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The Latin Cathedral and Cathedral Square in Lviv, Ukraine—All images courtesy Steve McDonald

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Stunning New Coloring Book Shines a Light on Global Architecture

Meditate on your favorite buildings

Last spring, just as the world was going gaga over adult coloring books—that is, coloring books marketed to grownups as a refreshing way to de-stress, unplug, or just have fun—one title that published in the midst of all the frenzy was one that architecture lovers could call their own. Fantastic Cities, created by Ontario-based artist Steve McDonald, presented dozens of intricate line drawings depicting striking aerial views of global cities like New York, Paris, Istanbul, Tokyo, Amsterdam, and more. And it was a huge hit—for proof, just scroll through the #fantasticcities tag on Instagram.


Now, a year later, McDonald has just unleashed Fantastic Structures, the logical follow-up that zeroes in on iconic or otherwise fascinating buildings around the world. These include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Chrysler Building in New York City, the Tower Bridge in London, residential high-rises in Hong kong, and the Dancing House in Prague. And just as the first book, the new book offers page after page of amazingly detailed line work.

The drawings featured in McDonald's books have been so consistent in style, coherent in theme, and impressive in volume that it only makes sense he wasn't just exceedingly quick to jump on the adult coloring book bandwagon—instead, the series has been in progress for quite a while. Though McDonald has always loved line drawings, the works in his coloring books really got kickstarted in the last half decade, and especially in Bali, Indonesia, where he'd spent a couple of years worrying not about making money, but about making more architectural line drawings.

cb_dancinghouse The Dancing House in Prague
cb_hongkong Residential towers in Hong Kong

"I didn't plan for it to be a coloring book, I was just building up this body of work," he says in a phone interview. "I thought maybe it'll be a whole bunch of prints, maybe it'll be a show at a gallery." At the same time, McDonald kept hearing from his teenage daughters and a few clients that his drawings might be fun to color. After laughing off the suggestion for a while—he says it might have been a case of "artistic ego"—he took the coloring book idea seriously. And it all came together last year, an auspicious time when the first big adult coloring books started topping Amazon's best-seller list.

Now, McDonald thinks turning his drawings into colorings books makes total sense if he wants his art to reach as many people as possible. Since the first book came out, he's been getting all sorts of notes and stories, some attached to folks' coloring exercises. There are touching ones that talk about how the coloring books have been a relieving force for folks recovering from illnesses or divorce. There are also plenty of light-hearted messages that showcase how differently people have approached the drawings.

A photo posted by Cooper (@vandercooper) on

In the new book, McDonald aimed to include a variety of building styles, locales, and levels of renown—or, as he puts it, "Some things architecture students would expect and some stuff they would overlook." If it isn't already clear, McDonald is a life-long architecture lover.

"I'm trying in these first two books to give you this visual accompaniment to a general course on architecture," he explains. "You got these cities, you got these dwellings, you got these aerial views, you got these buildings, structures, and bridges."

cb_lax LAX Terminal from above
cb_stbasils St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow
cb_towerbridge The Tower Bridge in London

"They're coloring books," McDonald admits, but he imagines them to be the black and white illustrations in a "great architecture textbook," offering, in a sense, an "informal education on the architectural narrative of the planet." "You can't help, if you spend a lot of time in the two books, going away with some additional architectural language," he says. "Whether you know the names for things or how to verbalize it, you're going to have the visual information."

Maybe it means being able to add more detail to your own art, maybe it means noticing something new the next time you travel.

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