This post begins and ends with a gift.
Just prior to the Christmas holiday, a very dear coworker of mine, Lorraine, presented me with a silver-wrapped package tied with a string of sparkling stars. She explained that when she saw this item, she thought of me. It was whimsical, she said, and she thought — or at least hoped — that I would understand.
Her only instruction was to open it on Christmas morning.
And so I brought the present home and placed it under the tree and stared at it, wondering what sort of whimsy was hidden beneath the silver foil paper.
Needless to say, it was the first present I opened on the morning of December 25 — and I soon found myself in the enchanting Secret Garden, a soft-cover book of imaginative black ink illustrations of flowers and foliage, hidden objects and doodle space.
And I immediately understood why my friend chose this book. It’s for children. It’s for adults. It’s for the child in all of us. And just as a child has a curiosity to explore, so too did I have a curiosity about the woman who dreamt of Secret Garden, artist/illustrator/ink evangelist Johanna Basford.
Working from her studio in Scotland, Ms. Basford has won numerous awards and honors for her intricate non-digital work. More importantly, though, she has shared her imagination in so many inspiring ways. In addition to her own books, she has also done work for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Starbucks, Nike, and Smart Car — to name but a few. Given her busy illustrating life, the pencil-and-pen artist managed to find time to graciously answer a few questions from NGDM.
NGDM: I received your book, Secret Garden, as a gift from a co-worker — and as soon as I opened it, I was completely pulled into the rabbit hole, just as you inscribed on the inside cover. What inspired you to create this world?
JB: I’ve always had a pretty vivid imagination, possibly a result of not watching a lot of TV as a child. I’d prefer to make-up stories, play outside and build dens or little imaginary worlds in the garden. I think my illustration practice is just an extension of this childhood – I spend my days thinking up weird and wonderful worlds, then make them come to reality on the paper.
NGDM: You designed the book to be a coloring/activity book for adults and children alike, but I have a confession to make. I’m hesitant to spoil your illustrations with color. Is there anything you can say to convince me to add color to your world? What do you recommend I use?
JB: I think you should let your own imagination roam free and just use my lines as a foundation from which to create your own worlds. The pages in the book are a starting point, not the finished work! Think of it as a creative collaboration, I’ve done my bit, now you need to add your contribution. I’ve posted a blog about pens and pencils I recommend here. http://www.johannabasford.com/blog-article/382
NGDM: After exploring your website and blog, I’m quite impressed with your accessibility to people — especially since your illustrating time seems to be so solitary. You encourage readers of Secret Garden to submit photos of how they chose to color your work. What most surprises you about how others interpret your work?
JB: I’m very lucky to have a job that I adore, so when other people are equally as enthusiastic about the work that I create, well that’s just the icing on the cake! If people take the time to buy the book, colour the pages and send me photos of their creations, I couldn’t be happier! It’s a real honor.
Generally I don’t work in colour, preferring to create images in monochrome only, so it’s wonderful to see what colours people imagined for different flowers and leaves – until I see their colours I’ve only ever pictured the plants in black and white.
NGDM: Many of your illustrations are filled with hidden treasures, such as ants and butterflies, as a challenge to readers, and this in turn pulls them in. But have you ever met an insect you didn’t like?
JB: I’m not a fan of spiders, which is surprising, as I love to draw them! They often end up trapped under jam jars until my husband comes home or the dog eats them!
NGDM: You’ve christened yourself an ink evangelist. How did you come up with that title and what does it mean to you?
JB: I like to think I’m a champion of the (wobbly) hand drawn line. I put pen to paper and create all my work by hand instead of using a computer. I think digital illustration has a role to play and there are some of my contemporaries who do amazing work on the computer, but I think there’s something intrinsically charming, honest and characterful in the hand drawn line and the inky pen stroke. Also, like much of my creative content, the hand drawn line is organic and natural; there’s a nice sense of balance there.
NGDM: Clearly, you have an inky thumb — but do you have a green thumb? How often do you get the chance to follow in the gardening footsteps of your parents and grandparents?
JB: Not as much as I would like! Our garden is very much a “work in progress” — I’m planning on planting lots of cherry blossoms this year. I tend to go for the ornamental over the edible! I’ve also got a soft spot for a terrarium. I think the charm of creating a tiny encapsulating world appeals to my doll’s house mentality.
NGDM: What gardening lessons, if any, did your family share with you?
JB: I’m not sure if it’s a lesson, but this is my most vivid gardening memory…
My dad used to pay my sister and I 50p for every cabbage white butterfly we could catch (to avoid them laying their eggs on the greens and the caterpillars munching the veges!) We spent many summer holidays dashing about the veg patch with bandy nets in pursuit of the white winged creatures in an effort to boost our pocket money. I learnt that gardening could be good exercise and also financially beneficial!
In hindsight, we were a little naive. We both hated cabbage, so had we forgone the financial bribe, we may have spared ourselves a few portions of the loathed green stuff!
NGDM: What flowers inspire you the most and why?
I love ivy and honeysuckle. They grow around the door of my childhood home. There’s something wonderfully creative about the way they creep and entwine themselves around one another. And the honeysuckle is like a magnet to bees, my favourite of all the insects!
NGDM: You mention on the FAQs page of your website that if you could be an insect you would be a bee. Why is that?
JB: I love honey and flowers, so I think a bee and I would have a lot in common. I also admire their industrious attitude to work, as well as the beautiful shapes of the honeycomb they build. Clever little insects!
NGDM: When you were a young girl, did your teachers criticize you for doodling and drawing in your notebooks?
JB: Yes, frequently. I feel I got the last laugh!
If you would like to learn more about Johanna Basford and her fantastical world, you can explore her website, www.JohannaBasford.com. Also, please enjoy this time-lapse video of the artist at work.
As I said earlier, this post begins and ends with a gift. A copy of Secret Garden will go to a randomly selected commenter. If you would like a chance to win, just leave a comment about anything — from what inspires you to your favorite color in the garden to just introducing yourself.
If you would like another chance at winning Secret Garden, leave a comment on the NGDM FaceBook page.
A winner will be selected and announced next Sunday.