Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


Illustration - An Evolution Story

I am a late bloomer. That is what my mom always said of me. I took my time learning to walk, read, talk... my first kiss wasn't until I was 17, if you discount my sister urging me to run up and kiss Little Bill when I was three. And so it was with picture books. I illustrated my first one when I was in my mid-thirties. MUD, by Mary Lyn Ray. I only intended to illustrate one book, then return to my sawing, hammering, building and painting of sculptures, but my editor had the discernment to send me Cynthia Rylant's SCARECROW, which melted my fine artist self and brought me into the world of painting picture books for good. Since then I have a deep appreciation for every manuscript that arrives on my desk to consider painting the pictures for. What a gift other people's stories are to my life! Thanks to Kristine O' Connell George, I learned to fold origami for FOLD ME A POEM. Thanks to Linda Ashman, I studied the homes of animals and learned how to rhyme pictures with shapes to match her rhyming text. I have spent nights in a red silk tent because of Wendy Orr and whispered to stuffed animals thanks to Mem Fox. Right now I am dancing with deer because of another story by Mary Lyn Ray. 

One of the stories that most changed my life was OUR FAMILY TREE, AN EVOLUTION STORY, by Lisa Westberg Peters. 

I was terribly afraid to illustrate this book initially because of its subject matter. Not the fact that evolution was/is so controversial in this country, but because I am not a scientist. Most of my life I avoided science as much as possible, taking my high school science credits during summer school because it was faster and easier-- so I could take two or three art classes during the year instead! But I loved Lisa's story, I knew I had to take illustrate it. For months I read, studied, visited an Anthropologist in her lab, and the more I learned, the more my breath was taken away by the sheer gorgeous magnitude of 4 billion years of life on our Earth. I sketched and painted color studies and had no idea how I was going to paint the vastness of evolution into a picture book. At one point I stretched up an 8 foot by 8 foot sheet of paper on my studio wall and drew with charcoal the family tree I was beginning to see in my mind's eye, but could not shrink to book-size.

I gathered images of landscapes from every era. When Lisa wrote:.."then the earth changed. Land rose from the oceans... life changed too... some cells joined together and became plants. Our cells joined together and we became animals,"I had to show the enormity of the land rising while at the same time microscopic changes in cells becoming plants and animals. 

On my studio walls hung images of cells, volcanos, renderings by scientific artists alongside photos and paintings by fine artists.

I loved this mural of the evolution of humans by Diego Rivera.

The art work of other artists, both scientific and painters of the 20th century like Georgia O'Keefe and Marsden Hartley informed my how I could show life evolving through the movement of form and paint.

I made color sketches in my journal and dozens more all the time wondering how I might show what is happening above the sea and below the sea at the same time. While I paint the illustrations for a book, my studio becomes an impassable place to visitors. The floors are covered with open books, sketches, and objects that might give me a clue what color or shape to choose. By accident I had opened a book upside down on the floor and it was a painting by Bosch, upside down that gave me my answer.

Bosch's painting on the right, upside down became
the composition for the illustration below.

Every painting for OUR FAMILY TREE evolved through research, learning, looking, and imagining walks through extinctions, evolutions, and moving continents over time. It took me nearly three years to research and paint the illustrations for this book. Three years that changed the way I see myself in the world around me. I am now a lover of science and all the wonders it offers to my imagination. Maybe I am a late bloomer, but it was worth the wait. I am so thankful for the worlds picture books continue to open up for me.  


Carolyn Fisher

Carolyn Fisher is a terrific illustrator and a good friend. She illustrated TWO OLD POTATOES AND ME after a couple of other illustrators turned it down and she did an amazing job. That story could have been too quiet, but Carolyn's drawings gave it an incredible life. One of the many things I like about Carolyn is her sense of humor. On the bottom of the right-hand page she decided to make a couple of the funny faces look like American presidents. Kids love finding Lincoln amidst other faces that look like Ben Franklin and Dennis the Menace's neighbor Mr. Wilson. This book came out in 2003, but Carolyn being the visionary that she is made one of the potatoes look like future President Obama.That is some serious time travel talent.
Carolyn has also illustrated excellent books where she's the author including A TWISTED TALE, THE SNOW SHOW, and GOOD NIGHT, WORLD. And she has an eagerly awaited new book coming about weeds. Check out her website and blog and enjoy some wonderful work.


To add to the conversation, David Diaz gave me one of his paintings from the C.S. Huck Conference (to celebrate the publication of my first book - I was offered a contract the day of that conference).  It is hanging in my computer room! 

And one more tie-in - I took an art class from Marla Frazee at the Art Center College of Design.  I credit her with teaching me how to set up a picture book.  My first book was sold soon after that class.  She is one of my favorite artists and writers too!!  What a small world we live in!

Okay, just one more...Nancy Hayashi, the illustrator of two of my books, illustrated for the writer of my favorite all-time book, The Relatives Came.  I love that connection.  She sent me this illustration of Uncle Sam this summer. 

Thanks for letting me go on, and on. 

An oldie...

And just for fun, to relate to Carmen's post about David Diaz... Here's an oldie from 2003 when Christy and I presented together at the Charlotte Huck Conference in Redlands, CA. Diane was there too;)


Elizabeti and her chicken

I am a little late with this post for a very good reason. A few years ago, I was ecstatic when Christy Hale herself sent me the original of this illustration from our first book together, Elizabeti's Doll. ( There was a little barter involved...)Master of procrastination that I am, it was only a few weeks ago that I finally took it into the frame shop. And I was hoping I could take a picture of it on my wall for this post. Alas, it is not yet finished, so I scanned this from the book. It is the moment when ELizabeti finds a rock perfect enough to call her own. A moment witnessed, of course, by a wonderful chicken who becomes a silent, constant, and ever-steady presence as the story unfolds. Elizabeti's Doll was the first story I ever sold. My editor called it a "gem in the slush pile" and not one word of my manuscript was changed. ( Believe me, that never happened with any of my other books!) So perhaps it was one of those things that was meant to be. As was, I believe, Christy Hale illustrating my story.