Your Work Outside of Work

At my day job I was interviewed about what my work outside of work is all about. Read the interview, Spotlight on… MINDY here…

Mindy Dwyer, Marketing & Graphics Assistant at The Food Co-op is multi-talented, with a Food Co-op career that spans 11 years – she started in 2009 as a Graphics Assistant, left for a couple of years and returned to the Food Co-op in 2018 to join the Produce Team. When a job opportunity in Marketing arose, Mindy sought the opportunity, and is once again working with Marketing.

What you might not know, is that Mindy is also a published author and illustrator, and she took some time to tell us a bit more about her process, and her most current project…

Tell me about your work outside of work and what’s your most recent project?
“I am a children’s book author and illustrator; most recent book is Chia and the Fox Man, A Dena’ina Fable. This is story of an orphan who meets a legendary character, to save his village and learn how to do what is right, even when it’s hard.”

What research did you do for your project?
“This is the second book project with a mother/son pair from Alaska. I had to further research the Dena’ina culture for Chia’s’ clothing, the houses and village and especially the fox character. There is nothing like him in our experience of fairy tales. It took several tries before I got captured the essence of his character.

How do you work?
“I always begin with pencil and paper, sketching and doodling ideas.  These turn into a storyboard to pace the story text and action with pictures. This initial phase of ideas is my favorite part of the process. The art director and I talk about the ideas and I make a book dummy, which is a small rough version of the book. Next, I scale the sketches up to just over actual size for publication and continue drawing and tracing until I arrive a good composition. These final drawings are approved and then I begin to paint in watercolor. The finished paintings are scanned in and I can manipulate them for detail, color matching, or texture.”

What’s your background?
“I went to a commercial art school after high school and attended some college for fine arts. I have worked as a package designer, sign painter, a forester, a ma and pa shop owner, graphic designer, band mom, bass player, illustrator and painter.”

How has your artistic practice changed over time?
“As a safety measure I took up watercolor when I had little kids in the house – and fell in love with the medium. It is perfect for illustration. I’ve learned to use the computer to enhance the work but I love the hand drawn quality and the texture of the paper so I do not generate the art directly on the computer.”

What themes do you pursue in your work?
“My children’s book themes are largely based on my experience in Alaska. My recent book Treasure is set in the Pacific Northwest but is modeled after my childhood in a woodsy river valley of Pennsylvania. When I create paintings that are not part of a book, they are narrative, decorative, colorful and graphical.”

What memorable responses have you had to your work?
“Once I spoke on a radio show that aired in Barrow, Alaska. It was a conversation with a scientist about the northern lights. My story Aurora was complete fantasy while his work was based on fact and scientific process. Callers could join the conversation to tell of their experiences. It was chilling. The scientist agreed that there was something unexplained, other worldly and spiritual that I had captured about the northern lights.

Also, there is nothing like a smiling kid clutching one of your books asking you to sign it, or someone who bought a painting you made because they want to have it and spend time looking at it.”

Science, Literature & Art

I was invited to speak at a women’s Science, Literature & Art Club. The club originated in 1931 and has been active since. This group of women have been gathering together at each other’s homes for many years looking for enrichment, and along the way found companionship. What would I talk about? One of my books allowed me to touch the world of science, so I wove that into my story. I spoke of my encounter with an expert on the northern lights, the director of the International Arctic Research Center. My aha moment was when this man of science admitted that the aurora truly held an other worldly presence. In that minute I understood that science was inquiry.

Seeing all of my books laid out there on the living room floor gave me a curious overview of my life in books. I simply started at the beginning with my first book Coyote In Love and ended the talk with Treasure, my most recent book with West Margin Press.

