Susan Heyboer O'Keefe                                                   
Why don't you illustrate your own books? 

They won't let me. Here's why:

I have always wanted to illustrate at least one of my picture books, just for the satisfaction of it. So, in a severe lapse from reality, I took a watercolor class.

The first class, the teacher hung a striped cloth against the wall, set a still life in front of it, and told us to just go ahead and paint. After working for a couple of hours, and producing the stripy thing you see here, I walked around to check what fellow students were doing. I began to choke. I had signed up for beginner's watercolor.



No. I don't know where these beginners came from, but certainly not the same cabbage patch that I came from. Maybe there's one in the Louvre.

Anyway, the teacher was walking around too. He made wonderful comments about every single picture and gave everyone praise.
Then he came to mine – 

"Ah, Mrs. O'Keefe, well, I ... uh ... see you're not afraid to use color.”

The next lesson—and I do think he had already planned it—he took away our colors! We had to work with just three: yellow, a blackish blue, and ochre. We had to do lots and lots of paintings, trying to squeeze as much "effect" as we could out of that “limited palette, “ as he called it. For your viewing delight below is the best one.

This may look decent, but decent isn't nearly good enough to even begin thinking about illustrating a picture book. Worse, the decent Platypus Pete I may paint for page 3 has to be identical to the Platypus Pete on page 8. The same! Even if he's jumping on a trampoline!

Anyway, the teacher saw my decent picture and said, “Ah, Mrs. OKeefe ... a tomato.”

Not even a nice tomato.

“No, it's a pumpkin.”


One day we had a substitute teacher. She wasn't afraid of color and encouraged it.

At last, someone who would understand my genius!

Her reactions were not any more encouraging, though, when she saw this—  


In the end, I managed to produce three very nice paintings.  One was a seascape for my mother, and the other was a picture of my father's garden. To prevent my parents from hanging the pictures on their refrigerator, I went out and actually had both paintings framed before giving them away. Like good parents, they oohed and ahhed. Unfortunately, I can't show them to you here. My parents couldn't find them. They didn't lose them, they assured me. And they never would have thrown them out. Honestly. They just ... couldn't ... find them

The third nice painting was this. 

Clearly, I was inspired by the subject.
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