Back when I was a junior in high school, one of my English teachers, Chuck Brooks, pulled me aside and asked if I would read a poem he had written. Slightly perplexed, I sat in his room and read through ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in Rosemount. It was a reinterpretation of the classic Lewis Carroll story, this time focused on the town and community of Rosemount. I enjoyed it and after telling him so, his next words surprised me. “I’ve been asking students and teachers if they know of any artistic students who might be interested in a little project. Your name came up and so I wanted to ask, what would you think of turning this story into an illustrated book?” At this point in my “career” as an artist, I hadn’t painted much more than garden flowers and animals, the subjects my grandmother chose to teach me the fundamentals of watercolor. Illustrating this story would require me to depict people and places, plus I would be at least somewhat constrained by the text. I told Mr. Brooks I would take the story home, do some sketches, and get back to him.
A month or so later, we found ourselves at a Starbucks coffeeshop pouring over storyboards and discussing what we each envisioned when we read the story. My preliminary sketches were aligning eerily well with what he was imagining when he wrote the story. We continued to move forward until we were sitting at a packed book signing event at the converted church building, A.K.A. “Steeple Center,” in town, almost exactly one year after I first sat down to read the story.
We had so much fun collaborating on the first book that we just had to do it again. The next Christmas season, we released The 12 Days BEFORE Christmas in Rosemount, another variation, this time of the classic Christmas carol. I completed these illustrations during my first semester of college at the University of Minnesota, which proved to be a challenge. The already-busy schedule of college coursework, making new friends, and Gopher football games did not welcome the habit of illustrating children’s books. But it worked and again, Chuck and I enjoyed sharing a personalized story with the Rosemount community.
The next spring, I was approached by another teacher from the school district. During her work as a speech pathologist for special needs students, she had created a story she wanted to publish for fellow teachers. Ginalocks and the Three Fishes teaches readers not to judge a book by it’s cover, or a catfish by it’s whiskers. The Northwoods imagery was definitely up my alley, so I agreed to do the illustrations for her project. This book was published in the Spring of 2015.
Back to Brooks. We were having lunch before I left for a summer mission trip to Myrtle Beach, SC, when I mentioned that I had considered doing another book. We had already talked about an idea that had been simmering in Chuck’s head for a few years. That set off a domino chain of thinking and writing, eventually leading to a first manuscript. We were at it again.
After four books, I have learned a thing or two about illustration. People ask me all the time, “Where do you even start?”, so I wanted to create a resource on my website for fellow artists, and aspiring ones, to learn about the process. It’s a lot of work to commit to 15+ paintings at once, and on every one there’s a point when think, this is going to be my last book, but to tell you the truth, I love it. It’s a really stretching experience for artists and it’s so much fun to hand someone your book and talk about how it happened.
I welcome any questions or comments via email – I’m passionate about helping you realize this is something you can do too!