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Artwork by Katie Barron

Paint the Town Red (and blue, and green, and yellow)

When Katie Barron was young, she shunned coloring books filled with simple cartoons and vector illustrations, opting instead for more intricate ones bursting with mosaics and art nouveau designs, which her grandmother gave her.

“I loved coloring books when I was a kid,” she said. “I had a ton of ’em, and I was always looking for the more complicated ones.”

Inspired by that same fascination years later, Barron focused an independent art project at CCAD on designing a coloring book that celebrated Columbus city life and landmarks. After graduation, she decided to professionally recreate the project as a way to make her art accessible to more people than only those who wanted the gallery pieces and commissioned portraits she was producing at the time. The result is The Columbus Ohio Coloring and Activity Book, an interactive illustrated adventure through four local neighborhoods.

“I’d been selling framed original pieces,” Barron said. “One person got to enjoy it for a price over $100. So now I’m excited that a bunch of people will be able to enjoy it for a much lower price-point.”

Rather than trying to illustrate a historical perspective of Columbus, she sought to recreate the city she saw every day as she went about her life. For each drawing, she scouted the scene and took a photograph of what she wanted to portray, and then she brought the picture home to draw until she got it right – sometimes an hour, sometimes a day. All told, the coloring book took her about a year to complete working on it part-time.

It’s divided into four sections: Downtown, German Village, the Short North, and Clintonville, where Barron has lived in the same house all 23 years of her life. The book features 98 pages of hand-drawn illustrations and activities, like mazes, crosswords, scrambles, spot the difference, and find the hidden image. Her favorite page is a scramble-type activity in which the reader has to follow a car through Columbus traffic made to resemble the shape of I-270. There are several activity pages for each section, but most of the book showcases her black-lined drawings that lovingly detail familiar sights and scenic urban vistas.

Many of the first set of friends and supporters to receive the book have said they want to buy a second copy so they can preserve one for the black-and-white art and fill the second with color. Barron is also selling prints of pages from the book, and she’s already completed illustrations for two more neighborhoods, Victorian Village and Olde Towne East. She’ll include those in the next edition, and though she plans to publish a few more coloring books to cover other neighborhoods, this won’t be her lifelong work.

“There’s a million places in Columbus, and I could be working on this until I was 80.”