and the fact that you can remove the pages and display them means that all of your hard work and creativity can be prominently displayed and used to brighten up your darker days and remind you that you can create beautiful things which I often find gives me a huge self-esteem boost.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you liked Johanna’s original books or want to delve into her inky world for the first time then I’d strongly recommend purchasing it. With the best paper quality that I’ve come across in a colouring book, it contains the most stunning images and the feature of removable pages is one that I personally love because it means you can decorate your walls with your work or give wonderful, thoughtful presents to family and friends. This book exudes quality and luxuriousness from its thick card pages, to the signature gold foil accents on the front cover and the small selection of shells printed on the reverse of each picture, it is a work of art in itself and will be transformed into a masterpiece once you unleash your creativity upon it. I truly can’t enthuse enough about this book, it is a must-have and one that if you have been umming and ahhing about whether you should purchase it should be bought at once because I can just about guarantee that you won’t regret it. This book is ideal for anyone who is struggling with their mental health and anyone who just wants something truly beautiful to colour. Do check the images below to ensure the selection is one that you’re happy with and then get ordering because this is a book you definitely need in your collection, it’s gorgeous and one I can’t wait to get working on again!

If you’d like to purchase a copy of this book, it’s available here:
Amazon UK – Lost Ocean Artist’s Edition
Book Depository Worldwide – https://www.bookdepository.com/Lost-Ocean-Artists-Edition-Johann-Basford/9780753548134?ref=grid-view&qid=1491572389812&sr=1-1/?a_aid=colouringitmom

The image below was coloured using Prismacolor Premier Coloured Pencils and blended with a Caran d’Ache blender pencil.

Wonderlands by Johanna Basford – A Review

Ever since I found Johanna’s first colouring book, Secret Garden, I’ve been on a mission to have copies of all of the books and formats that get published of her work. A quick google search alerted me to an elusive book called Wonderlands which was the first book published in her name but this was either out of stock, unavailable or selling for crazy amounts of money for a used copy on Amazon or Ebay because it’s now out of print, with no plans to re-publish. I had pretty much given up hope of ever getting a copy unless I won the lottery. That was until a week ago when I saw that a few people in the colouring community had suddenly managed to find copies and that they weren’t having to re-mortgage their homes in order to get them. I contacted two of them straight away and both got back to me and were really helpful in showing me how to find the book on the publisher’s website (it’s very well hidden, even googling numerous times and trying different search terms didn’t come up with the ability to buy it) and I got ordering. I ordered it last week and just 7 days later I had a copy in my hands and wowee was it worth the 2 year wait and countless hours trying to hunt a copy down in that time.

Wonderlands is not a colouring book and was never designed to be one. The paper is white and thick though subsequent designs can be seen through it and it has a visible horizontal grain, a small section of pages (16 sides) are black paper with a vertical grain with white line drawings printed on them. I have not tested the paper with any colouring mediums as this book is now my pride and joy and I won’t be going near it with pencils or pens so if you wish to colour it you will need to test your mediums on an inconspicuous area but do bear in mind that paper with grain can bleed badly with any type of liquid and it may therefore only be suitable for pencils rather than pens. The content of the book is mostly from Johanna’s Wonderlands art exhibition which was displayed at Dundee Contemporary Arts from the 4th of May to 7th of July 2013. As such, the illustrations are some of the most detailed I’ve ever seen and have not been designed with colouring in mind and are therefore very black-heavy with much less white space left than we’re used to in Johanna’s work. Many of these illustrations have been shrunk down from much larger depictions in order to fit the book’s pages and therefore the intricacy and detail levels are second-to-none. I can only imagine how wonderful it would have been to see the original exhibition but luckily we are able to take our own mini tour within the pages of this book.

Looking through the book feels almost like you’re looking into Johanna’s mind, you can see her creative process working and there are hints and precursors to all of her colouring books and projects. I studied Creative Textiles for GCSE and therefore love seeing the process from initial ideas and mood boards all the way through to the finished display pieces and this book really feels like you’re able to go on that journey and you can see the first glimpses of certain pages from the colouring books we know and love from the owl tree and lily pond in Secret Garden to the monkeys of Magical Jungle. The content of this book is much more wide-ranging and less specific and is also more jumbled up within each page with one page containing objects ranging from an octopus to a cactus, a dustbin to a whale, a playing card to a ladder and even a lightbulb. This book is honestly spectacular and while it’s not for colouring, anyone who’s a fan of Johanna’s work will find that this book is an absolute must-have. Not every page has a design on it but the ordering of these blank pages is quite random throughout, there are a few single-sided pages but the majority are double-sided. The image styles range from ribbons across the page with vast blank spaces around them to repeating patterns like we saw in Lost Ocean, centralised images of trees and other objects to centralised mirror image designs and some lovely two-page spreads where the original image is shown in its entirety on one side and a section zoomed into on the other so you can see some of the wonderful detail more closely. The illustrations cover such an expanse of content from alphabets drawn in flowers and leaves and another in robots and machinery, to people ranging from Sumo wrestlers to Beefeaters, Royal Guards and little ballerinas, there’s a whole page dedicated to junk food including gingerbread men and burgers and others just consisting of butterflies, moths, or pyramids of animals. As with all of Johanna’s work, each illustration is stunning and one of the best features of this book is the section of photographs at the back which shows the exhibition itself and shows the scale of some of the pieces she created, we’ve seen sneaky peeks of some of these in newspaper articles and in her studio videos where we’ve seen her beautifully doodled dog statue and framed cuckoo clock designs and it’s wonderful seeing them in situ in the book, my personal favourite being the beautiful sailboat with seaweed imagery which clearly inspired Lost Ocean. The black pages are different again with the images all printed in a slightly greyish white and looking a little less crisp than the black-lined illustrations do, they look a tad more smudgy and as if they were created with paint or screen-printing rather than a pen but nevertheless they’re beautiful and the content here is very natural and nature-based from Oriental-style motifs to a beautiful double-page spread of peacocks, a floral heart very similar to the one in Secret Garden, to a beautiful pond and rainforest ribbon. The book feels quite sectioned off with it starting with black on white illustrations, then moving to white on black, then back to black on white and finally ending with 16 pages of photographs from the exhibit, despite this sectioning, the book feels really cohesive and does feel like a journey through the exhibition itself and Johanna’s mind and creative process. At the very back of the book all of the works of art are titled and information about the commissions and exhibit is given which gives great context for where the pieces are from and why they were created.

In terms of mental health, this book has certainly been fantastic for my own and has already given me hours of enjoyment and calm. Looking through the pages has really opened up a new world for  me and I’ve loved looking at all of the different aspects and details and each time I look through I see something new because it’s just so jam-packed with content. The paper has a lovely feel to it and it’s just a really tactile book with plenty to keep you occupied for hours. The spine is glue-bound so you’ll need to be a little careful not to break it by opening the pages too far. I’ve really loved adding this book to my Johanna Basford collection and it’s possibly my favourite book because it’s just so beautiful and wide-ranging. The cover has a black and white illustrated removable dust jacket with full French flaps and this could be completely coloured if you wish though I shall be leaving mine as is, the black and white is just so striking and the paper it’s printed on has a lovely soft feel.

Overall, I can’t recommend this book highly enough, if you’re looking for a colouring book then this isn’t for you as many of the details and designs are impossibly small and wouldn’t be colourable but for fans of Johanna’s work who want to see more of her art and discover where the books we colour have come from this book is ideal. The production of the book is wonderful and while it may seem a little pricey at £20 + £5 postage (more for International deliveries) it’s truly a beautiful book that I think is worth every penny, it’s becoming harder and harder to find and I have no idea how much stock the publisher has left (it currently states Low Stock on the site) so I certainly wouldn’t put off ordering it if you’re desperate for a copy, you won’t be disappointed and it really is a very special creation.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book it’s available here: Dundee Contemporary Arts

For a silent full video flick-through of the book, please click here.

