Here it is! Chicken Talk Around the World by Carole Lexa Schaefer – my twelfth collaboration with Carole and my 25th illustrated picture book. There’s a story behind every one of them.
In 2012 I announced to my close friends I was exhausted, done illustrating books forever. Forever lasted three years. In 2015 I was invited as a‘working children’s book illustrator’ to have a solo exhibition at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA), of original works from my childhood and all of my children’s books published thus far. I was thrilled, but worried – I couldn’t tell the director I wasn’t really a working illustrator anymore. So when an editor at Little Bigfoot, Seattle, asked me to illustrate a new edition of Carole’s In the Children’s Garden, I jumped back into the soup.
Garden was a challenging project from the beginning. I worked hard…harder than heck. The BIMA exhibit was up for three months over that summer, helping me find a perspective I’d lost – being able to see both sides – all the hard work that goes into a book and how much joy it brings. A few days a week I would walk up to the museum with my sketchbook and hang out at one of the art tables in my exhibit, and watch visitors enjoy the art and participate in the hands-on activities, adding their creations to the museum walls. Once, an older woman sat with a school- age child and read to him from one of the display books. As her voice rose with each page turn my eleven year-old self and her dream was rekindled. I remembered why I do this – who I do it for – the people whose lives I touch.
Renewed, I pushed on through the Garden project, using gouache (gooWASH) – an opaque watercolor), and ink, in the resist technique I’ve now used to illustrate thirteen books. It took me nearly two years to complete final art, partly due to all the details I couldn’t help myself from rendering, of five children in an expansive and lush neighborhood garden, and partly two cataracts (which I wasn’t aware of) blurring my vision. The Children’s Garden: Growing Food in the City was released May 2, 2017, on my 65th birthday.
That summer, July 2017, Carole and I submitted her many-times-rejected picture book manuscript, Chicken Talk, with my rough sketch dummy, to Little Bigfoot. That fall I had cataract surgery and lo! A favorite jacket I’d worn for years thinking it was red, was really fuchsia. Then, in October I had another revelation – financially I wasn’t making it and needed to move out of the Seattle area. Fast. Enter Spokane, December 29, 2017…through torrential rains, then lots of snow.
I’m a veteran of wide communication gaps in the publishing world, so I put Carole’s and my submission out of my mind and spent 2018 getting to know Spokane streets, and volunteering a few hours a week at Spark-Central for their Drop-in & Draw program. That August, I received an email from Little Bigfoot requesting three, full-color character studies in the technique I was planning to use for Chicken Talk, to receive a contract. I painted them in gouache & ink-resist and sent them off two months later.
February 15, 2019 was a belated Valentine surgery for breast cancer. I opted out of further treatment, so relieved to feel in control, as if I’d been given a new life. Every day creating my life full of energy and optimism, and showcasing that in everything I love to do. Serendipitously I received a contract in March. On my drawing table I put a sticky note: