Picture books need a writer and an illustrator. Sometimes they are one in the same–if a person is fortunate enough to have both talents. However, for my first children’s picture book, Mrs. Feeny and the Grubby Garden Gang, I hired extraordinary artist Jim DeWitt to illustrate my book. Jim is crazy for color! So are kids. I thought the combination perfect. He’s not known for illustrating children’s books, but I loved his style and figured it would work just fine.
He’s better known in the world of sailing for his marine art–the result of sailmaking and racing sailboats for much of his life. In fact, for 2012-13 he was named the America’s Cup Artist-in-Residence by the Golden Gate Yacht Club which hosted the 34th American’s Cup races on the San Francisco Bay. A presentation of his America’s Cup work is at www.DeWittAmericasCupArt.com. It’s striking.
Lucky me, that same free flowing, colorful style is reflected in Mrs. Feeny. It isn’t precise. There are splotches of color all over the flowers, the kids, everything. He takes paint and piles it on. He lets it drip. It’s rich. It’s saturated. There’s depth. All of this adds to the charm of his artwork.
Kids love it. They say, “Hey, look at how messy that is. I can do that.” They want to know about the splotches, the drips, the colors running into each other. I tell them it’s Jim’s style, and that style gives them inspiration and permission to paint messy, too. Mrs. Feeny was only his second children’s picture book, but he dove into it with such enthusiasm!
Because he wanted photos of kids, I gathered five children together for a day-long photo shoot. In some ways, it was like herding cats. The two girls and three boys loved riding the bike, pretend gardening, throwing dirt clods at each other, doing high fives and chest bumps, squirting each other with the hose, giving each other rides in the wheelbarrow, and running around crazy like 8-10 year olds do. Jim stood by and shot 100s of pics, all as a resource for the book. Both he and I were exhausted, but the kids weren’t. They discovered the creek and disappeared for the rest of the afternoon. The result was a colorful and imaginative 32-page children’s book. He captured the essence of the kids–unruly neighborhood children who destroy Mrs. Feeny’s front lawn by walking and riding bikes across it. She solves that problem in a unique way. You can read more about Mrs. Feeny at www.sandybakerwriter.com and more about artist DeWitt at www.jimdewitt.com. On top of all this talent, he’s a really nice guy!