3 Years On, 3 Years of Managing

Today marks 3 years of suffering from anxiety disorders and being unable to work or leave my house much. I’m never quite sure what to write in these posts and this one is particularly difficult to write as I’ve been so up and down over the past year, there have been high points where I’ve been able to go out on my own for up to a couple of hours whilst taking photographs and there have been real low points where I’ve been unable to leave my flat for days on end and have had to cancel visits or leave early because I’m simply not coping. In some ways I feel stronger and a little more able to cope and manage, I’m not sure what’s caused this but I do think it has a lot to do with how long I’ve been experiencing these symptoms for, after a while you do get more used to it and while you’re still suffering every day, you learn to sit with that for longer and put up with it more before it gets to the point of overwhelming you. I also feel though that I’m much more all over the place and less stable, in some ways this is good because it means the good bits are a bit better but it inevitably means that the bad bits are often worse too and more unexpected. I wrote recently that I’d been really struggling since New Year’s Eve and that lasted nearly 3 months, I think I’m finally coming out the other side of that now and tentatively I’ll say that I think I’m feeling a bit stronger and more capable again but my IBS is still kicking in every time I get stressed or have to go out anywhere even though all of these places are very familiar to me so I’m certainly not back to my pre-Christmas level of functioning yet. I think I’m gradually going off the idea of analysing a whole year at once, while it’s important to look back and to see how you’re doing in comparison to various points in time, I also find it unhelpful because a year is a very long time, especially in the world of a sick person and it’s easy to generalise and view the whole year as being worse or the whole year as being better when this wasn’t actually the case. I prefer to be realistic and break it down a bit further and that has helped me see that certain aspects are a bit better and certain aspects are the same or worse and that these often change.

So where am I at now? I’m starting to get a bit stronger and I feel a bit more resilient, though ask me on a bad day and that sure as hell won’t be the case. I often wonder how realistic my view is because on good days I wonder why I’m at home, why I’m not working and whether it’s all imagined and then on bad days I don’t even know how I get out of bed, let alone run a blog, manage any deadlines (though I’m pretty ace at missing most of those I set myself) and actually make any meals at the right time. My view of the world and myself is very changeable and very much affected by how I’m feeling at the time. Generally though, I’m pushing myself really hard and doing my best to keep challenging the anxiety and live as normal a life as I possibly can within its confines. I struggle a lot with people not understanding and I now feel like I have to explain many of my actions or not show everything because so many people think that doing something once means it was easy, fun, or that I can continue to do it. I can’t stress enough how unhelpful or inaccurate this is. When I do things outside my home they’re rarely fun or enjoyable, I have to focus the entire time on keeping my breathing under control, I need a lot of reassurance and my thoughts are always racing, this doesn’t mean I don’t have a good time but it does mean that what you might see isn’t usually representative. I’ve become a master at covering up how I’m feeling and disguising how hard I’m finding things, I’ve spent 3 years trying to manage the panic symptoms so that I rarely have panic attacks whilst out but I’ll often have them when I get home because I’ve forced myself to hold it together for too long and that energy and fear has to come out somehow. It’s exhausting feeling like this and then being misunderstood and assumed to be “better” because I’ve done something once. 3 years of being ill has taught me that doing something once, even 10 times, doesn’t mean it gets easier, it doesn’t mean I can do it every time and it doesn’t mean that it won’t get harder again. Anxiety is very random, it’s very changeable and it usually does what you least expect. Instead of telling me that I’m better or telling me that it’s great I’m going out more, perhaps you could ask how I’m feeling, ask how I’m finding it and what I’m experiencing, rather than assuming, or worse, telling me how I must be feeling. If you look closely enough, you’ll see the signs of anxiety and stress, you’ll see that I’m stiff, my shoulders are up, I’m very jumpy, my eyes are wide and scanning the room, I’ll rub my hands together and rub my legs hard to try and get out some of the nervous energy and I’ll dig my nails into my palms. The signs are there but I’m very good at covering it up by smiling and joking and pretending as hard as I can that it’s not happening and that I’m in control.

