We went behind the scenes with Kendra Norton, mother of four, viral TikToker, artist, and author of Workman’s newest inspiring essential: The Reverse Coloring Book, to ask her about her creative process, experience getting published, and how her life imitates art.
Where did the inspiration for The Reverse Coloring Book come from?
I started painting with watercolor and ink in order to teach myself to draw more precisely. I wanted to be able to sketch anything confidently even in a loose medium like watercolors so I could improve my acrylic paintings. My very first Instagram post in June 2018 introduces my page as a project in sharing that new adventure in learning and practice. It’s interesting to scroll back and see how quickly my style loosened up falling away from seeking accuracy and leaning into creative looseness. On September 25, 2018, I posted the piece that was a distinct turning point. Even though I wasn’t calling it Reverse Coloring yet, that is where it started for me. Tracing my painted colors and getting lost in the process of making lines in free-form quickly became a source of creative meditation and stress relief for me. I loved sharing about it through process videos on my social media pages. I carried my supplies with me everywhere. Even a ten-minute break to draw some lines would change my entire mood. The Reverse Coloring Book was a suggestion from a friend of mine during that time. I thought a book would be a perfect way to share with others this creative, meditative experience I was having. Even though I immediately loved the idea, it took a little over a year for me to pull together the time and concept enough to launch a Kickstarter campaign for my original self-published book.
How did you go about initiating the process of getting published and how does it feel to be a published author and artist? Were there any challenges you had to overcome?
It was many hours of researching online into the night after my kids were in bed. I read every article I could find, interviewed smaller publishing companies, and learned as much as I could from each. I began to understand more about the industry, different types of publishing companies, and the role of a publishing agent. About two months after my Kickstarter books arrived and I was actively selling them, I began submitting to a few publishing companies and to many literary agents. Every submission process is unique to the company or the individual. I had a spreadsheet just to keep track of all the little details. Since most agents have specific genres they will consider, I submitted to anyone I thought would be remotely interested in my book. After all, there are no Reverse Coloring Books and no represented genre it falls under, so I was taking a chance every time. When I found my agent, Dan Lazar, I was so hopeful while I prepared my submission; he is a very talented and respected agent. I was beyond thrilled when he replied to me right away and we signed a contract soon after. Things have happened quickly since then and it’s been a lot to learn, but my agent, Dan Lazar, and all the amazing teams at Workman have been a dream to work with and learn from. They are all wonderful about my endless questions. The entire process of publishing has been exhilarating. I am so incredibly grateful for it all. Currently, my main challenge is balancing my time. Between my kids, job, school, homework, and book production and marketing . . . I am certainly never bored.
What did you like the most about the creative process?
Creating the book content itself is a process of its own for me. In general, when I paint, there is a point where I don’t particularly like what I am making . . . yet. But if I push through, it usually comes together and I feel great about it in the end. That has been a very familiar part of my creative process for as long as I can remember. What I came to realize while creating The Reverse Coloring Book is that I need to stop painting and publish my art for the world to see right at this point where I am not yet happy with it. It is a vulnerable feeling to stop and share with the world something that feels incomplete or not up to my full potential. Occasionally, I get carried away and accidentally paint past this point and it becomes too “complete” for a book page. I’ve found that it helps me to take breaks from this feeling and paint something to completion on purpose. Afterward, I can go back to stopping partway through and create more book pages. I didn’t anticipate this feeling when I conceptualized the book, so it’s been a process to notice it and learn how to work it into my timeline for producing book content. It will be interesting to see how it changes over time as I continue painting for The Reverse Coloring Books. This is one of the reasons it is so special for me to see how people complete the pages of my books. It feels like the last note of a song I hadn’t been able to hear up until then. Every time I see a page someone has drawn, I get that feeling of creative resolution. It truly warms my heart to collaborate with so many creatives around the world.
Now that the book is out in the world, what do you hope to achieve with people using it? Can we expect more versions of The Reverse Coloring Book any time soon?
