Books

A talk with three SLO County children's literature illustrators

Sharon Lovejoy at work in her studio.
Sharon Lovejoy at work in her studio.

Children’s book illustrators paint color into words. They enter readers’ imaginations by giving form to beloved characters.

There are at least three such illustrators on the Central Coast who are both writing and illustrating their works: Sharon Lovejoy of San Luis Obispo, Helen K. Davie of Templeton and James Horvath of Morro Bay.

All three talked about their continuing love of children’s literature, their inspirations and their experiences as professional illustrators.

Sharon Lovejoy

Sharon Lovejoy shares the joy of nature in nearly all her works — such as “Hollyhock Days: Garden Discoveries for the Young at Heart,” published in 1994 by Interweave Press, and her first young adult novel, “Running out of Night,” published last year by Random House imprint Delacorte Press.

“I love everything about children’s literature — everything,” Lovejoy said. “Whenever I do a drawing and it tickles me and makes me laugh, well, then I know it will also touch children.

“For instance, in ‘Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: (Gardening Together with Children)’, which is nonfiction, I had to devise a way to excite and stimulate children with the myriad and miraculous things going on in a garden.

“I did that by designing ‘Discovery Walks’ for each chapter,” she explained. “In the walks, kids see what is hiding under leaves, where a toad is hunting, what tempts bats, and so many more things. I tried to make every facet of the natural world accessible to kids in an understandable yet scientific way.

“Kids love trivia. So do I. Trivia and stories in both words and illustrations are great ways to teach children.”

As Lovejoy spoke, it became evident that she continues to find wonder in the natural world. Sharing her enthusiasm through the written word and images continues a tradition that began with Lovejoy’s Quaker grandmother, who shared nature stories with her granddaughter.

Lovejoy takes great care in the details of her vibrant watercolor illustrations, which include details ranging from the flowing ribbon tied around a large sun bonnet to the notches and nicks in gardening tools. She notices everything in the world around her and conveys that in her art.

“My style is my style; I can’t really compare it to any styles because it is mine,” Lovejoy said. “When I was in college, I was always criticized for working too small and too realistically, too everything, but I earn my living writing and illustrating, and I do it my way. No apologies.”

Helen K. Davie

After years of illustrating for other writers, Helen K. Davie is now working on using her art to accompany her own writing.

She attributes her strong love of literature to her family’s shared appreciation for the written word.

“The bookmobile stopped just across the street in the summer so I would bring home a stack of books up to my chin,” Davie recalled. “I loved the pictures in books. I still have many books that I had as a child. In school, we were fortunate to have art projects.”

Davie often draws the natural world — animals, natural history and native people — and her work can be seen on special signs at the Brandywine Zoo in Delaware in addition to children’s literature.

“My work has been called ‘stylized,’” Davie said. “Although most of the books I’ve worked on are Native American stories or natural history topics, my images are not photorealistic.

“I rely on personal interpretation, some simplification, patterns, rhythms of color and line, all to convey the wonder and underlying beauty I find in the natural world.”

Davie said she gets to know her subjects thoroughly before she creates her illustrations.

“I visit museums, hire models, collect photographic images and have occasionally made small corrections in the manuscript based on information that I’ve uncovered,” Davie said. “I decide what text and what illustration should go on each page. I make up a series of small ‘thumbnail’ sketches for the entire book to see the flow of the art. Then I make full-size sketches for each page and show where the text will go.”

The sketches are sent to the editor, who makes comments and suggestions. If needed, Davie redoes the sketches and gets approval before beginning work on the finished art.

“From the day I first read the manuscript to the (day I’m) sending off the finished artwork, (it) has typically been nine months,” Davie said.

Davie has illustrated such books as “Animals in Winter” by Henrietta Bancroft, “Ducks Don’t Get Wet” by Augusta Goldin and “Dolphin Talk: Whistles, Clicks and Clapping Jaws” by Wendy Pfeffer.

Davie is currently writing a children’s book she hopes to illustrate.

James Horvath

James Horvath is a relative newcomer to writing and illustrating children’s books — his first book, “Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail,” was published in 2013 — but he has worked as a freelance artist since 1999.

He got his break into children’s literature at a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference.

Horvath was looking at another artist’s portfolio when he made a comment out loud about its quality. A person near him looked up and said, “We’re doing a project with (that illustrator).” The commenter was a HarperCollins Publishers art director who wound up telling Horvath to send her his ideas.

“When HarperCollins said, ‘Yes,’ it takes a long time to come down from that,” Horvath said. “You hope for that kind of opportunity, but you don’t expect it. There are so many people at those conferences, thousands of people, so you basically hope you’ll meet someone and they’ll look at your work. Going to that conference really fast-tracked my first book.”

Horvath also wrote and illustrated “Build, Dogs, Build: A Tall Tale;” and “Work, Dogs, Work: A Highway Tail,” both published in 2014. All three books were inspired by the interests of his sons, who were 2 and 5 years old at the time.

Horvath said his style is inspired by his favorite old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

“There’s an economy of line and shape,” he said. “I don’t like anything to break up the lines. I like to work with a bright palette, bright and colorful for the little guys.”

Horvath is working on some new children’s books that will talk about relationships.

“It will be about characters who wouldn’t normally be friends, like a frog and a fly,” he said. “The writing reaches a little deeper into thoughts. Though I’ve been an artist a long time, writing is newer to me, and I really enjoy it. It gives me a chance to stretch another muscle in my brain.”

LOCAL CHILDREN’S LITERATURE ILLUSTRATORS

Sharon Lovejoy: http://www.sharonlovejoy.com

Helen K. Davie: http://www.helenkdavie.com

James Horvath: http://www.jamestoons.com

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