I’ve been preparing for my illustration career since I was a child. Luckily I’ve been blessed with a mother who gave me every opportunity to grow as an artist. She helped to cultivate my imagination by reading the classics to me every night before I went to bed. When I was just seven I decided that I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books and so I stapled together a book of my own illustrated poems. There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t drawing or painting. During vacations I would bicycle to the fields in the San Fernando Valley where horses grazed...and I would draw. Or I might discover an old mission in the midst of orange groves...and I would draw. Even sitting in my tree, I would draw.
Did you illustrate stories when you were growing up? At school? Or at home as a hobby? As a young teenager or both?
I never deviated from my original goal in high school. I set out to create extra projects that included some sort of art component. Class notes were dappled with drawings of my teacher's arms, ears, nose, eyes, and face. I drew my peers resting or taking notes. My books had drawings in their margins.
When you went to college, were you pursuing an illustration career?? Or just art in general?
While I was still in high school I received a scholarship to attend the Art Center: College of Design in Pasadena. The scholarship was only for Saturday courses but it was enough for me to know that the Art Center and illustration were my primary goals. I continued to seek out other life drawing courses outside of high school classes so I could upgrade my portfolio. I had been so awed at the Art Center; I instinctively knew that I was not ready to make that leap. Instead I sought another alternative until I felt a little more confident. I also knew that I had to go to college and so began applying. An opportunity came up for me to show my portfolio to the chairman of the art department at Pepperdine University in Malibu. I was an absolute wreck as he was the first to see all my work. Luck was on my side and I received an art scholarship to Pepperdine for the following year and years after that. Two and half years later, I finally applied to the Art Center: College of Design in Pasadena. I also applied to several other art schools – just in case! Ironically, I was accepted each of the art schools first. The Art Center’s response was very late and I was very anxious. When I received that Art Center’s distinctive envelope I asked my grandmother to open it. She read it silently then smiled; I knew that I was finally accepted.
What was your first job after college?
I took a detour in my illustration career to find a job. Again, luck was on my side when I landed a job as an assistant film editor. I also spent time working in post production video graphics, and in advertising. They were exciting careers on their own, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people along the way. But, while I worked my “day” jobs, I continued to my painting and drawing. Late nights, weekends, holidays and vacations, I worked on my illustrations. I also began writing again. I wrote the longest picture book in history which ended up being over 170 pages long! I still laugh about it today because it was so hideous!
How soon after that was your first book published?
While at the Art Center: College of Design, I had developed a project for one of my courses. A few years later I redeveloped it and began to send it out to publishers. This project came to the attention of an educational editor who asked if I might redo the book’s focus towards American Indians. Of course! While doing research on the new version I came upon the profound letter which Carlos Montezuma wrote to the Smithsonian Institution in 1904. This letter became the basis of my book A BOY NAMED BECKONING: the true story of Dr.Carlos Montezuma, Native American hero (Lerner/Carolrhoda) Finding the letter was serendipitous! While I continued to publish many other books, most in the non fiction and educational genre, the Montezuma letter haunted me. His words were so powerful and his message helped me to forge forward whenever I felt stalled. It haunted me and drove me into 12 years of research and commitment. I shared his letter and life with everyone because I felt that his story of hope and strength was huge and life changing if one needed a hero. Carlos Montezuma is certainly one of my heroes.