I love this question because I feel like the answer becomes more broad and more real as time goes on. I hope to provide the world with an exciting new option for creativity, peace, or mindfulness. I hope to inspire many to try something new and find creativity when they never thought they could. I hope to help folks move through emotional or creative blocks they are facing. I hope that communities with different abilities and needs find a new tool to be a part of their routine or therapy. I hope my books become a resource for teachers and children to practice free-flow art in the classroom. I hope to be able to do all of this and more for a long time to come. I am excited to say the next book in The Reverse Coloring Book series is already being created and will be available in March 2022! Often, I share my page-painting process on my TikTok and Instagram accounts, so you can easily get a sneak peek at some future book pages that way. I enjoy hearing inspiration or ideas from others, so if anyone shares ideas with me, there is a good chance they will be incorporated into the book in one way or another.
What’s your advice to an illustrator or creative who hasn’t been published before? How should they go about making it happen?
First, don’t stop creating. Continue to practice flow and lean in to wherever your art is taking you. Even if you are seeking to be published, your priority should be nurturing yourself as an artist. You never know what the next piece you make will lead you to. Second, learn as much about the industry as you can. Become your own source of information so you can make informed choices when the time is right for you. Network whenever you can. Make friends with artists and artist communities, authors, and folks doing what it is you are hoping to do. Third, even if your goal is to become published by the large publishing company of your dreams, don’t discount self-publishing. Self-publishing can be grueling and has its own learning curve, but it can be rewarding. Fourth, tell everyone what you are doing. Talk about what you are up to wherever you go. Harness the passion you have about what you are doing and let everyone see the light it generates in your life. Become known for what you are up to no matter how big or small your circle is. And it never hurts to intentionally grow your circle of those who know you and support you. Lastly . . . a hashtag I use all the time because it is one of my inner mantras: #justkeepgoing. Good luck! I’m rooting for you!
Have you found that your experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community has influenced your art?
I am what they call a late-in-life lesbian. I was an adult before I discovered that I am gay. I was thirty years old, post military, married to a man, and my first babe was two years old. Actually, “discovered” is a misleading word. It was more like a slow drawing out, a peeling away, an unraveling. But I was aligning to what had always been true inside me. I had to first find faith in my own spirit to move forward from there.
I only began showing up as an artist in the world after I was fully out as lesbian. I was thirty-two before I could bring myself to say,“I am an Artist.” So, I am also a late-in-life artist, incidentally. Aligning with my identity as an artist has proven as powerful, rewarding, and fulfilling as when I came out. I believe I never would have become an artist if I had not unveiled my sexuality to begin with.
My first art show was filled with paintings that reflected my sexuality and the freedom and joy I was able to fully express for the first time in my life. I’m turning forty-two this year and I can say my path as an artist has been the most rewarding when I’ve surrendered to this process of not knowing, letting go, and cultivating an intangible notion into reality. The Reverse Coloring Book is my latest and most poignant example. It is my hope that many books and projects will follow and that many early-in-life or late-in-life artists or not-yet artists will find the same creative solace, freedom, and inspiration within these pages as I have. I am looking forward to discovering what comes next.
Always with love,
More About the The Reverse Coloring Book
The book has the colors, you draw the lines: the creative possibilities are endless!
Reverse coloring is a totally new idea in creativity and mindfulness: so simple, and so profoundly satisfying. Artist Kendra Norton created these beautiful and whimsical unfinished watercolors to provide a gentle visual guide for your own creativity and exploration.
Trace the shapes, draw in figures, doodle, shade, cover an area with dots. Each page is an invitation to slow down, let your mind drift, and be surprised by your own creativity. And because reverse coloring requires no “staying inside the lines,” it empowers your artistic self-confidence while it calms the mind.
The Reverse Coloring Book includes 50 original works of art, printed on sturdy paper that’s single-sided and perforated. All you need is a pen.