Story and photos by Lindsay Miles Penny
Writer and illustrator Laura Murray always knew she wanted to be an artist.
From sketching porcupines as a child, to an extensive 15-year career working in all facets of the graphic design, marketing and print industry, Murray eventually developed her company, Alabama Pen & Paper, and most recently, created Amazing Alabama: A Coloring Book Journey Through our 67 Counties.
The one-of-a-kind book features line drawings of the iconic and lesser-known sites from each Alabama county. Companion text, authored by Murray, identifies the pictured elements, giving an educational snapshot of the unique locations, landmarks and traditions across the state for adults and children alike.
“Two years ago, my husband and I were at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, and I was on a mission to find a state of Alabama coloring book, but there wasn’t one,” Murray says. “I went back home and threw together five or six pages of what I thought an Alabama coloring book should have, and sent it to my friend at NewSouth Books in Montgomery. Within five minutes, she emailed me back saying, ‘We love it and we want to see more!’”
Travel, photos and research
Although not an Alabama native, Murray, an Auburn resident, quickly developed a love for the state she now calls home. The creation of Amazing Alabama involved many miles of travel through the byways of the state, photography and research.
“For the most part, I started researching a county by going to the Encyclopedia of Alabama,” Murray says. “We are so fortunate to have such a neat and diverse online resource. If I were stumped about what to include for a county, I’d contact historians and friends all over the state. Several counties evolved a couple of times after I would visit them in person or decide something should be added from my research.”
The release of the book coincides with two significant bicentennial celebrations: the 2017 anniversary of Alabama becoming a territory and the 2019 anniversary of Alabama becoming a state.
“Not only is Alabama geologically diverse from the beaches to the Black Belt to forests, but Alabama is home to a lot of firsts,” Murray says. “A lot of neat stuff has happened here, from the Muscle Shoals Sound to Jesse Owens to the Civil Rights movement – Alabama is really a special place, and it has become so special to me.”
Though it’s her first published coloring book, Murray has drafted many coloring pages through the years.
“Before I began my own business, I decided to take a summer off from work to spend more time with my kids, and really decide what I wanted to do with my life,” Murray says. “I began drawing coloring sheets for my girls, and loved it so much that I started Alabama Pen & Paper, designing coloring sheets, note cards, stickers – anything you can color.”
Murray credits her father, to whom the book is dedicated, for instilling a love for exploring new roads and finding the quirks and hidden gems of the state.
“Growing up in Athens, Ga., my dad could turn a weekend trip to the driving range or county dump into an epic adventure,” Murray says.
From drafting the concepts to selecting the book’s paper, Murray had a hand in overseeing full production.
A conversation starter
“Working on Amazing Alabama really combined my experience in the print and digital worlds,” she says. “I wanted a nice, thick paper that could be colored on without bleeds. I painted the front cover and helped with the book’s layout.”
To create the pages, Murray began using a notepad, pen and pencil, and scanned her sketches to her computer. To achieve the clean, crisp lines she preferred, she used a graphics tablet, digitally drawing with her pen and pencil.
Initial design for the book began in May 2016 and the final drawing was sent to the publisher in January.
“It’s so neat to see folks flip through the book and find their home counties,” she says. “It’s definitely a conversation starter, and can even be used as a travel journal. My goal is to visit the counties I have not been to yet, and color them as I go.”
Murray says a coloring book journey through Georgia is in the works.
Amazing Alabama is $9.95 and available at all major book retailers and in bookstores and gift shops across Alabama. The book is also available directly from the publisher, NewSouth Books, at its Montgomery location, newsouthbooks.com/amazingalabama, or by phone at (334) 834-3556.