An Unexpected Success Story

Surprise!! It's a Children's Book

“It wasn’t supposed to be a real book!” is how I often begin the story. After Heather Whittaker had hired me to help finish up one of her business books, I asked to meet and discuss a minor side project. Since no children’s book projects had come my way, perhaps I could round out my portfolio by drawing a few story frames anyway. I know that writers collect ideas in notebooks just as visual artists do in sketchbooks. I just needed some concepts. I’ll do anything to avoid the hard work of thinking. It turned out that Heather had indeed been wanting to do a kids’ book along with an entire curriculum. It would be based on her tiny dog, Taz, and the message would be diversity and acceptance — or the positive face of “stop bullying.”

So the beginning of the project was simply character sketches of Taz. In fact, the cover image of “A Different Little Doggy” is the very first attempt at capturing the personality of this little dog I’d never seen in person.

Telling Taz’ Story

Client: Author and Speaker Heather Whittaker
Project Kickoff: March 2011
Objective: Illustrate and design a children’s book that matches or exceeds the Author’s vision.


Then, surprise: Another book project, by another Heather! Within days of the meeting that started the Taz book, Heather Rawlings Davis hired me to begin “Duck Gets a New Hat.” I was suddenly drawing all sorts of cute critters and juggling projects as well as I could. It was very satisfying to once again be ordering illustration board and art supplies by the case.

When Customers visit my studio, I always feel a need to explain the collection of stuffed animals and action figures. These are often my models for pose reference, most of them found at thrift stores. A frog poses for a dog, a futuristic warrior poses for a little girl picking flowers.


  1. Portray poses and likenesses without any real “model” for visual reference. This is where the toys and action figures were helpful.
  2. Maintain consistent appearance of the title character in numerous scenarios. Many sketches were made from available photo reference.
  3. Create realistic illustrations of things that don’t exist (the job of an Illustrator!)

I was able to learn a few things about organization — a skill not included in the Artistic Temperament package. Besides a separate manila folder for each illustration or page spread. I set up a storyboard in InDesign that actually evolves into the finished book. [Pictures] Even the very sketchiest of thumbnail drawings were placed on the corresponding page in the “book” file, and these pages were updated by revised sketches and eventually finished art. Some pages were full-color, final art, while others looked like pencil doodles. I highly recommend this system, as it allows you to add the story text to each page, and design your pictures with the type and the page sequence in mind. And when it’s time to ready the book files for the Printer, you already have a book!

“A Different Little Doggy” has been well received and tirelessly promoted by the Author. Besides Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the book can be found at

Lessons Learned

  1. Have a plan of attack: Get organized as possible.
  2. Create a storyboard, first with sketches, then adding illustrations in varying degrees of progress. In this manner the entire book can be visualized and planned from the earliest stages. When all pictures are finished and placed in sequence, we have a book!
  3. Consult with the Printer, Publisher and Marketer, and provide regular progress updates. The earliest versions of the “storyboard version” can be used to promote the book and solicit feedback well before the book is actually printed.


It is very easy to simply stay busy working on art, especially for an artist with perfectionist tendencies. We do need to reach out to other artists — visual, literary, musical — and cook up new projects outside of the work that is “assigned” to us. Such projects may be the only ones where we are allowed real creative freedom. This book, while somewhat self-initiated and unplanned-for at the outset, became an accomplishment that I am extremely happy with.

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