‘Boss Babes’ to ‘St. Louis Splendor:’ 2 local illustrators discuss the world of adult coloring books | St. Louis Public Radio

‘Boss Babes’ to ‘St. Louis Splendor:’ 2 local illustrators discuss the world of adult coloring books

Nov 16, 2016

In 2015, 12 million coloring books for adults were sold, according to Nielsen Bookscan. That’s a huge jump from 2014, when only 1 million were sold. As for 2016? We’ll have to wait and see, but it is certain the trend isn’t going away any time soon.

In St. Louis, two local illustrators are part of the trend. With two totally different styles, each illustrator has conquered the publishing world to bring their books to market. On Wednesday, we heard from them: 

Boss Babes

Michelle Volansky is a native St. Louisan and a graduate of Missouri State University, where she earned a BFA in illustration with a minor in printmaking. She recently published “Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grown-Ups,” through Workman Publishing, which celebrates the achievements, large and small, of women.

Michelle Volansky is the author and illustrator of "Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grown-Ups."
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

The book features fun portraits of women like Tina Fey, Rosa Parks, Margaret Cho and Michelle Obama along with activities like “Decorate Lady Gaga’s Shoes,” connect-the-dots and word searches.

In the back of the book, readers will find a description of why every woman included in the coloring book qualifies as a “boss babe.”

“This is light-hearted and fun, I wanted to set the tone from the start that this is not an encyclopedia of feminism … this is ‘boss babes,’ these are awesome women from a variety of different industries and eras who have done awesome things and are bosses in their own ways,” Volansky said. “It was important for me to showcase diverse women as well, so you’ll see the cover is Beyoncé, Malala Yousafzai and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”

Volansky, who originally self-published a version of the book before it was picked up at an indie craft conference by a publisher, laid out the book herself and illustrated the outlines digitally, using a tablet that connects to a design program in her computer.

She said she “hired herself for her dream job: drawing portraits of women I love and admire.”

“I think it is a good moral that if you have a creative project out there you’ve been thinking about, just do it,” Volansky said. “Doing it is the work. Do it and put it out there, and if you’re nice and organic and making good connections, you never know how far it can take you.” 

St. Louis Splendor

Jo Ann Kargus took a different route to adult coloring books, but has been an illustrator in St. Louis since 1985. She runs the Whitesitt Kargus Studio, an architectural illustration firm. She recently released “St. Louis Splendor,” through Reedy Press, which features 50 architectural illustrations based on St. Louis landmarks.

Jo Ann Kargus is the author and illustrator of "St. Louis Splendor: An Adult Coloring Book."
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Whereas Volansky’s illustrations feature plenty of white space and informal curves for maximum creativity, Kargus’ coloring book illustrations are very intricate, almost like architectural renderings you might find in a history book.

In the book, you’ll find illustrations of places like Missouri Botanical Garden’s Climatron, Ted Drewes, Crown Candy, the Fox Theatre, the City Museum, Anheuser-Busch and more.

“I’ve been an architectural illustrator in St. Louis for over 32 years, so my style of art is more realistic. I was approached by Josh Stevens of Reedy Press to make the illustrations for a book of St. Louis landmarks. I felt like it was a good fit for my skills. Since coloring books became popular, I was dying to create a book about something — when he asked, I was all about it.”

Kargus illustrates her books by hand, using ink and paper, based off of photographs of the landmarks.

Why are coloring books so popular?

"Boss Babes" is published by Workman Publishing, out of New York.
Credit Workman Publishing

Coloring books have so risen in popularity that local libraries, book stores and even bars are setting aside time and space for groups to come in and color. There’s even a coloring club that meets once a month at various locations around town.

“I think they are popular because people want to be able to relax and they feel like they have an artistic side of them but they don’t know where they go with it,” Kargus said. “And if they look at a blank sheet of paper, they get overwhelmed or don’t know where to start. An adult coloring book, they usually have a theme, you can buy whatever book from garden scenes to a mandala or cats or dogs. The drawings are done, you just pick your colors and start to work, and it can take you away from things. It is something easy you can take and do anywhere, you don’t have to go to a special place.”

Volansky said that coloring books also give people a sense of nostalgia that feels comforting.

"St. Louis Splendor" is published by Reedy Press, out of St. Louis.
Credit Reedy Press

During the segment on St. Louis on the Air, we heard from several listeners who have used coloring books to destress or unleash their creativity, but the practice is also being implemented for medical purposes. Coloring book work has been shown to ease the anxiety of veterans, patients with Alzheimer’s and elderly individuals.

Why exactly is it so therapeutic? Volansky has a theory:

“You’re concentrating on your shapes and colors,” she said. “Reading a book, your mind is very active. Your mind can be passive doing this. It is nice to tune out and do a physical activity that isn’t staring at a screen. It kind of gives your mind room to think on things. You could listen to music or a podcast and color. Your mind doesn’t have to be as turned on.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.