Artist Alexander Ward introduces us to his very unique adult colouring book, Ayahuasca Jungle Visions, inspired by his trips to the Amazon Jungle, and the Ayahuasca rituals he has taken part in. At the bottom find out how you can sign up to download your free page from the book and be in with a chance to win one of 3 signed copies he is kindly giving away.
How did you get first get into colouring books?
I had people recommending I get into them long before I picked one up. They kept saying it would suit my art style, but hearing about colouring books again for the first time since childhood, it was hard to take it too seriously! So I went on my merry way for a couple years, working in the animation industry and trying (and failing) to work on my own graphic novel based on my experiences in the Amazon Jungle. A year later, the publishers Divine Arts, (who were interested in my graphic novel) offered the suggestion of utilising assets from my graphic novel for a colouring book. When you keep getting pointed a certain direction enough times, it’s time to start investigating! I picked up loads of colouring books and I immediately understood it; if only I had listened sooner!
There was no creative struggle, I knew immediately how mine would look and I created a pitch document and sample illustrations to show my publishers; it was a hit and I started work on the full book right away. I ended up pouring a lot more dedication into it than was planned. It didn’t end up being something that was simply ‘utilising assets’ from my graphic novel, but where each page was a bespoke labour of love. In hindsight, I think I actually went a little overboard with it. Throughout the 9 months working 12 hours a day non stop, all I wanted to do was colour the book myself! So I’m incredibly happy to have the printed book and be able to finally colour all the pages.
What is your favourite image in your Ayahuasca Jungle Visions colouring book and why?
My favourite page in my book would be the page titled ‘Interconnected’. It is one of the first pages in the book, while being the last page I personally illustrated. It was the most complex page and the one I was racing towards throughout the production of the book. The most difficult page to create, the final hurdle in finishing the book. I wanted this page to set the tone for the rest of the book. Both the writing and the illustration is an opening prayer of intention. The page represents the connection to the feminine spirit of Pachamama and all her creations in one fluid movement. We are all connected.
What is your work process when you create a colouring page?
With this book in particular, I first wrote the script as well as a description for each of the pages. While minimal, there is a story throughout the book to tie each of the pages together into a flow, so it is more than a random assortment of illustrations only tied by a ‘theme’. After this I created very small and rough thumbnail sketches of each page; this allowed me to see all the images together. I created more than I needed, and went through the process reducing the page count from around 60 to 45, cutting out the pages that were not integral to the narrative throughout the book. I illustrated each page with a drawing tablet on the computer, but it is all hand drawn, I simply use a digital pen as opposed to an ink one. It allows me to zoom in close and get the line art to be a lot cleaner and tighter than I otherwise would, something I feel is important for a colouring book.
To draw each of the pages I used the program ‘Clip Studio Paint’. It is a program used for illustrating comic book pages. I highly recommend it for anyone who hand draws digitally. So what I would do for a page is take the thumbnail illustration, blow it up large and proceed to create a more refined sketch over the top. My way of drawing is to start with almost a scribble of an idea, and constantly refine it more and more until fully realised. As if it begins as a blurry image and it slowly becomes full of clarity.
To create a more refined sketch took between between 2-3 days. Each page ranges in complexity, this was purposeful, to provide a range of pages to different skill levels of colourists, so some pages took a lot longer to create than others.
After I finished the refined sketch. I then created another layer (sheet of paper) and traced over the sketch to create a very clean version of the drawing. This process also took between 2-3 days depending on the complexity of the page. All together, it was around a week per page from rough thumbnail to final page. A consistent schedule and ritual I kept to over a 9(ish) month period.
What is your personal experience of Ayahuasca? (do you have one!)
I had been journeying to the Amazon Jungle frequently over a 4 year period. Traditions that still practised with Ayahuasca as a tool for healing the community were the cultures most connected to nature, and the ones I wanted to learn from. Ayahuasca is a very sacred medicine to them, our own culture has a very difficult time understanding that which it has grown very far away from. England’s own shamanic origins (even using that word conjures in the mind false preconceptions) are being rediscovered, but it is really the Amazon cultures that have held onto the sacred relationship with nature and plant medicines that keeps the fire of this knowledge alive.
One family in particular I stayed with deep in the Jungle; The Father, his Wife and Brother were Shaman, and were often visited by many people seeking healing through the Ayahuasca medicine, performing many ceremonies for these people seeking healing. I sat in many of these ceremonies, also taking part myself. Part of this book was about articulating the teachings that Ayahuasca taught me, and which was part of the culture around this Shamanic family. The words, imagery, come from that culture, where the Ayahuasca is a key element, binding together the community. It is a complex topic, which is why I have released many videos discussing the topic on my Youtube channel.
What has been the biggest learning curve in creating and publishing your colouring book?
The mental journey of creating a book. It’s an emotional roller coaster, putting all your heart and energy into a single project for a year. The mental strength required to stay on course, to remain dedicated to finishing an enormous amount of work without losing hope that it will be finished or overwhelmed by the amount of work, or frightened because you’re not being paid for all this work and you still got to pay the bills. The process of drawing each page is simple enough if you have the training, you just need patience. To quiet the critical mind and remain motivated; It is this unseen journey people don’t see, but I think every author will understand being the biggest learning curve.
Flip through from Colour with Claire.
How did you hook up with your publisher Divine Arts?
Divine Arts contacted me a couple of years prior to starting on this book. I put out a lot of free content online such as videos on Youtube talking about my experiences in the Jungle. The owners at Divine Arts had come across these videos and they liked the content so much they gave me a phone call asking if I was putting any of these ideas into a book for publishing. We met and I talked and showed them the concepts I had been creating for a graphic novel based on my experiences in the Jungle; created in comic book sequential art style, it would illustrate these mystical experiences in the Jungle better than a written novel or single piece of artwork. They loved the idea, but there was not enough content to publish or create a contract at that early stage; so I went away to work more on it, as much as I could while still maintaining full-time employment. I was having trouble with various aspects of the project and it was difficult to get moving.
Sometimes you need to understand when a project’s time has not yet come, and it’s better to work on something else. This is when the suggestion came from Divine Arts about using some of the work I created for a colouring book. Before I had dismissed the colouring book idea, but now it all seemed to click into place, especially after going out and buying a bunch of colouring books and finally understanding the appeal and how well suited it would be to my art style.
I could use this opportunity to grasp the intricacies of publishing a book, with a project that, while a massive investment, was still not as large an investment as my graphic novel. I’ve learnt through this process that it’s important not to go for the massive project first, as you will struggle with it and become discouraged. It is far better to begin with a more manageable project and finish it. To finish a project is what is important.
Sign up here to receive your free colouring page from Ayahuasca Jungle Visions here. Be in with a chance to win a copy of this book: just visit my Facebook Page for Amelia’s Magazine here and be sure to comment before midnight on 30th November 2016 (GMT). Open Worldwide. Good luck!
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