Photo of Bridget Finnegan

Bridget Finnegan is rarely serious. In her personal life and in her work, she is defined by her sense of humor and her ability to make others laugh. So when she decided to create Doc MacDoodle’s® Color Therapy for Grown-Ups: Animals it was necessary for the coloring book to not only give people the chance to be creative but also to smile. In the following interview by Olivia Marple, Finnegan discusses the benefits of coloring books, what sets hers apart from others on the market right now, her plans for future coloring books the Doc MacDoodle series, and the frustrating realization that the world is not ready to color a buffalo wearing a periscope. 

Olivia Marple: You graduated with a degree in photography and, since then, have consistently done creative and artistic work. Can you think of a defining moment from your childhood or early adult years that really propelled you toward this kind of work?

Bridget Finnegan: There’s a line from a Neko Case song that really sums it up for me. “I’m holding out for that teenage feeling.” I remember vividly the excitement and joy at age 7 when I received a brand-new clean coloring book. I’m sure Neko wasn’t talking about coloring books.

OM: Are there any visual artists – painters, photographers, animators, etc. – who have influenced your style of illustration?

BF: I am influenced on a daily basis by the creativity of others. An early one is Chuck Jones, the fantastic animator behind Bugs Bunny. His book Chuck Amuck! should be required reading for all creatives. Another big influence that may be hard to see in my work is Picasso. I love the fact that he never stopped changing and experimenting. The influence of illustrators like Aubrey Beardsley is probably more obvious. A local influence is NH potter Jane Kaufmann.

OM: Who or what inspires your creative process?

BF: My pals keep the energy flowing. Lots of reading ensures that I will never run out of ideas.

OM: Why did you decide to create Doc MacDoodle’s Color Therapy for Grown-Ups? BF: It really was a perfect storm or a colliding of the planets or some other dramatic “big-bang-esque” event. I was looking for a new side project after coming to the home stretch on graduate school. Several people mentioned to me that I should do a coloring book as my illustration style and sensibility would be conducive to this genre. Ironically, I was slow to pick up on the trend because people don’t tend to give illustrators coloring books. Almost every one of my friends received one for Christmas this past year. I did a few test spreads and ran them by some friends and they were encouraging.

OM: What sets your coloring book apart from others on the market right now?

BF: The main differentiator is the humor and visual jokes. It combines fun with well-executed artwork. It is designed with the colorist in mind. Many of the books on the market are not. The artwork is too intricate or the paper is too thin or the binding makes it impossible to color the entire illustration. Also, my book has a character that introduces the book. Doc MacDoodle is a know-it-all gorilla who claims to be an expert in all areas. He sees himself as a bit of a spiritual leader.

OM: Why did you decide to feature animals in your first coloring book?

BF: A few years back I worked on a children’s book with my friend Dolores Leonard about a zoo that was invaded by clowns. The animals remained in my head. Thankfully, the clowns didn’t.

OM: Your coloring book has a lot of humor in it. Is it important for you to have a humorous element in a lot of your projects?

BF: Yes! I really enjoy laughing. I don’t think I am built to do anything serious.

OM: Did you create this coloring book for a group of people in particular? Or do you think anyone can enjoy it?

BF: I started out creating the book for people like me. Adults who enjoy the tactile nature of creating something and like to have fun doing it. I knew that kids would like it as well. There may be a few of the illustrations that are a bit complex for little ones to color but they will like the illustrations. It has only been since I have shared the book with others that I have realized that another huge potential audience for it is older people. The illustrations are sweet and fun and happy. It really is for grown-ups of all ages.

OM: Why do you say that older people could be a potential customer base for your coloring book? How are coloring books helpful for the elderly?

BF: Recent studies have shown that coloring books provide a calming distraction for older people who suffer from the beginning stages of dementia.

OM: You also mentioned that you originally created your coloring book for women who like to create things. Do you think the book could also sell well with people who are not normally creative? Why?