Over the 3 years I’ve been ill, I’ve learnt a few coping strategies, these have varying levels of helpfulness and success but I do have more of them to try now than I ever have. Keeping my hands and my mind occupied is really important, colouring and crochet are great for this as long as my hands aren’t shaking too much and I regularly use both to help stay calm. I have grounding stones, 2 bright blue glass pebbles, that fit in the palms of my hands that I grip onto when I’m out if I’m feeling really stressed and they’re nice and flat so I can easily put them in my pockets and no one will notice. I also try not to bite my nails so that I can dig them into my palms if I don’t have the stones. I also like to bake though I usually need a bit of moral support as my confidence isn’t very high but I love being able to make tasty things and it’s a great distraction. My newest coping strategy, as mentioned in a previous post, is photography. This is mostly great for my anxiety and helps keep me calm and focused on the present and means that I stay outside for longer (more on the benefits can be found here). However, it brings its own anxiety with it, for a start, I can’t bear being watched or looked at by strangers and having a massive camera hanging round my neck or bending down to take photos means that people notice me. It’s also difficult because I want to be able to post my photos on social media when I’ve managed to go out, I’m really proud of some of the shots I’m taking, the things I’m noticing and the things I’m doing but as mentioned above, this can elicit responses from people wrongly thinking I’ve improved or that I’m finding it easy. Sadly, this isn’t the case and while I am pushing myself harder than ever and photography is making me that bit more determined, I’m still really struggling to go out and this ranges from being scared of my door being knocked on to occasionally being able to go out alone for a couple of hours, and anything in between. I cannot plan trips out without huge anxiety for days ahead of time, often I can’t follow through with plans and even when I do, I struggle throughout. Having to go through this suffering, dealing with these symptoms every single day for 3 years, and then having it simplified into “yes, but you did it” the few times I do succeed, is very difficult to manage and to tolerate. I don’t want to be negative but I also don’t want people around me to force positivity onto me. I’m so grateful and proud every time I set foot outside my front door, whether that be to take the rubbish downstairs, or to go on a trip out, but I still have to deal with the constant stream of fearful thoughts, the flinching, the feelings of being totally overwhelmed whilst fighting to be outside because I feel like I’m going mad indoors and just have to get outside and see something other than brick walls and my possessions. Trips out aren’t split into good and bad for me, they’re a mixture of both every time, I absolutely make the most out of them and focus on the positive and rarely even talk about the bad bits (except whilst blogging) unless someone tries to force positivity onto me and make out that the whole thing was sunshine and rainbows. When I’m not dismissed you get the full picture, you know that I struggled but that I’m proud beyond words, that I’ve now got photos of every trip out, every little thing I noticed from ice-covered litter and animal bones to birds, flowers, sunsets and even deer! Those are the things I want to be able to share, to be able to show off but that I usually feel unable to do with most people because it feels like I’m not believed when I receive comments about how much better I appear to be doing.

However, in the spirit of pushing myself and trying to combat the anxiety I’ve decided to post some of my favourite photos below because I really am proud of what I’m achieving and how hard I’m trying and I don’t want to have to hide those things because of the fear of misguided comments. I’m really hoping that over time I’ll stop worrying quite so much about what other people think though this is very ingrained in my personality and something I’ve always struggled with. I wish I could just brush off what other people think and say and just do things for me but sadly, that’s not how Social Phobia works, it’s a condition that means that every confrontation, every interaction, every glance or even future event has to be analysed, worried about and obsessed over, I try to just think ‘sod it’ but I just can’t, it matters so much to me to be liked, accepted, and above all else, believed. I really am going out on a limb every time I post photos from outside my flat, it might not seem like a big deal but to me it’s akin to posting half-naked photos of myself, I feel exposed and it means that people can, often accidentally, attack me in the most damaging ways. I’ve always strived to tell the truth, but telling the whole of it is a real struggle for me. I never, ever lie but I often don’t feel able to tell the whole truth because I’m often not given the time or space to fully explain a situation and then assumptions are made that I’m improving or achieving more than I actually am. I probably sound completely mad and totally paranoid but I’ve been receiving these comments throughout my life, from the age of 9 when I first got ill with M.E/CFS and my biggest fear and hate in life is not being believed so for me the stakes are really high every time I open up enough that someone could disbelieve me.

I hope you’ll all enjoy my photos, I’ve loved taking them and am really pleased with them. One thing the anxiety is great for is anxious vision, or as I call it “anxious eyes”, it means that I notice everything around me and I know that’s making me better at photography and noticing subjects to capture. I’ve had my camera for 2 months and have already taken over 5000 photos, a huge chunk of which have been through my lounge and bedroom window of lots of birds that visit the trees outside our flat, I couldn’t be more grateful for them on the days when I can’t get outside and I’m regularly known to take 1-200 photos of a pair of birds in under an hour in the hope of getting a perfect shot. It’s a great distraction and it’s lots of fun. 3 Years On, 3 Years of Managing.

