Now, I know you think I just randomly surf facebook for illustrators each week, but actually there is both rhyme and reason to each invitee. I asked Heather to be today’s guest illustrator for two reasons. Since beginning 12×12 in January, I regularly pop into Heather’s blog to be inspired by her latest art, and secondly, I fell in love with a photo of one of her sons on Phyllis the Groundhog’s world tour. It is rare that a photo can capture that much pure joy on one face (and for a book no less), I felt I had to know more about this Mom, Artist and book-loving family!
- Illustrator or author/illustrator?
[HN] Author/illustrator, my published work at this point is illustration only.
- What’s your nationality and where do you live?
[HN] I’m an American living in Maine.
- Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[HN] According to my mother, I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil! As a child, I used to redo the illustrations for my favorite books, making them my own. It was a way to immerse myself in the stories beyond just reading them. An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball by Jane Yolen was a story that I have drawn and redrawn many times over the years. It’s still one of my favorites. My father worked in construction and one day he brought home a box of blank essay books from a remodeling job at a college in Boston. I spent hours and hours filling those books with my stories and drawings. I created a lengthy series about twin princesses who were always sneaking out of their castle to have adventures with dragons and faeries.
I knew that I wanted to go to art school, but when my high school guidance counselor found out she worked very hard to discourage me by telling me that no one could make a living as an artist. She strongly recommended that I chose a legitimate career and save my art as a hobby. Well, it turns out her son was in college studying art! I’m still not sure whether she wanted to save me from her son’s grim fate or if she was trying to thin out his competition. I decided not to follow her advice and went on to the Hartford Art School.
For the past 15 years, I have been home raising my three boys and picking up odd art projects along the way. Murals and portraits, primarily. A year and a half ago, I decided to pursue my dream of working in the field of children’s book publishing and have since illustrated two books for Do Life Right Publishing with a third project in the works this summer.
- I so admire your decision to spend a year on the road with kids and animals. Tell us a little about this and how this has influenced your creativity.
[HN] It was an amazing experience and I am so happy we decided to go for it when the idea came up! Our family had wanted to travel, but at the time my son Arthur did not do well staying in unfamiliar places. It was too overwhelming and upsetting for him, he needed his home base to be stable. We weren’t sure how to meet his needs and still see all of the cool places we had read about or seen on TV. At the Life is Good unschooling conference in 2009, we met a family who had just spent 18 months traveling the country in an RV. As we talked about it, David and I realized that RV living could work for everyone since it gave us the ability to go where we wanted and still come home every night. The boys agreed with the plan, we sold our house, put our stuff in storage and hit the road.
The world is incredible and beautiful! It’s one thing to read about a place like Glacier National Park and something quite different to stand up to your ankles in snow in August under a blazing blue sky with glacier lilies, deer and mountain goats all around. To be able to experience the sights and sounds of different environments is mentally stimulating. Everything is new! The plants and animals vary greatly from place to place and the extreme changes in geography in this country sparked fantastic conversations. The Sonoran Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Everglades, the hoodoos in Utah all were fascinating. There was so much to learn and think and talk about. We spent 14 months repeating the phrase “this is amazing!” I feel like my mind has expanded and grown from my time on the road. It helped me to realize that anything is possible, you just have to be open to any solution no matter how crazy it seems.
- How involved are your children in your art? And in particular, how do you feel “unschooling” them is inspiring them?
[HN] Unschooling is my soapbox topic, but I will keep it brief! My sons have retained their passion for learning with unschooling because they immerse themselves in what interests them. The world is open for them to explore and everything is connected. Reading a Brian Jacques book leads to conversations and research about the historical period the story mimics, food and cooking, war and politics, how music and art reflects the culture that originates it, projects to build weapons, discussions about how specific tools were created and why, creating sculptures of the characters, the perception of good and evil and how that perception changes according to what side of the conflict you believe in. These are all examples of things that have happened in our home. Their enthusiasm for knowledge is infectious and David and I have found ourselves remembering old interests that have fallen by the wayside. As we explore and learn, Ben, Arthur and Ethan join in our passions. Ben is talented at quilling, sculpting and designing worlds on Minecraft, Arthur shares my deep love of books and Ethan has been developing his drawing skills working alongside me with paper and pencil or his ipad drawing app. David has introduced them to the art of bushcrafting and they have spent many hours exploring the woods behind our house. Learning is meaningful and directly related to their lives.
My sons inspire my art by being full of curiosity, imagination and joy. They brainstorm with me, listen to my stories and offer feedback on my art and writing. I am humbled by their endless creativity.
- What’s your preferred medium for your illustrations?
[HN] Pencil, ink and watercolor. I have not yet explored the world of digital art.
- How is being a member of the 12×12 challenge impacting you?
The 12X12 challenge is helping to keep me motivated every day. I have learned a great deal from the other member’s posts about writing, illustrating and the changing industry of children’s book publishing. There are times my brain feels overstuffed from all there is to learn! It’s also exciting when a member posts about a piece being accepted for publication. Those successes inspire me to keep creating my own work, to continue to improve my craft. The 12X12 group is where I connected with 5 other writers in a critique group that has been invaluable in helping me revise and polish my manuscripts.
- What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?
[HN] I grew up in the 70’s and the books that I loved best all had pencil or ink drawings with washes of color. A Bag Full of Nothing, Ultra-Violet Catastrophe, and An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball are all still on my bookshelf. I was drawn to the Holly Hobbie art and had a set of Holly Hobbie sheets that I used to study when I went to bed.
- What does your workspace look like?
[HN] My current workspace is a desk in the corner of the living room, although I do have a studio upstairs. This allows me to be available to my boys as I paint and sketch. It also keeps everything easily accessible for the times when they are engrossed in their own projects, wanting me close by but not directly involved in what they are doing.
- Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?
[HN] The first piece is called Maypole Mice and it is ink with watercolor. I draw a detailed image in pencil, then go over it with a Prismacolor fine Line marker. After the ink dries completely, I erase any visible pencil and add in the watercolor. It has been very chilly here lately and I thought that when spring finally arrived, the animals would be celebrating!
The second piece is from the chapter book Cody Greene and the Rainbow Mystery. This work is done entirely in pencil, my favorite medium. The main character of the book is a budding artist who always has his sketchbook handy.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
- What word best sums you up?
[HN] I had a hard time with this question so I asked my husband. He says “incorrigible”. I’m not sure how I feel about that!
- If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[HN] Oh, there are so many places I still want to see! Ireland. I would visit Ireland.
- What do you do for non-art related relaxation?
[HN] Read, read, read and read.
- Cats or dogs?
[HN] Well, we have two dogs that I love dearly, but there is something wonderful about having a purring cat on my lap.
- If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?
[HN] I have to chose two characters because they are inseparable best friends. Spending the day at Woodcock Pocket with Toot and Puddle would be lovely.
Heather’s two published books are: