Cate Anevski, Invisible Cat Activities: a Complete-the-Drawing Book
Tim Leong, Star Wars Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Dude, why the hate for adult coloring books? We know coloring helps children improve manual dexterity, spatial recognition, and tri-dimensional vision. Coloring increases the chance your kid will become an engineer, doctor, or other highly qualified professional, besides being just fun. Do we think adults don’t deserve such educational play? Or have we become so strangled by social roles that we cannot allow ourselves to breathe freely for five minutes?
Despite the title, line artist Steve McDonald’s coloring book mostly spotlights real (or realistic) machines: a souped-up funny-car engine. The International Space Station. An ore extractor. A pump-bellows pipe organ. His one-tone illustrations, which look like they were done with a simple lining pen and basic drafting tools, are massively complex, inviting children and adults to apply colors and make the pictures look as realistic as what he’s already begun.
But he does more than that. By inviting participants to color the components of, say the Mars Rover, or a Victorian diving bell, he encourages users to understand the relationships between the components. A London city bus is even more complicated than McDonald’s drawings, and most people don’t contemplate how dependent we are daily on thousands of moving parts. McDonald encourages us to think about things we take for granted.
One of McDonald’s inventions is purely fantastical: a jet-powered flying ice cream truck. It’s pure Jetsons escapism. Yet McDonald renders even this d with intense attention, not only to the device, but the cityscape behind it. That’s why adults should color: because this seemingly escapist gewgaw actually jibes with something more complicated and profound. It makes us think. It encourages us to see the moving parts beneath the surface.
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Cate Anevski goes a different direction. Inspired by those “invisible” cat memes, she presents minimalist illustrations of cats caught mid-motion, and asks us to fill in the missing background: monkey bars. Duelling pianos. Volleyball. Where coloring books encourage users to imbue life into somebody else’s drawings, Anevski wants us to create new drawings around highly expressive cats doing, y’know, cat-ish things. Because who wouldn’t love that?
The back-cover synopsis shows simple line drawings around Anevski’s cats. But the pages themselves are wide-open beyond the cats, which Anevski depicts as simple line drawings with sepia-toned accents. So be as ambitious, or as simple, as your imagination moves you. When Anevski calls for the invisible beach ball, give her the entire beach: swimmers, partiers, waves, and Jaws. That’s the point: you control the final outcome.
Like coloring, this activity book works for children or adults. It encourages imagination, but sets limits for audiences to work against. It disguises practising complex motor function and brain exercise as simple play. And the pages I’ve tried are simply fun. It requires more personal motivation than coloring books’ pre-established lines, but it works similar parts of the brain, with similar rewards in both mental practice and grown-up playtime.
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Tim Leong, chief graphic designer for Entertainment Weekly, sadly disappoints with his attempt to create graphic representations of themes running through Star Wars. Not because it isn’t colorful, or packed with content, but because there isn’t much to do. Though beautifully designed, this paragon of licensed merchandising has little content per page. There’s little to hold my attention, and nothing I, the audience, can contribute.
Leong’s brightly colored illustrations sometimes are just cute pictures, like Chewbacca or C-3P0, with colors supposedly representing something informative: how often C-3P0 says “We’re doomed,” for instance. Others are actual statistical graphs, like how much of certain characters have been replaced by cybernetic parts, or who saved whom how many times. Sadly, with little text, readers will flip past Leong’s quite good designs quickly, in less time than most dinners.
And unfortunately, anybody considering this for Christmas presents will be sorely disappointed. By then, Episode VIII will have premiered, and this volume will already be out-of-date. What good is a gift book that’s destined to be obsolete before gift-giving season? This book offers no participation, little complexity, and minimal content. I like the idea, but Leong, a designer, needs a writer to give his content heft.
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In conclusion. I’m a new convert to coloring and activity books for grown-ups. We adults deserve both the sensory pleasure and the mental complexity that completing the picture provides. But a pretty picture isn’t enough; we need something we can contribute to creating the finished product. Audience members who consider themselves too cool for coloring, only deny themselves the pleasure and education that finishing the picture can provide.