UK Giveaway and Review – Colour Serene: Adult Art Therapy Colouring to Calm and Relax

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Colour Serene is illustrated and self-published by Faunia Smith who kindly sent me a copy to review and a copy to give away (UK giveaway instructions at the bottom, directly above the photos). Faunia is a Naturopath from Australia who strongly recommends art therapy for relaxation and to reduce stress and it was just this that she created her book Colour Serene for. This book is A4, landscape and paperback with flexible card covers with a partially coloured image from inside the book. The spine is glue-bound and all of the illustrations are bordered and don’t reach the page edges. The pages are all printed single-sided and the book contains 24 images, 13 are landscape, 11 are portrait and all are perforated so that you can remove them from the book if you wish to display or gift them. The paper is bright white, thick, and lightly textured, the paper isn’t card-like but it is thick and didn’t bleed or shadow with my water-based pens; pencils blend and shade well and alcohol markers will be fine to use as long as you pop a protective sheet behind your work as the pages are single-sided. The illustrations themselves are very varied, from landscapes to abstract, patterned to nature and more. Some of the images show scenes, others are more random and none are particularly similar to each other. You can find photos from inside below the review.

In terms of mental health, this book is lovely, it contains such variety that you’re sure to find something to suit any mood, any symptom level and any difficulty you fancy. The line thickness is varied from medium to spindly thin and the intricacy and detail levels vary hugely from large open spaces to teeny tiny ones, generally these variances are between pictures rather than within them so there is a good range of difficulties for different levels of concentration or symptoms. Many of the images will be fine for those with moderate levels of vision or fine motor control with a few most suited to those with good or very good levels. The range of images will be ideal to cover those with fluctuating conditions who like to colour variety of content as well as a range of difficulty levels, there are illustrations suited to days where you can’t focus well and might want to block colour and others where you’ll need to be having a good day so that you can really focus on colouring within all of the teeny tiny sections of an abstract page, or others where you can really keep your hands and mind busy with meticulous blending and shading. The hand-drawn images have a calm feel to them and aren’t perfect so they don’t feel intimidating to start, some of the more realistic scenes have ready-made colour schemes that would suit them so you can colour trees in green in brown and the sun in yellow if you’re feeling anxious and unable to make decisions, on better days you can craft your own colour scheme for some of the abstract pages where you can really go all out with your choices.

I would recommend this book for those who like variety and those who like to use alcohol markers as the single-sided perforated pages are ideal for this medium. The illustrations are wide-ranging in content and feel calm and not so perfect that they’re intimidating to colour.

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s available here.

The image below was coloured using Stabilo 68 Fibre-Tip Pens.

UK Giveaway – Faunia very kindly sent me a second copy of her book in order to run a competition so you can win a free copy. This giveaway will run Wednesday the 29th of March at 8pm GMT. Please enter via this Facebook post, full instructions can be found there. Good luck!

H for Horatio’s Garden – A Review

Following on from my review of The Horatio’s Garden Colouring Book, I bring you a review of a second book, the first created by the hugely talented, Catalina Willis. This book isn’t a colouring book but please don’t stop reading, this book is very small but very mighty and those of you who read my review of her colouring book will know that these books are being sold for a truly wonderful and worthwhile cause. For those not already aware, Catalina was inspired to create the books in memory of her Godmother’s son, Horatio, who very sadly died in 2011, aged 17, killed by a polar bear on an expedition to Svalbard. Horatio had planned to be a doctor and did voluntary work in a spinal treatment centre where his father worked, he realised there was a need for accessible gardens and set about helping create these, three have already been created in his memory with a further eight planned so that all 11 NHS spinal injury centres will have one, the proceeds from sales of this book will go directly towards this worthy cause.

This book is small at 15cm square, paperback, and has a yellowy-green cover. The book is printed double-sided, in full colour and is very high quality throughout. The content is described as “A whimsical romp around the 27 letters of the English alphabet, through the eyes of Catalina Willis” and the book does exactly what it says on the tin, each double-page spread is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet, each symbolising something beginning with that letter e.g. O for Outer Space, T for Togetherness, and most importantly, H for Horatio’s Garden. The pages are filled with quirky drawings, fun characters, whimsy, and lots of humour. It’s honestly a delight to look through and will make children and adults laugh as they journey through the alphabet. As for mental health benefits, what could be better than something that makes you laugh and smile? Catalina’s drawings are charming, characterful and they have a lovely naïve and child-like quality but with a true artist’s finesse added to them so fantastic for cheering you up and brightening your day, especially with all of the bright and vivid colours she’s used.

Overall, this is a lovely book, ideal for children and adults, and being sold for a truly fantastic cause, what have you got to lose? I can’t recommend it highly enough, it’s super cute, funny, and just adorable.

If you’d like to purchase a copy, it’s available on the Horatio’s Garden charity website here.

