Adult colouring has taken the world by storm, giving many of us a great creative outlet. Now local illustrator Mieke van der Merwe has released a proudly South African book filled with iconic places and products from our country.
Whether you buy it as a gift for yourself or a friend, this book is a truly special purchase. I have long been a fan of van der Merwe’s work, with her meticulous attention to detail combined with fluid lines to create vibrant works that have plenty of life and movement in them. Each piece in the book is an artwork on its own and you’ll be able to lend your own flair to the illustrations.
I caught up with Mieke van der Merwe to chat more about Beautiful South Africa, and her creative process.
Why did you decide on a colouring book?
I was actually in a very privilege position where the publishers contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing the colouring book. I have always wanted to publish my own book and I love to draw so I thought this was a win-win project.
Quivertree Publications is a well established publishing house with books such as Shack Chic, The Real Meal Revolution and The Great South African Cookbook, so I was really so blessed to have them do the marketing and printing of the book.
Could you tell me a bit more about your creative process? From the moment inspiration strikes to the final work.
For Beautiful South Africa, the publishers and I first sat down and decided on the things we wanted in the colouring book. After that I searched the web and Pinterest to find possible images to work from. I also looked at other colouring books to find out what worked and what doesn’t.
Once I had all the information I started drawing the pages on my Wacom Cintiq tablet. This tablet is a screen monitor which is pressure sensitive. This allows you to draw in a way that looks fairly similar to a real-life pencil drawing.
The benefit of drawing straight on the computer is that you can undo and erase without effort, making the process a lot easier. I can also work in layers and move the composition around to make sure certain elements are aligned or centered. If I had to draw the images on paper I would have had to plan a lot more; the computer makes for a more spontaneous process.
After drawing the pages I put them together to see if they work as a spread. I then sent them off to my creative director to approve before I moved on to the next spread.
Everything in the book from the lettering to the illustrations were done by hand which gives the book a more organic feel compared to other more stylised colouring books. South Africa as a theme is quite prominent in my other work so it was fun to explore it further with a colouring book.
Everything in the book from the lettering to the illustrations were done by hand which gives the book a more organic feel
Do you find it strange that other people will be creating art on your artworks?
Actually, I thought it is quite exciting! I can see how people from various backgrounds and with different preferences would use colour in my work in ways I would never have thought. I also think it’s a good way to make illustration more accessible to people who appreciate art but who can’t necessarily draw themselves.
Do you have a favourite piece in the book? Why?
It’s between the sweets illustration and the South-African products. I had so many nostalgic moments while drawing the objects, thinking back to my childhood or my mother making a curry or baking rusks.
While I was in South Korea for 2 years my parents would sometimes send me a parcel filled with these products. How I would treasure them, smell them and eat them slowly to make it last longer. It made me realise that when you live abroad the tiniest thing from home can make you miss your country.
My hope with this book is to give readers that same sense of memory and nostalgia when they engage with the images and to make them proud to be part of our beautiful country.
My hope with this book is to give readers that same sense of memory and nostalgia when they engage with the images
Do you listen to any music while working? What is currently a favourite on your playlist?
My taste in music is quite diverse from classical music to 90’s to electronic. What I listen to mostly depends on the mood I am in that day. For a typical rainy-Cape-weather day I will listen to a mix of Phil Collins, Tracy Chapman, Seal, Ben Howard, Jack Jonson and John Mayer. Other days I feel more like Indie or music from my high school days. It really depends on the day and what type work I am working on. Current favourites on my playlist are Bastille’s ‘Good Grief’ and a new song from Passenger, ‘Anywhere’.
Who are your favourite artists?
Oo, I have so many! I love the work of Carla Fuentes, Paula Bonet, Lizzy Stewart, Rebecca Green, Jared Muralt, Julia Rothman, Lieke van der Vorst and Marion Fayolle but the list could go on forever.
For local artist I really like the work of Chris Valentine, Gerhard Human, Kobie Nieuwoudt and Kirsten Sims
What is next for you?
At the moment I am mostly busy with freelance commercial work while teaching part-time at Stellenbosch University but I would love to focus more on my art. So hopefully you will see some more art pieces or maybe another colouring book in the future.