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A Different Kind of Storytelling

There are two things I have been doing all my life -- writing and drawing. I began writing when I was about three. I traced over the words of a letter my parents had received. I had no idea what the words said, but I knew it was a magic code, and as far as I was concerned, I was writing. I started drawing at about the same time, illustrating the books in my parents' library mostly. I'm not sure they appreciated my efforts, but then we artists are seldom understood or appreciated.

Perhaps that's why when I grew up I became a teacher. And what did I teach? Mostly reading, writing and art. What a coincidence! How does that saying go? -- Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. Well apparently I could do both, because after 20 years in the classroom, I got a book published. And then 29 more. I was a writer.

The fact of the matter is I loved storytelling. I had been writing stories for myself my whole life. So I gave up teaching and devoted myself full-time to writing stories. It's one of the best decisions I ever made.

Now it's drawing and painting I do as a hobby. Sure, I've taken courses to improve my skills, but mostly I turn to art as a break from writing. In the past few years though, I've had a few drawing and painting commissions, and it's made me wonder if art might be another creative avenue that could help pay the bills.

Though I haven't gone out of my way to promote myself, this past spring I received a bona fide offer to illustrate a picture book. Colour me excited! And then scared. What had I gotten myself into? I was accepting someone's money. That meant I had to do what my client wanted and I had to do it well. Gulp!

Thankfully the woman who hired me has faith. She chose me because she wanted realistic rather than cartoonish illustrations and she wanted the images to evoke emotion, which is something I take pride in doing. She has definite ideas about what she wants, but she is also open to alternate suggestions, and so far we have an amicable and productive working relationship.

Her book will be titled Everything is Hard and is a series of situations that are indeed difficult. It is a book that should appeal to all ages and demographics, which means my paintings have to embrace that concept.

Learning to drive is hard.

The thing is there are so many ways to to get across that message for every illustration. For instance, one of my client's suggestions for the section on learning new things is hard is someone learning to drive. That's pretty broad. There are so many directions I could take it. It could be serious, didactic, even sad. I chose to adopt a humorous tone. But even having made that decision, I still had to come up with a scenario. I could go with running through Dad's prize garden. I could have the teen taking out pylons, or I could have had the instructor hanging onto the steering wheel. So many options. But for this one, I knew what I wanted right away. The driver is a tad manic, and the instructor is preparing to die.

The thing with illustration is that you want to keep it simple. That means I have to reduce the elements to a minimum while still getting the message across. In this case, there is a rear view mirror, the suggestion of a dashboard, and a steering wheel. And the characters of course. Yes, I could have included the seats and car interior, perhaps the rear window, but they aren't needed. Viewers know what they're looking at.

Being sick is hard.

Being sick is hard needs a more serious approach and what is more serious than being in the hospital? My client suggested a loving family should be with the sick person, but as I've pointed out, you want to keep things simple, so I opted for an elderly man and his wife. Who better to illustrate the hardships of illness than two people who have shared their entire lives?

As I've been working on the illustrations it has occurred to me that though I'm using a paintbrush instead of a word processing programme, I am still telling stories, and because every viewer will have different experiences, they will interpret my stories/illustrations in a way unique to them. That realization makes me very happy.

I'm a sucker for kids and dogs, so I've already used them together twice. This one is from the Doing chores can be hard category. You decide what the story is.

And finally there's the image that will be used for the cover. It is a painting of my client's daughter when she was a little girl. This one is more painting than illustration, because it's for the cover. The child is clearly frustrated because Everything is Hard.

Everything is Hard.

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