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Heart to Heart-Bringing an Author's Story to Life.

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

What goes through the mind of an illustrator when asked to create an illustration for an author who has written a story straight from her heart? I was recently asked by a dear friend to do just that.

Kat’s children’s story is about training diabetic alert dogs (DADs). As someone who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child, she knows how critical it is to be aware of changes in her blood sugar. She has trained her dog, Abbey, a whippet, to help her move through life as a person with diabetes and let her know when her blood sugar drops. Still in the editing stages, her children's book is a labor of love and deserves the illustrations she knows will bring her story to life.

Where does one start? With the story, is the obvious answer, and with any suggestions the author has for the kinds of illustrations she envisions. Kat had notes for each of the twenty-five illustrations she wanted but made sure I understood they were suggestions only. I was hesitant. It was clear she knew what she wanted. I tried to put her off, suggesting that a publisher with in-house illustrators might be more what she was looking for. Her face fell. “But your illustrations are so wonderful,” she told me.

I agreed to create one as a sample if she selected three or four out of her desired twenty-five from which I could choose. I had no idea how long it would take (I charge by the hour) and I knew she had a limited budget just for illustrations.

I research a lot when creating these kinds of illustrations. I want accuracy as well as a sense of character, personality, and relatedness. My colored pencil work, done by hand, is a long process of layer upon layer and attention to detail. I start with sketches and then move to contour drawings which are eventually filled in. Occasionally the colors just aren’t right—I can’t find the “right red” or the “grey/green” I want. I can see it in my mind’s eye, but it doesn’t seem to exist in the corral of pencils on my desk. That’s when I start blending colors with the scrutiny of a copy editor looking for grammar mistakes. In this state, time slips aways and hours pass unnoticed.

I am always nervous when I present a finished piece to an author, as I am often humbled by the idea someone likes my illustrations well enough to trust me with their stories. When I showed Kat the illustration, she was pleased. I had been very aware not everything she had suggested was in the picture but that was of no concern to her. I had managed to capture what she knew I would be able to do when she asked me. Her faith in me is reassuring.

I don’t know if I will wind up doing the illustrations for Kat's children's book. She is in the editing process and may, she told me, change the text to fit an older audience like middle school kids--a graphic novel perhaps? She looked hopefully in my direction. I smiled and simply shook my head no.

If you are interested in Kat's book for adults on the training of Diabetic Alert Dogs entitled, Sometimes the Dog is Smarter, you can click a link below.

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