Sea stars get stranded here, too, on Peaks Island, Maine. The story felt authentic. I found my own reference and created new ones with an island family as models. I roughly sketched out a visual arc in a single storyboard. I varied the viewpoint while keeping the characters and setting consistent. When I met my models at the beach, I read the story to them and showed the storyboard. They gamely acted it all out. The model for Ana arrived wearing an adorable dress with strawberry pattern, both fun to draw and just the right contrast to all the seascapes. Serendipity!
My references combined these photos with shots of island weather, birds, low tides, seaweed, things I documented on my daily island walks. I found books at the local library on sea stars, turtles, and sting rays. Many of my books (like A WARMER WORLD by Caroline Arnold and HERE COME THE HUMPBACKS! by April Pulley Sayre) also required extensive research. I love this aspect of my illustration practice!
I crafted a small dummy to send to Tilbury House. A few revisions later, and I began the final illustrations. My work is realistic, but soft-edged, drawn with pastels in vivid colors. I worked on sanded paper, literally like sandpaper and in a color that looks quite like a sandy beach! Working on a warm ground makes the cool blues pop, while the drawing marks have an earthy texture. I began with the title page, leaving most of the paper blank, but drawing Ana hopping with excitement. When making a series that must be visually connected, I work methodically, one page following the next. I saved the cover for last, because by then I was really on a roll.
I also teach illustration as an adjunct professor at Maine College of Art, so there were plenty of breaks in the momentum. Yet stepping away often adds perspective to my process. Even a short coffee break or brisk walk can offer a new view, and I’ll notice a refinement that’s needed.
ANA AND THE SEA STAR captures a sweet moment of discovery between a curious girl and nature. It’s just one hop from placing a sea star back in the water to becoming a steward of the environment, which all kids can be.
Thanks to Kirby, for mentoring me early in my kidlit journey as my first teacher at the Institute of Children’s Literature. Visual literacy is a dynamic parallel to the word; seizing the power of both remains a delicious challenge for me.