Cathy Morrison – Illustrator Interview

Very happy to once again be interviewing an illustrator whose illustrations will be showcased in my perfect picture book Friday link this week.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[CM] I consider myself an illustrator. I have one book that I wrote and illustrated, published with Tiger Tales Books. I have two books I’m working on now and I have to say that the illustrations seem to drive the projects, at least in the beginning. Once I’ve written the manuscript I feel it can stand alone without my illustrations, but while I’m developing the book I go back and forth between words and pictures. Writing is a very different mindset from illustration. No deadline, no direction, sort of like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle without seeing the final image on the box.

[JM] I love Fort Collins. One of my best friends lives there. Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[CM] I grew up in a small town in Texas, not far from Dallas. We had a family farm where we would spend a lot of time in the summers.

After college I got a job as an in-betweener at K&H Productions, an animation studio in Dallas. I worked there until I moved to Colorado where I started freelancing which developed into Big Chief Graphics, a boutique graphic design and illustration studio in Denver. The skills I learned as an animator and editorial illustrator all apply to children’s book illustration so I like having that background to call upon.

I’ve lived in Colorado except for a 10 year period where my husband transferred to Pennsylvania for work. We lived in West Chester, PA about 4 years, moved back to Colorado and through an odd set of job circumstances kept an apartment in Philadelphia for about six more years while commuting between Philly and Denver. This was during the period where we bought land and built our cabin in Livermore, CO, about 40 minutes northwest of Fort Collins. Since moving to this area I’ve renewed my love for nature that I had a kid. Most of the projects I’m working on currently are based on the environment, science and nature.                    

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[CM] I always wanted to be an artist. I’m from a family of insurance agents, farmers and ranchers, but nobody looked at me funny when I said I wanted to be an artist. My family was very supportive and I think this was my main reason for working as an artist today.

I earned a double major in fine arts and education from East Texas State University in Commerce, Tx., now Texas A&M. It was a “cow town” but the university had an amazing liberal arts program. All the instructors where working artists in their field as well as educators. Charles Mcgough was department head and some of my instructors were Jack Unruh, Lee Baxter Davis, James Allumbaugh, Gerard Huber, Karl Umlauf, Sam Hernandez, Denis Burke, James Waltrell, and Dennis Nechvatal. It was a great foundation. During student teaching, I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher and figured I would go into fine arts. Then during my last year of school I took some commercial art/illustration classes from Jack Unruh which resonated with me so that was the direction I went towards.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[CM] For the last ten years I’ve been digital, working on a Wacom Cintiq mostly using Corel Painter and Photoshop. Prior to that I used watercolor and pastels. I love working digitally because I feel I can be more creative. It’s easier to experiment and when I make a mistake it’s so much easier fix than back in the day. Also certain elements of the artwork can be isolated to use for marketing materials, book apps, etc. I’m not a “computer person” but drawing with the Cintiq is a very intuitive process, much the same as drawing on a piece of paper except now I draw directly on my monitor.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe Baby on Board, and the process of creating them?


[CM] The first piece of art I illustrated was the Otter spread. I don’t necessarily start with the first image, working my way through the book. When researching the animals in the book I always learn new things. I had no idea the mom sea otter wrapped her baby in kelp to keep her pup from drifting away. These animals are fascinating and this spread felt like a good place to begin.

Baby on Board Otter spread

Another spread I enjoyed illustrating was the one with the Common Loon family. My art director, Carol Malnor is a bird expert and loons are one of her favorites, so this spread was intimidating.  Plus, water is hard, there’s reflections to consider, where the type will fall on the image, etc. Several challenges to this piece. But the loon is such a beautiful bird that once I started working on the spread I totally enjoyed it.

Baby on Board Loon Spread

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[CM] When I was very young I would go with my big brother to the local Post Office where they had a magazine stand and we would look at comic books. Those are the first books I remember buying with my own money. I think they cost 12 cents.

Also, we would do “Book of the Month” club through school. I had Dr. Suess books and lots of Golden Books. Later I loved the Nancy Drew detective stories and I got all the books in the series. 

But I think the first real book I bought with my own money was To Kill A Mockingbird. I first checked it out from the library. I remember asking the librarian, “Do you have To Kill A Mockingbird?” She said, “No, I don’t have to do that.” Then she poked me in the arm and said, “Get it?” Anyway, we had a funny librarian. I fell in love with the book and wanted my own copy. It’s still my favorite book.

