It’s wonderful to be a part the picnic blog series by Peachtree Publishers. Since Atlanta is close to my home in Greenville, I can take a break from my studio and drop by and visit. Every time I have been greeted with warm smiles. Usually we gather around a large table framed by a wall of windows that let in that famous Georgia sun. In addition to talking about the manuscript, it has been wonderful to hear all their amazing stories and easy laughter that is shared in our circle. In the afternoon when I depart, I drive home with the feeling my day was spent in the company of a family of friends.

When I think back about picnics, my grandfather’s farm is the first thing that I remember. Each summer on the Fourth of July, our family and friends would gather at the top of his hill underneath a large tree. Stretching out before me was only the sloping landscape, with a rocky path that led into a small patch of woods. He had a secret pond that I believed to be a magical door to another world. Standing on that hill looking out at the glorious horizon, I felt small and brave at the same time. I believed in a bigger world out there, and felt compelled to unearth its surprises.

Lilliput inspired me because it is a story about those kinds of horizons, and the transformation that happens within us when we are taken outside of what we know. Author Sam Gayton captivated me right away by harnessing that sense of wonder in Lily’s discovery of a larger world. As an illustrator, it was fun to play with physical scale and action for an adventure story about a small person in a big world. I admire Lily’s bravery and how she harnesses the courage to face her enemies, trust a friend and ultimately forgive her captor. Sam created such fantastically distinct characters throughout his book that I think my favorite part of the process was coming up with the appearance for each of them and “casting” the story with my first character sketches.

After creating the characters, I moved onto a series of thumbnails for various scenes in the story. This involved branching out to visualize the environment, which was inspired again by the author’s ability to create a particular mood and setting. From these thumbnail images, I made some further edits and drew more detailed drawings. At times, it was helpful to think about envisioning an image from different perspectives.

Once my final drawings were complete, I added a watercolor wash. With a middle-grade novel, the interiors are often printed in black and white. Since my color palette was limited, my main focus was on the values ranges between light and dark. This was a challenge because a lot of the story happens in the shadows. Lily spends most of her time in a setting where it is either at night or she is confined to an enclosed interior space. Throughout this story, Lily clings fiercely to hope and I tried to associate that emotion visually with elements of light. Many times that moment of light appears as something just out of reach…a distant star, a candle burning from across the room or indirect light cast from a window. I approached all of this if I was in a dark theatre and was being asked to bring up the lights one by one, then making a decision when it was time to stop.

Many of you might be interested to know that I started my career as a classical singer. I received my MM in Voice Performance from Boston University and was very fortunate to have some success performing in opera, musical theatre and oratorio. As an illustrator, my visual influences come from my experiences on the stage. There is a familiar process in the decisions that happen in casting roles, designing costumes, creating sets, establishing the correct lighting and directing the action. It has been an adventure to embrace the life of an illustrator after spending so much time in another world. In both of these endeavors my goal has always been to create a sense of wonder and magic. I have been so lucky to have great mentors and heroines that I’ve found through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) – none bigger than my agent Marietta Zacker of the Galt & Zacker Literary Agency. She has inspired a sense of discovery of the untapped potential in me, and the hope of new possibilities that lie ahead.

Do you have heroes and heroines? Is it someone close to you, or do you find your inspiration from someone in a book like Lily? Feel free to post below, or visit me at I look forward to hearing from you!

Guest Interview and Blog for Peachtree Publishers Picnic Series in 6/2015. 


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