Secret Garden illustrator Johanna Basford gives HK a dose of creativity and imagination

Secret Garden illustrator Johanna Basford gives HK a dose of creativity and imagination

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Wonder and whimsy await you at the Christmas Secret Garden.

Johanna Basford grew up on a fish farm in rural Aberdeenshire, Scotland without iPhones, iPads or even TV and computer games. But she think she is “lucky” to have avoided the digital age.

Instead of these gadgets, she spent her childhood paddling in the stream behind her house and was immersed in her own secret gardens. Inspired by the environment around the family home, she’d spend hours with her sister making imaginary gardens or pretend farms – “complete with chickens, ponies and even occasionally the odd flamingos,” says Basford.

That free-range childhood granted the 33-year-old illustrator, who is best known for her colouring book Secret Garden, a wild imagination and a love of nature. “I’m very used to using my imagination and conjuring up places to play, stories to tell and whimsical characters,” Basford told Young Post.

While playing on the farm and “maintaining” her imaginative gardens, her parents encouraged her to discover things that made her “truly happy” and follow her passions – drawing and creativity.

She had always wanted to pursue a creative career and started out as a textile designer in 2005, but it didn’t take her long to swap fabric for paper.

Basford in her studio.

“In the creative sector you often have to do lots of different jobs and drift from project to project, so a broad understanding of how to do a few things is beneficial ... it’s important to broaden your creative horizons and become a bit of a jack of all trades,” Basford recommends.

Having freelanced for commercial illustrations, she has established her signature style of hand drawn, black and white artwork. Basford said she wanted to be known for something else as there were plenty of illustrators working with colour. “So I worked in a way that made my drawings stand out,” and she stuck with it, from commercial illustrations to creative ones.

Her colouring books – outlined in black and white on each page – offer endless possibilities.

“I love that people can take my simple black and white drawings and turn them into colourful masterpieces. I think of every book as a collaboration – it’s my job to build the foundations, to create the black and white artwork that will then be completed by the colourist,” she said.

When Secret Garden first hit the market in 2013, its overwhelming success hit Basford as a surprise.


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She wanted to elevate colouring to an art form. She believes it’s as much a part of the creative process as illustrating. “There are decisions to be made, techniques to learn, masterpieces to be created,” says Basford.

But ultimately, it was a passion project: “My only target was to create a project that I was proud of.”

“When you do something for the right reasons ... I think this authenticity and pureness of intention is carried through into the work,” she said.

Secret Garden soon became a best seller. It was followed by Enchanted Forest in 2015 and she has been hearing from fans all over the globe since.

“The thing that makes me happiest is not the comments, but seeing the images people share online of their creations. I love that people are proud of what they have created and want to share those pictures with the world.

A tree house Basford has illustrated for Hong Kong's Festival Walk.

“Colouring is democratising and it is accessible to everyone ... they will just interpret the pictures differently and use technique appropriate to their skill level,” she said.

Aside from drawing and creating illustrations, Basford also likes to film tutorial videos. “The online colouring community centres on sharing,” she said, so as a member of the community, she loves sharing new techniques and tips as she discovers them.

This Christmas, Basford is sharing some festive spirit with Hong Kong by turning Festival Walk into a 3D garden with artworks from her published books and two illustrations featuring a Christmas tree and a tree house – “magical places to play where your imagination can roam free” – that she has designed for Festival Walk.

“I love filling my home with hand crafted Christmas decorations, so I just imagined I was making something special for my own home,” says Basford when asked how she came up with the designs.

Check out Johanna Basford’s Christmas Secret Garden at Festival Walk until January 2

Edited by Lucy Christie

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Secret to a colourful life

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