Mary Hendrix is a gifted artist, plus a good friend and critique partner. Mary’s insight from an illustrator’s point of view is invaluable for the writers in our group. Her artistic eyes see beyond the words and in between the spaces.  

I asked Mary if she would tell us how she approaches a story to bring her imagination to the page. Mary said, “Sure!” Lucky us!

ME: Thank you, Mary, for helping us better understand how illustrators think. I’d like to start by asking yourself.

ME: Who are some children’s illustrators that you admire?

MARY: The 90’s illustrations of Diane Goode, “When I Was Young in the Mountains,” caught my attention as art work so well rendered, evoking such emotion of a family…one of my favorites. I remember thinking I could do that!!!  Of course, I am also a great fan of Jan Brett.  Her attention to detail, color and layout are beautiful.  

ME: How did you know that you wanted to illustrate children’s books?

MARY: I love paper, books and drawing.  It took time for me to realize that illustrating a children’s book combined all three!  It also took time to gain the confidence that my artwork was valued.

ME: What does your “Illustrating Time” look like? 

MARY: I sit at my table with my sketch book and pencil, envisioning what the characters of the author’s story look like and what they do from page to page. Then I revise, revise, revise!  It is lots of alone time with my paint brush! 

ME: As the illustrator, what do you do to help visualize the characters and arc of a story? 

MARY: I do research about the character if that is part of the story. Otherwise, I draw and draw until I can find that character appearing on the page with all the right characteristics!  Often times this is the easy part as the illustrations flow and the book gets laid out.  The hard part is making the spontaneous drawings “look right” on a page! Time and revision is necessary for making the characters stand out.

ME: What advice would you give a beginning writer about including Art Notes?  

MARY: Be very general.  Let the artist bring out the best in your book. 

ME: What do you see as the artist’s role when illustrating a picture book?

Girl with Pumpkins

MARY:  Artists tell a story with pictures rather than words. We want to make your words come alive with color, interesting characters and vivid backgrounds that will encourage a child to read forever. Aart develops a greater depth to your story to enhance its influence on the reader.

ME: How would you describe a meaningful collaboration between author, editor and illustrator?

MARY: Work together and accept advice and criticism.  Don’t get caught thinking the revision process and collaboration is a hindrance…everyone just wants a successful project. Remember everyone is working toward the same goal.  That being said, know how to stand up for yourself and the story you want to tell. Art is an integral part of the process.

ME: We know authors invest blocks of time on social media to connect with other authors and publicize their books. What should do illustrators to connect and display their art?

MARY: Always do your best work and then put it out on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Click “like” on author blogs that interest you.  We have so many modes of communication that were not available in the past. Use them to connect with others and expose yourself to more ideas.  This has been particularly influential for me. YouTube has exposed me to so much variety in the art world!

ME: Is there advice you can offer picture book illustrators who are starting out?

Mary Hendrix Cat Art

MARY: The best advice is to practice, practice, practice. Always strive for the best.  Don’t give up or get discouraged!  Join critique groups, attend conferences such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, find artist communities in your area that challenge you to try new mediums and ideas.  Read lots of children’s books! Someone will notice you with time and dedication.

ME: As picture book authors, we tend to take over the page. Thank you, Mary, for reminding us that we work 50-50 with illustrators. Gifted artists expand our stories beyond our visions to bring out the magic! We wish you success in your illustrating journey. Do I hear a whisper that you’re illustrating a picture book debuting in the near future?!  

MARY: I was asked to collaborate with the Flying Ketchup Press to produce illustrations for a delightful folk tale about bar-b-que sauce.  I have such fun characters to develop, and Polly McCann, the editor, has been delightful to work with.

As authors, we create and craft stories, working to find magic in the storytelling and characters. Mary has encouraged us to remember how much of that “magic” can be created by talented illustrators. Picture books are truly a collaboration of creative minds and hearts. What a wonderful Kidlit World we live in!

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Marsha Elyn Wright

Bursts of belly-laughs. Raised eye-brows. Teary trickles. Heart tugs. Grumbly mutters and more. Good storytelling sparks emotions and memories in us. It connects cultures and generations. The best words create melodies on a page we can sing reading aloud. These story songs expand, challenge, affirm, and delight us. My hope is that my storytelling creates this magic for you.


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