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Author Showcase

FALL 2007 FEATURED ILLUSTRATOR, CATHY MORRISON

RT: Cathy, you have illustrated each of the fourteen published titles in the Young Patriot Series, and have done a lot of research to help you create the drawings. Do you have a favorite American? What is the most surprising fact you've learned about the people you've met through the books?

Cathy: It is hard to pick one favorite from the heroes I’ve illustrated for the Young Patriot Series, but I must say I’m a little biased toward the girls. When I was growing up I read the original series and found these books very inspiring so that’s part of the fun of illustrating these as an adult.

Looking back on the ones I’ve worked on, I really enjoyed illustrating Phillis Wheatley, Young Revolutionary Poet. I don’t think I had heard of her before and was amazed at what she accomplished in her short lifetime. When she was just 7 she was captured in Africa and brought over on a slave ship to America. The Wheatleys bought her and raised her almost like one of their own children. She learned English, and how to read and write at a time in our history when this was almost unheard of. She became the first published African American poet and reached a celebrity status, even meeting George Washington. It’s a fascinating time in our history and I enjoyed researching her life story.

RT: In addition to illustrating the Young Patriot Series novels, you have also created the graphics for early reader chapter and picture books. What is your favorite part of illustrating children's books?

Cathy: The best part of illustrating is the concept phase where I do a lot of quick roughs, showing the characters doing a variety of things in the story. Soon you know what the characters look like while eating, sleeping, running and playing, and from different views. Eventually the roughs evolve, getting more refined and the story starts developing a life of its own. It’s exciting at this point because of all the possibilities and potential for what the book can become.

RT: Do projects like picture books or treasure hunt travel book require research (beyond the story itself) like historical biographies?

Cathy: Every book is different but all the books I’ve worked on require some sort of research. It’s not always traditional library or Internet research. I remember one book I did for McGraw Hill that was about a little girl who couldn’t find anything in her messy room. My daughter was in elementary school at the time and had an extremely messy room. I was always telling her to clean her room but now I used her messiness to my advantage. Initially I sat in her room and started to draw. I’d sit on the floor, stand on a bench, and crawl under the bed, trying to see the messiness from a different perspective and variety of viewpoints to add interest to the book.

While illustrating the children’s travel book Treasure Hunt Across America I learned a lot about our country. For instance, did you know the state dog of Louisiana is the Catahoula Leopard Dog and it has webbed feet? Or that the mongoose was brought to Hawaii to control a rat problem? And Michigan is the only state with a floating post office! You can imagine all the research that went into these fascinating facts about our 50 states and how much fun I am at parties now. Did you know Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was our first national monument?

RT: On your website, you say that you can't remember a time when you weren't drawing, and you also talk about how you love to read and do research. What kind of books attracted your interest as a child? Is there a favorite book that still resonates with you today? Is there a favorite artist or illustrator that you look to for inspiration?

Cathy: Growing up I enjoyed mysteries and loved the Nancy Drew series. I think I read every one of those books.

Another favorite series was the Childhood of Famous Americans, which is now Patria Press’s Young Patriot Series. Sometimes when I get the original manuscript before editing I can remember reading that book years ago. What really strikes me is seeing the original illustrations. I flash back to what was happening in my life when I read it years ago.

Horror novels were fun reads also. I liked that scary feeling before bedtime — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy - they were all good.

As far as favorite illustrators go, there are so many good ones today that it is impossible to pick just one. I admire Mark Teague’s illustrations and his writing. He really captures kids’ imaginations. Another author/illustrator who I always look for is Mark Haddon, who wrote The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. That is one of my favorite books of all time. Oh, and Jack E. Davis. I am a big fan of his work. He has a very recognizable style and great sense of humor.

RT: Does technology affect the illustration "part" of the publishing industry? Do you think that there are elements that are lost when computers facilitate the medium (versus original hand-drawn creations)?

Cathy: Technology has changed our industry a lot. Most of it has been positive; for instance, it frees up the illustrator to be more creative. Visually whatever we can create can be reproduced on the printed page. So it’s removed a lot of limitations.

Also we can now work from anywhere in the world. I can research Alexander Hamilton’s childhood growing up in the mid-1700s on the island of St. Croix while sitting here in my office in Colorado. Although it would be nice to fly out to do the research in person ... I’ll be sure to suggest that to my publisher.

I do see computers as just another medium. There are air brush artists, watercolorists, painters, etc., and now digital artists. You still need the basic drawing skills whether you are working on the computer or a piece of paper. You can also merge hand-drawn illustrations with digital media and come up with some interesting images.

RT: Children's books are expensive, in large part, because of the illustrations. Have you found that authors want (or need) to adjust their goals because of the costs associated with producing their book? Does technology help mitigate the expense?

Cathy: I don’t know any illustrators who are getting rich in children’s book publishing. There is a lot that goes into producing a good quality children’s book beyond the words and pictures. There’s the editing, design and typesetting, production and printing, and marketing the book. It’s all expensive and an ongoing process. There are large book conferences, like Book Expo America, where authors and illustrators have book signings; they also give away advance copies of the books for publicity. Publishing is an extremely competitive business. It is not just competing with all the other good books. There are so many other entertainment choices out there like computer games, videos, etc. It takes a lot to get a book noticed today.

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Cathy: Thanks to the Reading Tub for your great website featuring the children book reviews along with the author and illustrator interviews. And a big thanks to Florrie Kichler. I feel so fortunate to work on this historical fiction series and hope that the readers enjoy the illustrations as much as I enjoy drawing them.

Website: http://www.cathymorrison.com




                 

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