Artist Steve McDonald finds new fans with adult colouring book

Steve McDonald's Fantastic Cities colouring book has been published in more than 22 countries and has given the Canadian artist a whole new audience.

Fantastic Cities colouring book has been published in more than 22 countries

Artist Steve McDonald's "Fantastic Cities". An adult colouring book of well known cities from around the world. 2:16

When Canadian artist Steve McDonald decided to move his family to the island paradise of Bali, Indonesia, two years ago, he never fully considered the implications of leaving a traditional art gallery and a dedicated client list behind. Even more surprising, he had no idea it would lead him to start creating art for other people to colour-in.

An established artist, the Creemore, Ont.-based McDonald has exhibited his work across the country. Many of his paintings have ended up in some of the most respected corporate and private collections. But now he faced a tougher challenge in finding a way to showcase his art to a new audience from a remote part of the world.

As McDonald notes, the solution was part fate and partly a decision to change the way he painted.

"My work became less and less painterly, and the thing I really loved to do was draw … I started to become less concerned about colour and more concerned about form and line."

The idea to produce an adult colouring book came from the people around him, McDonald says.

"I always considered myself a closet architect, and when the work started becoming more and more linear and I started dropping the colour out of it. I started getting more and more suggestions from fellow artists, clients and even my own daughters that these things would be really great to colour."

Fantastic Cities artist Steve McDonald works in his home studio in Creemore, Ont. (Eric Foss/CBC)
He decided to embark on a colouring book project producing artistic outlines of well-known cities around the world. From Stockholm to New York, the drawings replicate prominent monuments and dwellings in well-known sections of the city. McDonald has visited many of the locations, but most drawings are based on hi-resolution images taken by established photographers. 

His vision was immediately of interest to a number of well-established publishing companies. The adult colouring book market has exploded over the past couple of years and many outlets were looking for new ideas and innovative content. 

San Francisco-based Chronicle Publishing appealed most to McDonald, and eventually it released his first book titled Fantastic Cities.

The choice of publisher made sense to McDonald. "Chronicle had a proven track record for great design and innovative publishing projects. They also had a really cool vibe that seemed to be a perfect fit for the coloring books."

Fantastic Cities has 58 pages of illustrations and is aimed at anyone who has a passion for architecture and detailed colouring. The first print run is approaching 400,000 copies and has been released in more than 22 countries. 

McDonald says he is not surprised by the success of adult colouring books.

The drawing of down-town Toronto from Steve McDonald's colouring book Fantastic Cities. (Steve McDonald)
"It's a gateway drug to creativity, these colouring books — people talk about how it's therapeutic, stress reducing," he says. "I don't think that's specifically colouring books; I think that is any creative pursuit. This one is easy to hop onboard."

Back home in Creemore after two years in Bali, McDonald and Chronicle Publishing have plans for and additional three books over the next few years.

"One of the lovely things about the work I'm doing for the colouring book is it's the same thing I was doing before … just packaged in a different way. I'm doing the same thing I'd be doing anyhow, so it's a lovely little surprise for me that the book has so far been so successful."

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