UMN creative writing professor creates coloring book with a twist

UMN professor Julie Schumacher’s coloring and activity book, “Doodling for Academics,” finds humor in the world of academia.

Julie Schumacher, a Creative Writing professor at the U, poses for a photo in her office in Lind Hall on Thursday, April 25, 2017. Schumacher recently released an academic coloring book entitled, Doodling for Academics.

Courtney Deutz

Julie Schumacher, a Creative Writing professor at the U, poses for a photo in her office in Lind Hall on Thursday, April 25, 2017. Schumacher recently released an academic coloring book entitled, Doodling for Academics.

Maddy Folstein

Amid the recent coloring craze, you may have colored secret gardens, mandalas or swear words.

Julie Schumacher, a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Minnesota, now presents a satirical, academic approach to the world of coloring: “Doodling for Academics.”

“I’ve been in academia for 25, 26 years,” Schumacher said. “I love my job, and on the other side I see the crazy aspect of it.”

Schumacher’s most recent novel, “Dear Committee Members,” offers a look at the struggles of academics told through letters of recommendation written by the protagonist.

In “Doodling for Academics,” the theme — and snark — continues.

“I got an email from an editor at the University of Chicago Press that said, ‘every other press is doing coloring books … even though we’re an academic press, we want to get in on the action,’” Schumacher said.

She wasn’t tasked with creating the illustrations for the book, a job that fell to Lauren Nassef, an illustrator from Chicago.

Instead, Schumacher wrote the captions and instructions for Nassef’s illustrations and activities.

“I sort of assumed it would take me no time at all,” Schumacher said. “It took months, actually. It was a lot of back and forth with the illustrator. We realized it shouldn’t just be a coloring book — that it should be a coloring-activity book. So we needed things that the colorer could do that weren’t just with crayons.”

Schumacher had to look to other activity books for inspiration.

“I spent all this time in Michael’s craft store looking at books that were similar,” Schumacher said. “It took a lot of thought to come up with these crazy items.”

For Schumacher and Nassef, the process of creating the coloring book offered a welcome break from more traditional projects.

“I’m used to working with very strict guidelines to illustrate finished books,” Nassef said. “The process here was really evolving, and the pages grew from conversations between [editor Kristen Raddatz], [Schumacher] and me.”

The text and images in “Doodling for Academics” connect in a way traditional writing and illustrations do not.

“I think that it was surprising for me to learn so much more about how text and image work together when you’re making something closer to a graphic novel or comic,” Nassef said. “This book is not that in any way, but it’s closer in that the text and image need to relate and interact and support each other in a more complete way.”

Highlighting Schumacher’s humor, the detailed illustrations let Nassef stretch her creativity.

One illustration features a fridge in an on-campus office.

“I loved working on the fridge because I was allowed to let my imagination go wherever, trying to come up with what all sorts of academics from different departments might be sticking in a refrigerator on a college campus,” Nassef said.

As one might expect, some illustrations have roots in Schumacher’s experiences on the University campus.

“The English department has been hoping to one day move into Pillsbury Hall [ … ] because we’re kind of squatters here in the IT building,” Schumacher said. “I do have some critiques there about humanities buildings versus gleaming, new science labs.”

Whether the amateur artists who approach “Doodling for Academics” are academics themselves or not, Schumacher hopes the book is a break from the grind of daily life.

“I think that here at the University we’re all so busy staring at a screen,” Schumacher said. “To put that away and to do something — like playing kickball or knitting or playing the French horn or sleeping in a tent somewhere — I just think we’re so busy on a screen that we don’t engage in the physical world and do something with our hands.”