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

[CM] Almost 10 years ago when my kids were out of high school, one off to college and the other in the military my husband and I downsized and built an energy efficient / green constructed cabin. It’s passive solar and made of SIPs (structurally insulated panels). I finally got to design and build a real studio. It has a lot of natural light, vaulted ceiling and enough space, but not too much.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[CM] I have a lot of family photos and family artwork – like that macaroni framed crayon drawing from my son when he was tiny and a monotype from when my daughter was in college.

[JM] What is your favorite spread in Baby on Board and why?

[CM] I think my favorite spread from Baby on Board is the final image with the baby resting on dad’s shoulder. Drawing kids, especially babies can be difficult and I really wanted to get it right. Also we finalized the ethnicity of the baby after working on the first spread which shows people carrying babies in a variety of ways. I think it was Carol, my art director, who asked me if the baby in the final image was going to be the same one from the first spread. I hadn’t really thought it through at the time, but when she asked that I thought that was the perfect solution so that’s how the baby came to be.

Baby on Board last image copy

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[CM] While I was working at the animation studio I took a leave of absence to study at the Parson’s School of Design’s Study Abroad program in Paris, France. It was a great opportunity and I absolutely love their park system. My all time favorite park is Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg). It was the closest park to student housing and I went there almost every day, enjoyed the gardens, people watching, picnics, and sketching. I far as I’m concerned that park is perfection.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[CM] Dogs

Reading to Crowley

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[CM] This sounds very strange since I’m an illustrator, but I used to be legally blind. I was probably in first or second grade when they realized I was badly nearsighted and I got glasses. I still remember walking around and telling people (whoever would listen), the trees have leaves! Those curtains have a pattern! I see clouds in the sky! It was amazing and wonderful. I think that’s one reason I tend to have so much attention to detail in many of my illustrations. I’m still fascinated by details.

When I was 30 I had radial keratotomy which corrected my vision to 20/20. This was back in ye olden times before laser surgery.

[JM] Wow, what a redemptive story! What was your first paid job (besides babysitting)?

[CM] When I was 16 I found a beautiful red bike with three gears and had to have it. It was $75 and my parents couldn’t understand why I needed such an expensive bike when I had my driver’s license and access to the family car. So I became an Avon lady to earn money to buy the bike. I remember the lady who gave me the route told me I was lucky because it was the best route in town. It was on Park Street in Greenville, Texas which was made up of big, historical, beautiful homes and all those ladies living in those big homes loved Avon. I was so shy at the time that I hated the job, but it didn’t take long to earn enough money for the bike.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[CM] I’ve always been a coffee drinker. I can’t start my day without a cup of black coffee. I also love wine and that’s a great way to end my day although I’m not sure how creative my juices are afterwards.

Joanna, thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of Miss Marple’s Musings. I’m a long time fan of your blog and this is a big honor!

[JM] Mmm wine and coffee, I knew we had plenty in common!

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Animal Ark – Perfect Picture Book Friday for Earth Day

Title: Animal Ark, Celebrating our WILD WORLD in Poetry and Pictures

Author: Kwame Alexander

Photographs by: Joel Sartore

Published by: National Geographic Kids, February 2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: animals, poetry


Chorus of creatures

Singing our names

See what we can save–together


Kwame Alexander uplifting poetry and prose pairs with more than 100 of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore’s compelling images of world species.

Why I like this book:

This is a visual and literary celebration of extraordinary beauty. The portraits of the animals are not only stunning but are intimate and personal. It is as if each animal has honored Kwame and Joel by sharing a little of their story. 

The first, last pages and center pages include stunning pullouts of mini portraits and a chorus of creatures call to action.

The concept of being family with these beautiful creatures is priceless, and more than many books, this one will give children a poignant sense of connection with the venomous viper, the stalking tiger, the colorful chameleon…. From a vast variety of species from diverse ecosystems, from endemic to endangered, each animal is treated with love both by Kwame’s powerful words and Joel’s lens.

This book calls kids to action by presenting them with an ark of animals with whom humanity’s future is woven. It is stunning and powerful, a book for all elementary classrooms.

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Photo Ark founder and National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has visited 40 countries in his quest to create this photo archive of global biodiversity. To date, he has completed intimate portraits of more than 6,000 species. see more of his work here:

You can get involved and make a difference, here:

The Animal Ark website has a great list of classroom activities.

 This is a great classroom companion for national poetry month and the author has some great thoughts on the text and a small section on writing haiku.

Green Schools.

 Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.


