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Do you illustrate your own books? And why not? are questions people often ask. I ask myself the same thing twice a year, cashing those extravagantly large royalty checks. If I illustrated my own books, the royalty wouldn't have to be split, and then those extravagantly large checks would be TWICE AS BIG! (Translation: I'd be able to rent two schlocky videos at once, instead of just one.) So to all those who ask, scroll down for the ugly truth about --

Why I Don't Illustrate
My Own Books

A while back, in a lapse from reality, I took a watercolor class. I did manage to produce three nice paintings.  One was a seascape for my mother, and the other was a picture of his garden for my father. To prevent my parents from hanging the pictures on their refrigerator, I went out and actually had both paintings framed before giving them away.

The third nice painting is at the very end of this page, but to get there, you have to see what was more typical of my classwork.

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, I walked around to see what fellow students were doing and saw all these incredible likenesses, some lifelike, some highly stylized. I'd heard the wonderful comments and praise the teacher had made earlier when he looked at them.

Then he came to mine --

"Ah, well, I ... uh ... see you're not afraid to use color," he said.

The next lesson -- and I do think he had already planned it, that I wasn't the cause -- he took away our colors! We had to work with just three -- yellow, a blackish blue, and ochre -- and do lots of paintings trying to squeeze as much effect as we could out of just that "limited palette. " I also worked on my sketching and finally was able to come up with some pictures like this --

This may look decent but decent is not nearly good enough to even begin thinking about illustrating a picture book.

The first few attempts gained me comments like, "Ah, Mrs. O'Keefe ... 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. Her reactions were not any more encouraging though when she saw my picture --


But I worked hard and did all my homework (even though I didn't actually finish my homework until weeks after the class ended).

And I did produce the two pictures for my parents (trust me, they were nice) as well as this. Clearly I was inspired by the subject.




Text Copyright © 2003-2005 by Susan Heyboer O'Keefe. Art Copyright © by the respective illustrators. All rights reserved.
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