Mel Elliott, who lives in the U.K., self-published Colour Me Good: Ryan Gosling on a lark. She created the book after seeing (and falling for) Gosling in the 2010 indie movie Blue Valentine. The coloring book, which features various drawings of the much-adored actor, unexpectedly caught fire in the U.S., thanks to distribution through Urban Outfitters. Now Penguin’s Perigee imprint is trying its hand at the coloring book business with Elliott’s second Hollywood-inspired coloring book, Color Me Swoon, which came out September 3.
Perigee editor Meg Leder first heard about Elliott, and Colour Me Good, from a CNN story. Elliott had self-published a handful of adult coloring books before Colour Me Good—on subjects ranging from London to Kate Moss—and Leder thought the Gosling book “sounded awesome.” After she saw the title at a London gift shop, she reached out to Elliott about the idea of collaborating. “We took the idea of her original Colour Me books,” Leder told PW, “and built upon them for Swoon.”
Swoon features a bevy of male celebrities: Robert Pattinson; the members of One Direction; Pharrell Williams; Michael Fassbender; and, of course, Gosling. The book (which is being published in the U.K. by Anova Books) also features an “activity” section, with things like a George Clooney crossword puzzle and a registry for an imaginary wedding with Ryan Reynolds. There are numerous poems, word games, and Jude Law limericks. Elliott described the book as “fun and tongue-in-cheek,” emphasizing that it is written from a fan’s perspective.
Perigee has high hopes for Color Me Swoon—it’s getting an announced first printing of 25,000 copies—after the success of the Gosling version. Elliott printed just 20 copies of that book initially, but within one night of posting the title on her Web site she was overwhelmed with orders. Emboldened, she sent some samples to the Urban Outfitters chain in the U.S., which made a large order. Though neither Perigee nor Elliott could provide sales figures on Colour Me Good, the title also took off in London gift shops, before becoming a hit in the U.S., where it was covered by Good Morning America, among other outlets.
The story of Elliott’s own career may be even more unlikely than the success of her coloring book. As a child she was passionate about drawing and pop culture, and was sent to art classes to stop her “scribbling on the furniture.” She grew up to love the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein, and David Hockney, but felt obliged to get a “proper job” and began to work in advertising. Eventually she decided to do an M.A. in fine art at London’s Royal College of Art.
By this point she was a single mother of two and struggling financially. She became homeless and had to send her children to stay with her family in Yorkshire, while she slept on friends’ sofas in London and finished school. After graduation she met a printer, who would also become her husband, and who helped with the making of her “pop culture products.” A Kate Moss coloring book came first, followed by a record sleeve, which did well. She then began to make more coloring books. Soon she was achieving modest success in the U.K., and being sold in big gallery shops and boutiques. She had just landed a national distribution deal in England when “Gosling happened.”
Elliott is now taking pride in her ability to combine business and art. “I am an artist mainly, but you can’t be that full-time unless you’re a business person as well. I’d say I’m 60% artist, 40% businesswoman.”
At the moment, she is in discussions with her publishers about doing a Color Me Girl Crush book featuring “loads of great, gorgeous, funny, clever and inspirational women.” She believes there’s a coloring book “for everyone.” Her Web site, www.ilovemel.me, also sells pop-themed paper dolls, temporary tattoos, and prints, in addition to coloring books.
For Elliott, coloring books are a nice throwback, and she enjoys the fact that they allow people to “do things with their hands and put down technology for a little bit.” And, to an extent, she thinks she has simply addressed a gap in the market. “All the things we enjoyed doing as young children,” she explained, “such as cutting out and coloring in, would still be enjoyed by adults, if only the activity books had ‘grown up’ with us.”