Colouring for conservation with Millie Marotta & Virginia McKenna

I love to sit in bookshop cafés. There’s something romantic about the notion: removing oneself from the wired in, Wi-Fi ready world around us to escape into fantasy lands or global adventure over a warm cup of tea.

I’ve never before sat in a bookshop café with a cocktail and some colouring pencils though — until last Thursday night.

Nestled in the basement café of Waterstones, Piccadilly; renowned adult colouring book illustrator Millie Marotta welcomed an audience of avid colourers and curious artists to a special event commemorating her latest book release and her new position as a patron of the Born Free Foundation.

imageAlthough I fancy myself as a bit of a coloured pencil artist (I wish there was less loaded term than ‘artist’!), having held my own exhibition last year to raise funds for Born Free Foundation’s Europe Elephant Sanctuary; I’ve never actually indulged in adult colouring books before, so this was a delve into the unknown for me.

Without really knowing what to expect, but intrigued by the new book’s title: Wild Savannah, I listened intently as Sunday Times journalist Katie Glass interviewed Millie about her work, her training (she studied as an illustrator before becoming an art teacher, then getting into publishing) and her previous books, which have sold more than 4 million copies!

imageOne of the most interesting elements to me was Millie’s admission that creating the book allowed her to discover animals that she’d never before seen or heard of; such as the pangolin.

I asked her whether she ever had similar feedback from the adults that use her books: that indulging in her illustrations has allowed them to learn about a creature that they wouldn’t have otherwise come across, and she admitted that she is regularly contacted on her Facebook page by people expressing that the books have taught them something about the natural world or made them consider an environment in a new way.Millie Marotta 1It seemed fitting then that Born Free Foundation Founder, Virginia McKenna was invited to speak about Millie’s new position as a patron of the charity and how her books will go onto inspire a new interest in the wild for many.

The theme of her latest colouring book is the wild savannah, and as such, it includes illustrations of savannah landscapes in Africa, India and South Australia.

imageVirginia spoke passionately about the pairing between the foundation and Millie Marotta’s work; highlighting that in Born Free Foundation’s Year of the Lion, it was a special blessing to have Millie advocate the brand and even release a number of signed limited edition prints of her lion illustration, on behalf of the charity.

I spoke to Virginia afterwards about the art workshops that Millie will be holding in schools across Kenya, as part of a Born Free’s Global Friends initiative to help educate schoolchildren about their local wildlife; to help change attitudes towards animals consider ‘pests’ and find a way to work with them and the environment, such as through the use of lion-proof bomas around farmland.

Kate and Virginia

“Optimist to the core, Millie is one of the people inspiring that hope in Kenya,” she said. “Her approach is a valuable, powerful and unforgettable inspiration — lucky children I say!”

It sounded like an incredibly positive and progressive way of exploring an issue, and as a lover and advocate of education and schools, I think it’s a wonderful thing for Millie Marotta (especially as a former art teacher) to have taken on. Bringing together education and conservation can only be a good thing!

Now, excuse me while I finish off my rhino colouring…

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