Spotlight: Heidi Berthiaume, Curator and Publisher of Vintage Coloring Books
We had the pleasure of interviewing Heidi Berthiaume, curator and publisher of vintage coloring books. Inspired by vintage illustrations pre-1923, she inspires adults to pick up their pens, pencils and crayons!
How did you find yourself on a creative path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Definitely on the creative path since a kid for writing and visual arts. Various art classes (oil painting, acrylics, watercolor) until college, where I majored in Communications and focused on writing. With my Vintage Coloring books, I’m back to the visual arts. Though it’s still about Story for me and what I create. Researching, curating, and publishing public domain (pre-1923) illustrations as coloring books lets me share artwork that, in some cases, hasn’t been seen for hundreds of years.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people must develop?
I think “creativity” is unique to each person and naturally there. It may not be recognized by others, or even that person, because it’s compared to other people’s “creativity.” I see so many wonderful colorings in Facebook groups where the poster says something along the lines of “This isn’t very good” … and it really is! What they created, the colors they chose and how they put them together on that previously black and white or grayscale illustration, didn’t exist before. To me, making something that didn’t exist before is creativity. I think a person’s skills and understanding of how to do what they do when they create can be developed. Adult coloring lets people do just that and enjoy the creativity of making art without pressure. It doesn’t have to be a “project” for school or a “job.”
What drew (ha!) you to combining vintage art with coloring?
When “adult coloring” first became A Thing, I was very happy as I hadn’t developed any drawing art skills and really just enjoyed coloring. Suddenly, there were lots of coloring books on good paper being sold in book stores … but there weren’t many story-based coloring books – lots of flowers and mandalas and other illustrations I wasn’t interested in.
If I can’t find something I want, I’ll create it.
So I researched vintage artwork (which I already had a great affinity for), rights and uses, and sources. Prior to 1923, there is a ton of story-based, beautiful artwork from magazines and children’s book of fairy tales and fables, and even school readers. Some illustrators are well known, such as John Tenniel, who drew over 90 pieces of art for the Alice in Wonderland and the Through the Looking Glass novels. Others are more obscure, like Percy J. Billinghurst, who illustrated over 200 animal fables.
If I’m going to spend a lot of time on something, I also try and find a way to make money at it. It occurred to me, if I wanted to color these kinds of illustrations, maybe someone else wanted to as well. So I started publishing the kind of artwork I wanted to color, and Vintage Coloring came into being with The Art of Charles Robinson, Volume 1, which is actually from a novel written by A. A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame.
Tell us a bit about your process.
First thing is to find the source illustrations. Sometimes I find an actual book published in the late 1800s at a used bookstore. I buy the book and take it home to scan. Sometimes libraries and universities put existing scans online. Those are a little trickier as each online source has their own terms and conditions as to what you can and cannot do with their scans, even if the source book itself is considered in the public domain.
Once I have a usable scan, I run the illustration through a program that tries its best to solidify the lines and turn the image into pure black and white values that can scale up or down without loosing resolution (vectorize). Then I take that image into Photoshop and clean it up by hand using a stylus and tablet. I want to keep the illustration as close to the original as possible, so I’m often not creating big white spaces like other coloring books. I am taking out dust and dirt spots, adding back in detail that the vector program blobbed up. And I repair lines that were sketchy or poorly printed in the original. That can be a 2-6 hour process per illustration.
I clean up the illustrations. Then, using InDesign, I assemble them into a book to upload to a printer and/or export as a PDF. PDFs are the easiest as I can print them myself for a quality check. Printed books involve paying for a printed proof, hoping everything is right … and if not, correcting, uploading new files, and ordering a new printed proof.
What does your studio/office look like? What are the essential tools of your trade? How do they contribute to your work?
I work on an angled, tabletop drafting table as I found out when I sit coloring for hours hunched over a flat table that my neck will let me know that wasn’t a good idea. Recently, I set up a camera mount to record my coloring process for tutorial videos. And I can just to share how I do things. I find that very helpful from other artists – the peeks behind the curtain of how the art was created compared to just seeing what ends up as the final piece.
Starting out with colored pencils, Crayolas, which I still use on the covers of my print Vintage Coloring books, I wanted people to see you can create a wonderful coloring with inexpensive tools. I like solid, strong colors so I end up burnishing with colored pencils which will make my wrist hurt. So I moved onto markers. While they provided the solid, strong colors, water-based markers left streaks all over the place and didn’t blend very well.
Then I found Copic markers. I loved them so much that I became a Copic Certified Designer. Copics are my coloring tool of choice now and I’m still learning exciting new ways to use them. I think the more you work with a single coloring tool, the better you learn its quirks and strengths. Then you can use those to create what you want to create.
What other creative avenues have you explored?
I’ve recently gotten into mixed media art and it is so much fun! It takes a bit more patience than coloring, as there is drying time involved if I use paint. It really is all about the layers, but it’s an anything-goes kind of creating. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Pulling distress inks and stencils onto the craft table and seeing what turns out is fresh and new for me.
What are you working on now?
Expanding the PDF offerings in the VC Bazaar, creating coloring guides for the existing VC books, and designing online tutorials to be released later this year (crossed-fingers!).
I’ll also be offering original colorings for sale and taking custom coloring commissions, similar to the Mystery Art Envelope Kickstarter I ran last year.
I also have an ongoing Patreon project to benefit Kids Need To Read, a children’s literacy charity. We’ve created three patronage Vintage Coloring books in the past two years. We will expand into apparel and home accessories this year.
Where can people find your work?
The main Vintage Coloring website shows all of the pages of all of the books I’ve created. I also put up a free coloring page every Friday as I want people to have a chance to play with these vintage art styles if they want before committing to buying a book. PDFs of all of the print books, as well as Digital Exclusives that are not available in print are available in the VC Bazaar.
And if you want something completely different, I create fan music videos as kestrelsempai.
Inspired by Heidi Berthiaume? Get out your pens, pencils and other marking materials and check out all of our drawing and painting posts on Create Whimsy!