Can’t get enough of Catalina’s artwork? Check out my review of her gorgeous colouring book which you can bring to life with your own beautiful colours.

The Horatio’s Garden Colouring Book – A Review

Today I bring you a review, quite different from any other, I’ve had this book for months and just haven’t quite known how to review it because it’s been created for such a wonderful cause and has such an important message, I really wanted to be able to do it justice. The book was created by Catalina Willis, a young, and extremely talented illustrator who was just 15 at the time, not that you’d know it from the professional look of her drawings. She was inspired to create the book in memory of her Godmother’s son, Horatio, who very sadly died in 2011, aged 17, killed by a polar bear on an expedition to Svalbard. Horatio had planned to be a doctor and did voluntary work in a spinal treatment centre where his father worked, he realised there was a need for accessible gardens and set about helping create these, three have already been created in his memory with a further eight planned so that all 11 NHS spinal injury centres will have one, the proceeds from sales of this book will go directly towards this worthy cause.

The book itself is small at 20cm square, perfectly formed, and the ideal size to take on your travels and pop in your bag for colouring on the go. It’s paperback with flexible card covers with a lovely dark blue front and one of Catalina’s cute birds trudging his way across the cover. The spine is glue and string-bound and very durable but also easy enough to open the book fully and access the centre of each spread. The illustrations are printed double-sided and are a mixture of single and double-page spreads with the majority being single page images. The paper is bright white, thick and lightly textured, it doesn’t bleed or shadow with water-based pens and pencils blend and shade nicely. The images themselves are a real mixture of content and style but all are very cute, quirky and whimsical. The book is arranged into 10 chapters: 1. The Gardens, 2. Activities, 3. British Animals, 4. The Sea, 5. Sleepy Animals, 6. People, 7. Sensible Animals, 8. Pangrams, 9. Silly Animals, 10. Patterns. The images are roughly arranged into these themes and include styles from normal black and white line drawings to greyscale type images, some with realistic greyscale photo backgrounds and even patterned or black backgrounds. The images vary from large drawings with thick lines drawn in a blocky style, to much more detailed images with much thinner linework and teeny tiny spaces and a huge range of everything in between. The majority of the images are animal-based and contain lots of anthropomorphic animal characters from poorly donkeys to nursing geese, dinosaurs offering rides to fez-wearing creatures and lots more. Some of the pages contain lots of random objects, others include food, some contain text and some of the loveliest images are of the current spinal injury gardens being enjoyed by poorly animals. Catalina’s illustration style is beautiful, hugely varied and much more mature than you’d expect from a 15-year-old, with a huge dollop of humour, whimsy and cuteness added into the mix. There is even a game of hide and seek going on through the book with Kit the fly hiding on each double-page spread.

In terms of mental health, this book has got everything needed to make it perfect for helping mental illnesses, it’s being sold in aid of a fantastic cause, it’s got a huge variety of content and style and it’s wonderfully light-hearted, making it ideal for children, adults, and the young at heart. As mentioned before, the linework is varied throughout from spindly thin to really thick and chunky and the intricacy and detail levels also vary hugely from teeny tiny spaces to much larger open spaces so the majority of the pages would be suitable for all levels of vision and fine motor control. The variety in content and style will also be ideal for those of you with varying conditions and symptom levels as you’ll always find something suitable for how you’re feeling on any given day and the pages are a really manageable size with many taking an hour or so if you want to block colour, or much longer if you want to take your time with blending and shading. There are lots of really natural stopping points so you can colour one animal or creature if you wish, rather than a full page. A number of them have printed backgrounds which really help to finish off the page but there are also plenty that have blank backgrounds where you could add your own imagery if you fancy though there’s no need to do so if you don’t want to.

Overall, I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it’s so cute and it’s been created for such a worthy cause. It would be a wonderful gift that’s sure to put a smile on the face of any child, or adult, receiving it. You’ll also be doing your bit to help those with spinal injuries be able to visit accessible gardens whilst in hospital and that can only be a good thing! Catalina’s illustrations are gorgeous, very cute and often funny and they’re sure to be a hit with the whole family, she’s clearly poured so much love and passion into her work and I really hope it’ll continue to raise much-needed funds for this cause.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of this book, it’s available here, where all proceeds will go directly to the charity.

The image below was coloured using Stabilo 68 Fibre-tip Pens.