BF: I think there will be huge appeal for the book among those who don’t consider themselves creative. There are several different “levels” of artwork available in the book. A few are patterns in enclosed areas where the risk is minimal. If you don’t like a square, you just move on!

OM: You mentioned the tactile nature inherent in coloring books, which is a concept seen less and less in our current, digitally oriented world. What do you think are the positives of coloring with physical pencils and paper, and how would you convince someone who is glued to their smart phone or computer that they should give coloring a try?

BF: I love screens more than anyone. I use a computer to create my books. I do think, however, that there is something very satisfying about creating something in a tactical medium. When you don’t have an “undo” button you need to commit. I used to draw a lot in sketchbooks. I forced myself to draw in pen. No erasing allowed. It forced me to relax. Some of my best sketches were mistakes. When you color, you have fewer decisions to make than if you were doing a drawing.

OM: Coloring books are having a bit of a moment right now, similarly to how “paint by number” was popular in the 1950s. What factors do you think are prompting this surge in popularity, and how does this compare to the paint by number fad of the past?

BF: I think this is way bigger than the fads of yesteryear. The books have become so popular that there is actually a color pencil shortage right now. Although, I’m betting that paint by numbers will come back too. Maybe I’ll do one of those next.

OM: Besides your coloring book, what other jobs or projects have you done that have been very gratifying for you? Why did you enjoy working on them?

BF: I have really enjoyed my work at UNH over the years. Most of the best projects have been collaborations with others. Editor Beth Potier and I worked on an animation explaining the Ecoline gas pipeline that brings methane from a landfill to campus for fuel. We were even able to throw in some gaseous cows. We also explained space plasma physics via animation. [But], my all-time favorite project was designing clothing and packaging for an ill-fated line of baby dolls. Check them out on my past work page.

OM: You’ve been making these books in addition to your work at UNH. What keeps you motivated to do projects outside of your full-time job?

BF: Eleanor Clift once said, “Work is therapy for home and home is therapy for work.” Having these projects in my spare time allows me to achieve balance in my life. The fun and playfulness of the coloring books balances the more managerial or strategic aspects of my job.

OM: What is the most difficult or frustrating aspect of making these books? BF: The most difficult aspect of the books has been to not fall in love with an idea that is not working. Being able to share the work with others and take their feedback has been helpful. Sometimes a buffalo wearing a periscope is not what the world needs right now!

OM: Who is someone you look up to?

BF: I have actually found many new people that I look up to recently. In researching my next coloring book about amazing women I have found lots of inspiration. Josephine Baker is a recent one. She came from poverty and became the toast of Paris, received the French Medal of Honor for her work with the resistance during WWII, and adopted 12 children who actually turned out well. She was certainly not without her flaws but aren’t we all!

OM: What will your next coloring book be about?

BF: I am planning for at least four more in the Doc MacDoodle series. A sequel to Animals will come out in spring 2017. How could I forget bears and seals and moose in the first one? The next book due out this fall will focus on amazing women that I think the world should know about. It will be funny (hopefully) AND educational (maybe). I believe it will be the first coloring book with a bibliography. I have chosen about a third of the subjects including Cleopatra, Josephine Baker and Margaret Mead. Needless to say it will be an eclectic mix. If anyone wants to nominate someone, they should visit Doc’s Facebook page.

OM: Where can people purchase Doc MacDoodle’s Color Therapy for Grown-Ups?

BF: The book is available on Amazon. I’ll be expanding its availability to Barnes & Noble online later in the fall. It will probably be available locally in a few shops this fall.

OM: Do you have any plans for future books or projects outside of the coloring book world?

BF: I have a project involving waterfowl on Lake Winnipesaukee that has been lurking in my brain for a few years. My publishing company is even named for one of the characters, Dawdle, a perky merganser duck. I have no idea where that will land, or when, or if.

Olivia Marple is the public relations manager at Dawdle Publishing, LLC, as well as a freelance journalist and Spanish tutor in the Seacoast NH area. She enjoys learning new languages and documenting the world around her through video, photography and writing. Check out her online portfolio at oliviamarple.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter: @OliviaMarple