by Len Lear
Coloring books for adults are about as hot these days as the Carolina Panthers. According to amazon.com, coloring books for grown-ups were one of the hottest trends in publishing last year, taking many by surprise. The numbers were so impressive, one major publisher advised, “If you want to be a bestselling author, make an adult coloring book.”
Apparently, when Americans have a precious moment to put a book in their hands — any book! — they are choosing to color inside the lines instead. Some observers of the zeitgeist have explained that these coloring books are a psychological refuge from our stressed-out lives.
One extraordinarily talented Mt. Airy artist who is riding this wave is Ellen Marcus, 39, who will be discussing her first coloring book for adults, “Fabulous Beasties & Eccentric Creatures,” on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 3 p.m., at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.
“I heard about the coloring book craze last year,” Ellen said in an interview last week, “and decided it was something I wanted to do … a very meditative thing to do. I actually had a good time creating this book, turning my paintings into line art that people could color. Secondly, I thought the whimsical feel of my paintings would provide entertaining things to color and help to deepen the meditative process for the colorist. Third, I was between commissions and had the time to finish it (well, as much as I can steal from being a full-time mom for my 15-month old).”
A native of Chicago, Ellen attended Columbia College in Chicago and received a BA of Arts. She proceeded to do some office work for her father’s business and then worked at an animal shelter for a few years.
“A friend of mine finally told me, ‘(curse word), Ellen, just pick something and go with it!’ Those words at that moment had such a great impact on me that the next day, I decided to drop everything else I was involved in and focus on animation. However, it didn’t stick. Even later in my career, after working as an animator for a few years, I had major doubts and thought I might be better off doing something else for financial reasons. Only recently (within the past six years) have I decided animation and illustration is what I want to do, no matter what.”
Ellen and her husband have lived in Mt. Airy since moving to Philly six years ago.
Her whimsical style — a fish on a bicycle, an elephant with an umbrella, a person swinging from a dinosaur neck, etc. — reminds this observer of the best comic books or animated movie figures — original, funny and clever. “Usually, animals provide the most humorous ideas,” she explained, “especially when anthropomorphized within situations that are impractical. I don’t consider myself a gifted humorist, and it’s a grueling task for me to come up with anything even remotely funny. But when I do, I figure if I’m smiling while creating it, hopefully someone else out there will, too.”
Ellen grew up drawing animals, has had many pets and was even sent to a horse camp in the summer. She now has two “very sweet” cats. “When I turned 16, I started volunteering pretty regularly at animal shelters. I’m not sure how many years I volunteered, but I was hired and fully employed by the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago for a couple of years. I also did a volunteer trip with EarthWatch and went to Washington State to briefly assist with an experiment that would later be used to help set standards for humane treatment of captive primates.”
Ellen also worked as a freelancer for Calabash, an animation production house, on and off from 2000 to 2006. They produced TV commercials for companies like Lucky Charms, Trix Rabbit, Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, Mister Clean, Keebler Elves and Tony The Tiger. “Towards the end of my stay at that company,” Ellen said, “I was having a crisis of conscience about selling sugary foods to little children, and I wasn’t even getting paid much for it.”
Ellen’s books have been self-published. Besides “Beasties,” there is “Flat Head Zed,” a winter children’s book, and “That Fish on Your Dish,” a book for children with eco-conscious parents. They are available on amazon.com, on Ellen’s website and at the Mt. Airy Art Garage. Her work has been exhibited in the northwest at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, Earth Bread & Brewery, Chestnut Hill Starbucks, Geechee Girl Cafe, iMPeRFeCT Gallery and Mt. Airy Art Garage, among others, as well as enter city venues.
And her work is currently hanging in the “RoxArt” Gallery at the Roxborough Development Corporation’s headquarters, 6111 Ridge Ave. She generally is part of group shows with the Northwest Artists Collective, and she may be showing work at Malelani Mt. Airy Café on Germantown in the near future.