Today, joining us at Writers Inspired is Rachel Dillon, introducing her first book in a series on endangered animals: Through Endangered Eyes. Rachel not only wrote the poetry for this book , but illustrated the beautiful dot paintings on each page and cover. And, if you comment in today’s post (after the interview) you will have a chance to win a copy of Through Endangered Eyes.
Born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, Rachel Dillon earned her bachelor s degree in art and graphic design from the University of Wisconsin Madison. She lives and works as an artist in the Southwest. Beyond design and fine art, Rachel holds a special interest in ecology, evolution, and extinction. Her passion for animals and endangered species has
led her to write about them in hopes that educating others will lead to a more conscientious treatment of these animals and their habitats.
Be sure to leave a comment or question for Rachel today (April 6) for a chance to win a copy of Through Endangered Eyes!
Interview by Mary Jo Campbell:
MJC: It is obvious you are an animal rights’ activist. How did you research for your book: how did you decide the poses you were going to paint and the information you were going to put into poetry?
RD: When I started the book, I chose animals that most people have heard are endangered: African elephant, giant panda, tiger, snow leopard, sea turtle, humpback whale. I had reference books, zoos and the internet to help me research these species. Some of the lesser known species: the Marbled Murrelet, the Channel Island Fox, and the Comoro Black Flying Fox, were more difficult to find information. For those I spent most of my time doing searches online for qualified information.
I really wanted to keep the facts for the animals simple and direct, so young readers and listeners could understand. I think the fact that I am not a scientist helped me to keep it simple. I wanted to really find something unique and special about each species that I could convey in a poem. What feature or behavior was different about the animal and how can I capture a child’s attention with words?
I think I leave the painting question for last, because my paintings mean so much to me. When I shopped for a publisher, I mentioned they didn’t have to take my artwork, if they only wanted the content. Looking back, I think that was an insecurity I had about the quality of my art. Even though I knew how fascinated children were with my paintings of animals, I wasn’t sure if it was too unique for the general public.
Some of my earlier paintings in my book (the African elephant, tiger and sea turtle) were poses of animals I had already painted or drawn before. As I progressed further into the book, the story telling in my paintings or the complexity in the detail of the paintings improved: examples are the Grevy’s zebras, snow leopard, polar bear, and Karner blue butterflies. These paintings were more than just portraits, the animals are interacting with each other or their environment.
MJC: I love that your kids are so involved in your writing experiences, like the mention of your daughter wondering if a stranger on the street knew who you were because “you were in the newspaper last week.” How do you, as a mom and artist influence these artistic passions in your kids? Do you have any projects that you work on together?
RD: I certainly try to encourage my kids’ creativity. My daughter is a doodler, so she has paper at the table and is constantly drawing. I give her drawing instruction books too so she has guidance. I also go into her first grade class and work with the kids twice per month on art concepts: perspective, complementary colors and painting styles.
My son is five, and he is less confident with drawing, but loves to paint. He mixes beautiful colors and just enjoys the freedom of the abstraction. I go into his classroom once per week and work with the pre-k and kindergartners on painting. They love to get messy and some have never had that experience.
Together we (my kids and I) pull out the watercolors and play with the paint. When I am getting some of my promotion materials together for the book, they help me paste and stick, organize and fold things. I also like to work on my paintings in front of the kids. They watch me paint and they’ll ask questions, so I know being exposed to the process is also essential in their learning.
MJC: Artistic expression, I believe, is vitally important to our society, our children and ourselves. I applaud you for combining your paintings with your poetry. Do you consider yourself an artist first and an author second, and how do the two compliment each other?
RD: I feel more comfortable calling myself an artist first, since I have had training and a lot of time to build that image of myself. I am still getting used to the idea of being an author but farther from calling myself a poet. I feel that writing and poetry come naturally to me, but have not studied them thoroughly enough to feel proficient. I come from a line of published authors – my father, and my grandfather to start, I am excited to be finding my own path as a writer, and know how proud my parents are.
I completely agree with your comment about the importance of artistic expression. It is important to me to expose my children to galleries, theatre, dancing, music and other performances as much as I can. All of these arenas can hold such wonderful examples of expression.
MJC: Can you tell us about the marketing and publication process of Through Endangered Eyes, and how you were involved as both the illustrator and author?
RD: Luckily, I have had career experiences that taught me about marketing and PR. I think my publisher is doing their part in the process of publicizing my book, but I am determined to take it a step further. My Web site, blog, Facebook page, and network of friends and family have been a wonderful start at getting the word out about my book.
If I have a book event, I send a press release to the local paper, get on their Web events list, update my Web site, send emails to the people I know locally and postcards if I have mailing addresses. I definitely know that exposing people three times to something, helps keep it in the front of their mind.
As the artist, I have made note cards and prints of the book illustrations and offer the actual illustrations for sale on my Web site. As give-aways, I hand out bookmarks and magnets showing one of my illustrations and I have started making t-shirts of the book’s cover image. Wow, I feel like Walmart when I list it out. Not sure if I am commercializing the product too much or just enough. I know that my goal is to make an income at this, so I can live the dream of being a full time artist and author.
This blog tour has been an amazing way to publicize the book as well. No matter what, my motivation for creating the book always remains the same, I want to get as many kids thinking about endangered species as I possibly can.
MJC: Please tell us about book two in this series and your plans for marketing more through your blog (videos of reading and painting.)
RD: I feel like a rookie in the blog world, as much as a new author on a steep learning curve. So, seeing what other authors write on their blogs and how they share information certainly helps me to see the possibilities.
I want to add a few things to my blog: more classroom photos; a video of me reading the book; an audio of the book’s poetry; and video of me painting. Now, I just have to figure out how to do that.
As I start the process for the next book I will definitely post the images of the new animals I am working on and the species I choose to write about. I also want to work with mores specialists and shoot more of my own stock photography of the animals I want to paint. I know several of the species in the next book, will be impossible to find in a location I can take pictures, so I will rely on stock photos I purchase or combining several photos together I find online, to create an original image. Keeping people updated and interested in learning more about the next book, is a great way for me to share the process and increase their enthusiasm to go out and get the next one!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in your blog and great questions!
www.RachelDillon.com – you can purchase the original artwork, notecards and prints from the book
You can order a print from: Amazon.com
Publisher is http://www.finneyco.com/endangered_eyes.htm
Artists for Conservation: http://www.natureartists.com/rachel_dillon.asp
Post a comment or question for Rachel and one lucky winner will be randomly selected and announced tomorrow!