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Earth Day Book recommendation – Wild Lives

Title: Wild Lives, Leading Conservationists on the Animals and the Planet They Love

Authors: Lori Robinson & Jane Chodosh

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing, April 2017

Ages: 11+

Themes: animal conservation, conservationists, endangered species




Quotes I love:

Who would think a wild leopard could teach so much about love, compassion, and empathy?” — Beverly Joubert (p.9)

Ecotourism is an enormous industry in East and South Africa, about 80 billion US dollars a year,” explains Dereck (Joubert). “Much of the money comes from wildlife safaris to see the ‘Big Five’–lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo. If these disappear, it will likely set off a chain reaction in which tourism revenue declines, poverty rise, and poaching increases.” (P.17)

Above all, the most important thing we do as adults can teach our children to be aware of how our actions and our choices impact the world around us. From tiny insect or plant, to a magnificent elephant or whale, there are a myriad of living organisms that depend on one another, and ultimately, that depend on us, humans, just as we depend on them. It is our responsibility, as adults, to teach our kids the importance of healthy ecosystems, of maintaining biodiversity.” — Laurie Marker (P.45)

Her focus has grown from campaigning for a single species to campaigning about “ethical consumption.” The increase in consuming power in China creates pressure on wildlife all over the world. Uses for wildlife now include medicines, clothing, food, private collections, trophy hunting, souvenirs, gifts, and even investments. “There is no stopping consumerism,” she says, “We have to tie consumers’ behavior to policy and law.” — Grace Ge Gabriel (P.117)


Today we are faced with the alarming possibility that as many as 50 percent of species alive will become extinct within this century. This statistic is so staggering that scientists have begun to refer to the twenty-first century as the “sixth extinction.” But while this is alarming, all hope is not lost; conservation experts across the globe are working tirelessly to preserve our planet for future generations.

In Wild Lives, twenty of these pioneers share their stories via exclusive interviews. Coming from different countries, diverse cultures, and a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and specializing in different species, all of these conservationists have an important characteristic in common: they have committed their lives to saving our planet and the majestic species that call it home. These esteemed contributors include:

•Beverly and Dereck Joubert, National Geographic filmmakers and big cat experts
•Ric O’Barry, dolphin advocate and trainer of Flipper
•George Schaller, famed field biologist and author
•Yossi Leshem, Israeli ornithologist
•Dominique Bikaba, gorilla activist
•Paul Hilton, award-winning wildlife photographer

Passionate and inspiring, Wild Lives is an important and timely reminder of the beauty and fragility of our world and the obligation that every person has towards preserving it.

Why I like this book:

This is a highly inspirational collection of mini biographies of a handful of the world’s leading conservationists. Conservation has been a passion of mine for many years and yet I confess there were many people here with whose work I was not acquainted. One of the great strengths of this collection was the diversity not just among the animals involved but the diversity of the contributors. From the Indonesian archipelago, to inland China, Botswana, to Fargo North Dakota. A rich tapestry of individuals who have followed childhood dreams to save thousands of animals around the world. Many have gone on to pursue Masters and PhD’s not for academia’s sake but to be able to finance and pursue their efforts.

Many of them have faced physical hardship including war zones and imprisonment. Meg Loman, for example, had to decide during a research trip to Australia whether to take her young children up the two hundred foot high tree with her or leave them below at the mercy of Australian snakes. All the stories are heartwarming despite the reality of humanity’s destruction so many habitats and animals (over a 50 year period we have lost 90%-95% of the world’;s largest predators). I loved the story of Flipper the Dolphin’s trainer O’Barry who transformed himself form dolphin trainer to dolphin defender.

“One of the biggest lies of the likes of SeaWorld and others is that dolphins in captivity can never be released back into the wild,” he says.

Since 1973 he has released over two dozen dolphins back into the wild from Haiti to South Korea.

The book doesn’t shy away from the horrors created by humans but you will meet some of amazing heroines and heroes involved in damage control. I would have liked color photos instead of the black and white of each individual at the beginning of the chapters, though on the other hand, I appreciate them keeping the costs down. 

Any of you who have read my blog for a while will know I have strong feelings about zoos, feeling their focus should be conservation oriented above all. I was happy to read that when Mike Chase was about to give up on his dreams San Diego Zoo made him their next Henderson Endowed post-doctoral Research fellow with a salary and funding for five years.

I highly recommend this book for middle grade students upwards with a passion for making a difference in worldwide conservation efforts.


At the end of every chapter the conservationist’s website is given for further reading.


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