The dedication of a former doodler: U.Va student self-publishes coloring book dedicated to different aspects of femininity

Fourth-year Studio Art major Uzo Njoku has sold nearly 2,000 copies of her self-published coloring book, “The Bluestocking Society”

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“I marched downtown with my book under my arm and went into the local stores, introduced myself and told them about the book, and then asked if they would be interested in selling it,” Njoku explained. 

Courtesy of Dan Addison / University Communications

A little more than two years ago, University student Uzo Njoku enrolled in an introductory drawing class while pursuing a major in Statistics. It was a life of success that her parents had in mind for their daughter, and while she did find the analytical work enjoyable, it was in that secretive drawing class that Njoku discovered an irresistible passion for creating works of art. 

Today as a fourth-year, she has sold nearly 2,000 copies of her self-published coloring book “The Bluestocking Society” and earned profits she uses to show more of her work at galleries and purchase needed art supplies. She had always been an avid doodler, though she found coloring books to be primarily cartoonish — a reduction of the people represented, if they were even people worth representing, as opposed to more generic white women in dresses that populated most books targeted for girls. Although she did not pursue the field she began in, she applied herself with the same business-based rigor combined with a detail oriented way of creating to define her own success that also fielded a growing expertise on making a space for profitable art. 

A comment about “The Bluestocking Society” on Njoku’s art website, https://www.uzoart.com/, where she sells the coloring book and prints of her work, reads, “Blown away by the amount of detail and how in dept[h] it is. Not just beautiful pictures to add life and color to, but also the story behind the amazing women featured in the book. Every black girl in the world should have this book.” The book features detailed, expansive and accessible portraits of women aside descriptive information about the woman’s achievements, particularly within feminism, furthering the significance of the book itself to be both a creative and educational outlet. 

Njoku created a product that doesn’t just raise awareness to the lack of celebration towards POC beauty, especially among impressionable, younger audiences, but also opens an unoccupied space in the rising market of coloring books. The women featured are inspiring figures from all different kinds of fields — politics, entertainment, activism, including fierce role models like Lupita Nyong’o and Malala Yousafzai and various other women, some of whom weren’t even known to Njoku herself. By learning about these women, Njoku expands the meaning behind the name “The Bluestocking Society,” borrowed from a real women’s society in the 18th century that promoted the exchange of information and emphasized female education. 

“Comments like those make me happy,” Njoku said with a smile, reflecting on feedback left on her website. “I really like giving them a voice.” Representation, especially in fields that interest young readers, provides validation along with a place for them to pencil in their own talents. 

When Njoku describes how the eventual coloring book came into existence, published July 28, she does so with a powerful ease that it almost seems obvious that she was going to publish this book — a carrier of confidence that contributes to her ability to bring serious commitment to every project she tackles. She convinced bookstores to sell her book by simply putting her work out there. 

“I marched downtown with my book under my arm and went into the local stores, introduced myself and told them about the book, and then asked if they would be interested in selling it,” Njoku explained. 

Her sales pitch must have hit hard because she now sells her book at the New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall, at bookstores in Austin and Houston, Texas, and at the gift shops in prominent art institutions such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Clic Gallery in New York City and The Menil Collection. 

She uses a humbled tone when speaking on her future goals and upcoming projects. As ambitious as designing, researching, selling and self-publishing her own coloring-book is, Njoku is constantly working on dynamic, experimental projects. In December, she is launching a daring collection of 13 hand-painted leather purses available for purchase, alongside the coloring book, on her website in time for the holidays. She also mentioned working on a jacket, large-scale paintings, her senior thesis and the expansion her style — continuing her dedicated practice of art before applying to the Yale School of Art for her graduate degree.    

As a result of her growing popularity, mostly brought on by promotions on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter by already prominent supporters of her work, she established the website in commerce style to handle the incoming payments. Since her coloring book has been published, Njoku has also received a greater number of visitors on her website, triggering more buyers of paintings and prints. The artist also added that she bought a scale for shipments and spoke of a new practice of shipping orders of her book out before heading to class. 

She finds that reaching out on social media is the easiest way to promote her product, since most of her clientele are young professionals aged 17-32. She recommends the same to other student artists who come to her for advice, as well as creating a website and searching for grants and residencies. Njoku focuses on the resumes of her favorite artists for inspiration on how to further her career.

“I look at what I want to be, and I look at the resumes of my favorite artists,” Uzo said. 

She believes in watching professionals who do what you want to do, and then doing what they did to get there. This coloring book provides buyers a leg already up by providing them accessible role models to help shape their own ambitions. 

Keep up with Uzo Njoku on Instagram, @uzo.art.

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