A Caldwell artist finds success with Costco

Her coloring books for grown-ups and kids bring joy across the country.

adutton@idahostatesman.comJuly 29, 2013 

  • LETTERS TO PAMELA

    People who bought Pamela Smart's books have written to her, frequently sending her photos of their finished work. Here are three emails she received in the past month:

    From a mother, Ann Kennedy: "Just wanted to say how much my daughters and I are LOVING your Color Me books! ... We bought all three books and have been happily coloring on vacation - while sitting at the dining table, chatting away, enjoying our time talking and coloring together. We each color for awhile, take a break, come back to our coloring, and chat away. With two teenage daughters who usually spent more time on their iPhones than chatting with their mom, this has certainly been wonderful for me just to sit and BE with my daughters."

    From a son, Mark Bosler: "My mother has dementia and Alzheimers, and nothing seems to hold her attention or interest for very long. Your coloring book seems to have changed all that. She'll sit for hours each day coloring your book, satisfied at the conclusion of each day with her accomplishment. Having no rules, or numbers to follow, she feels empowered to do things her way, and although she does not remember coloring the page from the previous day, she is amazed when I tell her that she did that. ... [My] mother likes when I color with her. We use that time to talk about the past, her current feelings, and family."

    From a septuagenarian, Marilyn Troili James: "A friend and I each have Color Me 3, we color on our own, then compare our interpretation of the picture when we get together every Tuesday morning for breakfast. We have done this through both previous books. We are both 78-year-old women and appreciate this activity as something we can still do. Choosing the color schemes for your beautiful drawings has given us greater awareness of the beauty of this wonderful world we live in."

Two years ago, Pamela Smart was hawking self-published coloring books from her car. Or she'd make a sale by carrying a stack of books around with her, displaying the intricate black-and-white drawings that - under the spell of a crayon or colored pencil - come to life as psychedelic animal portraits.

Now the Caldwell mother and grandmother and a family-owned Caldwell printing company can hardly keep up with orders for the Color Me Your Way book series.

The whole thing started with a lottery ticket and a few people who believed in her.

"I can't even explain it," she said. "I'm in awe. I'm just sitting here, going, 'Can this be happening?'"

A SIMPLE GOAL

Smart, 55, is originally from Hollywood, Calif. She sometimes sold art on the beach in Santa Barbara, for a time drawing whimsical animals like those that appear in her books.

She met her husband while working at a truck stop in California. He was an Idaho man. She soon became an Idaho woman. But he worked in construction, so when the housing crisis hit, followed by the economic downturn, their bank account took it hard.

"I prayed for an idea" that could turn her artistic interests into income, she said.

She remembers a feeling of peace after that, and the following weekend, her husband told her they'd just won $250,000 from a lottery scratch ticket.

They took a honeymoon they'd never had, paid off debts and ordered the first printing of her "Color Me Your Way" books.

THE CALDWELL PRINTER

She walked in to Caxton Printers on Main Street in Caldwell with 26 illustrations.

Teresa Sales, a sales representative for Caxton, helped her to pick out spiral binding and paper - heavy, acid-free paper fit for framing - and to design the first coloring book.

That was April 2011. The first printing was 200 books.

Sales said Smart has become one of the most successful authors in the company's 100-year history, "and certainly in this amount of time."

To keep up with demand, Caxton has added equipment and hired more people. When there's a big order, more hands are needed for each of the six processes it takes to put the books together.

Production is done by hand, locally, and Caxton hopes to keep it that way, she said.

"We knew from the beginning that it would be a success," Sales said. "We kind of joked, 'Pam's dream was to always be (selling) in a Costco.' "

ON TO COSTCO

Smart is a regular customer at the Costco Wholesale warehouse off Interstate 84 in Nampa. She goes about once a week to shop. Her books caught the eyes of a couple of Costco employees.

Troy Allen, the assistant warehouse manager, suggested that Smart send a copy of the book to Costco's corporate buyer.

"I called up (the book buyer) the day after and said, 'Did you get this?'" Allen said. The buyer said the book wound up in the "no" pile.

"If you really look at it, you might be impressed," Allen told the buyer.

He was right, and soon the books were showing up in more Idaho Costco stores. They did so well that Costco decided to try them out in other states.

Costco's member magazine recently featured Smart in a short profile. That's when the flood began. Suddenly, everyone wanted a copy of the three coloring books Smart has created so far.

"As much as I hate the word, it's kind of gone 'viral' the last couple of weeks," Allen said. "She's now (selling) nearly 10 times what she was every week."

Costco now orders - in bulk, of course - in the thousands, according to Smart.

As of last week, "Color Me Your Way" books were in virtually every Costco warehouse, Allen said. Some stores were sold out and awaiting new shipments.

Smart has sold nearly 200,000 books so far.

Smart says her books are appropriate for young and old. Inspired by her mother, an artist, she didn't make the books color-by-number or offer examples of the "right" way to color a picture. "You make it your own," she said.

THE REAL PAYOFF

The money is nice, but the real reward for her journey from "starving artist" to successful illustrator comes in the form of letters, emails and Facebook messages.

She hears from families who have three generations sitting together, coloring, "like kids again, playing," she said.

The books have been a salve for some Alzheimers sufferers, giving them focus and sometimes prompting them to share old memories, Smart said.

One woman wrote to tell Smart that she used to do art with her mother. But since her mother died of cancer six years ago, she couldn't bring herself back to the art table. Then she picked up a coloring book.

Right now, Smart is too busy to draw pictures for the fourth book in the series. When the start of the school year rolls around, she expects to be even busier.

But she has time for one thing. She orders pencils and markers from a warehouse in the Midwest and sends them, with coloring books, to veterans, Alzheimers patients, children with leukemia and others.

Being able to pass on some of the good fortune that's come her way, she says, is the real payoff.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service