Kathryn Curtis, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, set out to create something different that would educate and inspire people in an engaging way. The resulting 14-page seed paper coloring book gives the reader a chance to not only learn about the difficult subject of water security in Brazil but perhaps transform themselves along the way.
Kathryn's illustrations are a part of the story, with the text and artistic imagery blending together on all of the plantable pages.
Amazed by the finished product that was printed by Botanical PaperWorks on tri-herb seed paper, we simply had to know more about the unique project and the story behind it.
This Q & A with Kathryn Curtis reveals a bit about the seed paper coloring book project and how it evolved:
Tell us a bit about the project and what inspired the idea.
From 2014 - 2015 I lived in Brazil to study how food cultivation impacted climate change. When I stepped off the plane in August, Brazil was already well into one of the worst droughts on record – and many pointed the finger at industrial agriculture. My work, funded through a Boren Fellowship as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, was to demonstrate the national security implications of these issues. The initial plan was to write an article about my research. But this would have been one more article heaped on top of hundreds of other articles written about the exact same subject. Would anyone read it? And if so, would it actually be of any help?
Motivated to do something different, and intrigued by the growing coloring book industry, I thought that this medium would be the perfect way to encourage people to engage on a difficult subject with their head and their heart. The seed paper idea came a little bit later. I met someone who had seed paper business cards and it just clicked. To me, this is the most impactful philosophical message of the book.
Who was involved?
So many people from start to finish! This whole project was funded through Indiegogo, an amazing crowdfunding site. Sixty-five people donated money to the project, and many of those individuals received a book in return. When the Indiegogo campaign was live and the book was still in the conceptual stage, many helped me spread the word through podcast interviews (Thanks Brenda and Levi at Realeyes Homestead!) or connected me to radio personalities like Cynthia Canty for an interview on Michigan Radio (Thanks, Mercedes!) or shared the campaign page on social media.
Then, as I began writing, many provided feedback on the text. I was part of a writers' group called WriteOn in Ann Arbor, Michigan that kindly read through about 10 different iterations of the text, bless their hearts. Creating the artwork was more challenging. Initially, I hired a Brazilian artist to do the drawings but that didn’t work out.
Instead, I began doing the drawings on my own, which was completely and utterly terrifying. E.L Doctorow once said that “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’d say this advice rings true for any creative pursuit, especially one you’ve never done before. Once driving on that long and bumpy road there were a lot of people in my life who helped gas up the car or turned the radio to my favorite song, and a special few who noticed when I’d taken a wrong turn. These people listened to my bursts of artistic self-doubt and anxiety and squashed any self-aggrandizement that might have resulted from the completion of a drawing I was particularly satisfied with. These people are the ones who kept me going and kept me a pleasant human being to be around in the process.
How will the seed paper coloring books be distributed?
The initial print has been distributed to donors who contributed $25 or more to the Indiegogo campaign. The few that are left over are being sold via word of mouth, though I do hope to find a publisher who can help finance a bigger printing.
If you would like to get your hands on one, email Kathryn Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why did you choose seed paper?
"My hope is that readers can experience a transformation as they watch the seeds take root and begin to grow...To me, the seed paper signifies the possibility of change, and hope for the future."
Many years ago, a friend showed me a video of monks creating, and then destroying intricate sand mandalas. The monks do this to remind themselves that nothing is permanent in our lives. I believe that much of our current environmental predicament stems from attachment – attachment to a way of doing things, attachment to material things and a consumerist lifestyle, even an attachment to our own identities.
I thought it would be a humbling message – for myself and others – to see our artistry ripped up and then buried in the soil. However, just as the monks hope to transform themselves through their efforts, my hope is that readers can experience a transformation as they watch the seeds take root and begin to grow. A lot of what we hear about climate change is doom and gloom. I wanted to be real with people about what is at stake and where we stand, but I also wanted to give people hope. To me, the seed paper signifies the possibility of change, and hope for the future.
What do you hope to achieve by sharing the book?
My hope is that people recognize how powerful they are. I was so intimidated after undertaking this project. I truly felt scared – What if I never finished it? What if it turned out terribly? What if no one liked it? The act of completing this project felt to me like one of the biggest acts of courage I’ve ever taken. And part of the reason I took it was that I was tired of feeling powerless. I was tired of wishing I had done or could do, more. I decided I wanted to feel strong, like I could do anything.
This book was born out of that feeling, though every single day I worked towards its completion was laced with doubt. That’s the message I’d like to get across to people – that it’s possible to transform the world around us, but first, we need to transform ourselves. I have an immense faith in humanity. I know that if I can overcome my own feelings of self-doubt and powerlessness then anyone can. I hope this book can serve to help people along that path.
How do you feel about the process and the final result of the product?
The Botanical PaperWorks team was a joy to work with, from start to finish. They responded quickly and clearly to my many questions. Their expert team assisted me in choosing the best seed paper for my project. And when the final product arrived on my doorstep it was so beautiful I literally started crying. I am so happy that my dream has become a reality and it would not have been possible without Botanical PaperWorks. I truly look forward to working with them in the future.