I’ve been cleaning out old files and reorganizing paperwork and materials, and finding some little treasures I knew were somewhere but haven’t seen in ages. I designed and illustrated Smokey’s Odysseys in 1997 and enjoyed every minute of my first opportunity to illustrate a book, and especially a book about cats. As I’ve been illustrating Patricia Fry’s Klepto Cat books I’ve especially remembered this book, and you’ll see why as you read on.
In the 90s I designed and edited books for Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc. here in Pittsburgh, and after a few years I also began illustrating a few covers, as a freelancer while I still worked my full-time day job. Dorrance was considered a vanity publisher in the day but today the authors would be considered self-published, paying a book company to produce their books. Printing was generally one- or two-color and most of the budget went into the printing and physical production of the book, so interior illustrations were unusual.
To keep costs down interior illustrations were also usually line art to integrate with the type, and ink sketches were typical.
I remember when the coordinator shipped the assignment, the text on a floppy disk and notes on paper, in a package from UPS. The coordinator was actually the person who had rescued both Namir and Kelly and they still lived with her. We had talked about cats pretty regularly, so she was really excited when this book came along. She said something along the lines of, “You’ll love the book I just sent you to illustration and design.” I was always excited when I got assignments no matter what they were because each book brought me that much closer to working at home, and when I asked, “Why?” she replied, “You’ll see.”
I was really excited! Wow, a story about a kitty! I had been painting portraits for five years by then so along with my household of seven cats plus a few fosters I had plenty of felines to use as models.
And here’s why Patricia’s books remind me of this particular book: Smokey is a big gray kitty who goes on adventures around his neighborhood and town. Another curious and adventuresome gray kitty! Smokey meets up with humans and animals and situations, and according to the book flap copy, “In his dealing with all creatures, regardless of their difference, Smokey extends a paw of kindness, illustrating his admirable respect for the diversity of life in the universe.”
The book was to have a cover illustration plus 14 interior illustrations. I read through the text and started visualizing. I remember being so excited I could hardly focus on one at a time! Looking at them now, I remember actually drawing them, sometimes several times, until I got it right. How inexperienced I was at this! Looking back now with 20 more years of experience I’m almost surprised at the line quality, the style, the details I chose. I remember starting out with really detailed sketches, then looking at other sketches they’d used and remembering I had to draw 15 in similar style, then backing off some of the details and simplifying. I still remember that lesson today.
I created my rough illustrations and sent them over for approval, then sketched them out in ink, designed the book and dropped them in for display. I decided the cover should be a collage of as many images as would fit with a nice big one of Smokey in the center. I used black and yellow, and screened back to a percentage of the yellow for the cream-colored area behind the smaller sketches.
At that time, printers still made film so the text was output and the illustrations incorporated at the printer, and I sent the originals with the final book design. I made scans of each one, though, and kept my design and layout on my computer, later moving it off to a disk when I needed space on that computer. Funny thing about technology, I found the manuscript was saved on a Zip disk! Who remembers those? I didn’t realize I still had things saved on Zip disks and thought I’d moved everything onto CDs or onto an external drive; the books were one of the reasons I always had the latest in storage devices.
Below is a gallery of all the illustrations.
It was during this assignment that the coordinator mentioned to me that she had been accepted into a graduate degree program and needed to find a foster for Namir and Kelly. We talked about that as the book progressed, and it was after I had finished it that she realized after months that she wasn’t going to find a foster or adopter and brought them to me. She left soon after that but we kept in touch for a year or so until her studies took her to Europe, and I decided Kelly and Namir had found a good forever home.
The author, Margaret J. Dolezal, emigrated with her family as a young child from what is now the Czech Republic and settled in Nebraska. She taught college German and high school German and Spanish and was a devoted volunteer for many activities. In researching her I found she passed in 2004 and read many loving memorials to her as a teacher, a neighbor and a community member with her obituary. Smokey was not her cat, but was inspired by conversations with a friend about a cat as the two served at volunteer activities.
Way before your time, Mimi.
What do I need to do to get a book about me?
Each week on Wednesday I feature a piece of artwork, sometimes a current or historic portrait, sometimes an illustration or an art project from years ago, usually cat-themed, but sometimes wildlife or even non-animal subjects, and even projects from my commercial art life. Read other Featured Artwork posts.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
Feline Artwork and Cards from Portraits of Animals
The sketches in this book led me to things like the sketch above. Read more and purchase.
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