Colouring book star Millie Marotta on bringing colour to an animal world before it's too late

The acclaimed colouring book artist switches gears for new book A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals. Find out more in our interview, which showcases exclusive sketches by Millie.

As cries ring around the world to the tune of 'How dare you?' following environmental activist Greta Thunberg's much-talked about speech to the UN this week, one coming off the back of the first ever global climate strike, its high time perhaps to remind ourselves of global warming's other main victim, that of the animal kingdom.

The optics of the current discussion on our climate crisis strongly focus on future projections of humans in peril, along with very-present footage of fiery jungles burnt into the memory. No wonder then if god's creatures big and small have been somewhat sidelined perhaps, in spite of perishing so long for the very same reasons.

In ode to the fauna we may lose before Generation Greta loses the world as we now know it, A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals by illustrator Millie Marotta arrives in perfect time, taking rightful place as part of the art world's recent and robust environmental call to arms.

"It did feel like it was going to be coming out at an important time," Millie agrees as we talk at Digital Arts HQ a mere few days after the Brazilian rainforest fire hit world headlines. "It feels like there’s a pinnacle of catastrophe going on at the moment," she continues, "with people like Greta and the rainforest being such a hot topic.

"I didn’t anticipate any of those things of course, but it did feel like the time was right for me to make the book when I started it, to introduce animals people might be familiar with, but don’t realise are also in danger."

A Wild Child's Guide was born in response to questions by some of the many, many fans of her mega-selling colouring books on the names of the black and white creatures adorning her spreads.

"That's why I ended up putting a list of creatures in the back of my colouring books from that point onwards," Millie reveals. "People wanted to go and research the animals they were colouring in, and it was really exciting and interesting that people engaged with the book on a whole other level to that which I'd envisaged."

With her latest release, Millie pairs the beautiful images fans will be familiar with alongside information on the showcased fauna, as written by herself for the proverbial wild child of the book's title. A big enough change in style on its own, and that's before one considers that, in a publishing first for Millie, the book is in full, glorious colour.

"Everything about this book was completely new for me," Millie tells me. "The research, the writing, working in colour, doing a full colour book; it was all completely new ground.

"So far there’s been a lot of interest from people in seeing me move from black and white work into colour work, without losing my 'style' as it were. But that’s something you can’t really get away from anyway; it’s like trying to change your handwriting, isn’t it?"

"It was a really big jump for me," the artist continues. "I thought whether I should colour it by hand, or use paint, maybe do some collage. And then none of those things seemed to fit with the vision I had in my mind, and my drawings are really crisp and neat, and quite graphic in themselves anyway, so it sort of made sense to colour them digitally."

Millie stuck to making all her creations by hand and ink before converting digitally, applying an intoxicating array of colours within Adobe Illustrator.

"I sort of kept the colours realistic-ish, but did bring a little bit of imagination into it as well," the artist explains.  "The main thing more than anything that I wanted to capture as realistically as I could, was the shape and the form of the animal."

"I do want people to know what a bilby actually looks like, for example. And that's part of what I also want to get across in the book, to introduce people to animals they have never heard of."

Millie buried herself in research for the book, filtering out the statistics and "getting a feel for the animal and its story and environment" as she puts it, discovering species she'd never heard of herself along the way. A surprise for an animal-lover like her; growing up surrounded by pets in rural Wales, Millie has never strayed too far from the animal realm.

"While I worked as a learning support assistant on an art foundation course, I was also a student on a small animal care course," Millie says, harking back to a local college in her hometown of Pembrokeshire. "So there’s always been like this art and animals thing, these two lines that run parallel for me."

"I don’t feel like it’s something that I ever sort of became interested in. Animals have just always been an innate part of who I am and what I’m interested in."

Her favourite critters to draw for this book include the bilby and agami heron. "I also loved the pangolins, but that might just be because I would dearly love to have a pangolin. They’re so adorable."

I put to Millie that perhaps the book may sadly serve as an early tribute to such creatures should they end up gone from the Earth, a way of sorts to preserve their splendour for future generations.

"I really, really, really hope with all my heart it doesn’t end up being that," she says emphatically. "I want people to learn and fall in love with these animals and want to do something to help them. I really hope it doesn’t end up becoming a catalogue of animals that we’ve lost."

Whatever the resultA Wild Child's Guide is a supreme reminder of how animals adapt so well to art with all their God-given beauty  and how such art goes over well with curious children hungry to know more about the natural world.

"For kids especially, an illustration or cartoon is something they can engage with a little bit more easily, as opposed to a photograph or a film," Millie feels.

It helps when animals are so eye-catching, I suggest.

"Totally," she agrees. "I mean, nature’s nuts isn’t it? There’s no better designer than nature, in my opinion."

A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals by Mille Marotta is out now from Penguin's Particular Books imprint in both hardback and e-book.

Read next: Millie tells us about drawing her colouring book iPad app as it hits 250,000 downloads

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