I shared my journey as an artist, an author, an illustrator, a woman, and a mother. Part storytelling, a bit of comedy, show and tell, watercolor painting demonstration and Q & A, I think the ladies were entertained. I told an unabridged tale of the life of an artist with vivid examples such as living on a construction site in tiny sheds with children hanging in hammocks alongside clotheslines of full sheets of 22 x 30 wet watercolor paper. I told them how we ran away with the circus before settling into Port Townsend, and described the many studio settings created over the years from kitchen table, living room, to garage, porch, laundry room and shed. They had many questions about the stories and the process and admired the artwork in the books very much.

A member of SLA, a chronicler named Sylvia Thomas has been the photographer and keeper of the pictorial history of the club. Sylvia has been a member since 1989 and brought talents that benefited the club as artist (she did and still does all the art work for the year end guest luncheons), photographer, and historian. Here is her summation.

On November 5, 1931, there were 14 women who met to organize a literary club, and decided to call themselves The Science, Literature and Art Club, which met twice a month.  In the custom of the day, women were referred formally as Mrs. So and So, and their husbands’ first names were always noted in the members’ directory.  Incidentally, not until 2013 or about, the minutes included the change in the directory using the members’  first names instead of their husbands’.   As was customary of the 30s’ era, women wore hats and gloves to the meetings which started at 4pm and the hostess served tea and cookies.  Eventually, the meeting time was changed to noon, and from cookies and tea, lunch segued to meals.  When I joined the club in 1999, someone had just started serving wine for the social period, and it’s been included at every club luncheon.  

For many years it was mandatory to attend every meeting unless “you were dying or in the hospital”, as one of the older members once mentioned. Since many members cannot accommodate large number of women at meetings the number was limited to 20 members.   If someone quit the club, or died, the next succeeding member from the roster was responsible for finding a new member who understands the commitment of hosting a lunch once a year and doing a program from a science, literature or art category.    The purpose of the club was to encourage and support each other in furthering their education.  Some of the programs were: Review of American Beauty by Edna Ferber, review of The Normal Mind, by Wm. Burnham, and a discussion on Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather  (excerpts from meetings held in 1932). 

There were other literary clubs like SLA in Chimacum, and Port Angeles; and guests from other clubs were invited to attend the lunch and meetings in Port Townsend.  I am not aware if other clubs organized concurrently with SLA of Port Townsend still exist.   The one reason I think ours still exists is because the customs changed with the times.   While women in the past were home bound, eventually throughout the years lifestyles have changed and women are free to travel, change from restrictive styles of clothing to casual, and do house duties in place of men.  All of which had to be considered if the club were to attract new members.   An example is the recent change in the by-law to have a meeting year round on the first Thursday of the month.  Formally, the meetings were held on the first and third Thursdays of the month and the fiscal year began in September and ended in May with three months off.  Meeting attendance is required.   

If a member is absent for more than three meetings she is asked if she is still interested in being a member of the club.  However, if that person is on vacation for a length of time or if there is an illness, those are exceptions.  We have also changed the by-laws to reduce the number of members from 20 to 15.  As the members age, it has been difficult for some to haul out the extra chairs and tables and do the preparations for past the tipping point of 15 members.

Sylvia Thomas has written a summary of SLA from 1931 to 1964 in two volumes and given them to the Jefferson County Historical Society’s research center.   If you wish to look in depth in our SLA history the two volumes are available for your research.

Getting Ready To Get Ready

This is a joke at our house, a phrase synonymous with procrastination, but I could argue that it does have a purpose. Left-brain can get in the way of creativity – it is thinking and worrying too much – so I give it a task, a problem to solve, keep it busy and satisfied, then the right brain is free to wander. What was that saying my mom had?  Many hands make light the work, no that’s not it…busy hands quiet the mind?

1. Measuring, counting, cutting and calculating how many sheets of paper you’ll need to start a new book illustration project is a good way to get ready. It is a thinking task, a way to cleanse the palette. Some times I need to clear the path to creativity, make a list and get everything done, then somehow feel free to do the creative work, but by then I’m exhausted and have nothing left – so not too much, not too little.  Sometimes when the creative juices flow, you must follow. When you have a day job or small children you get good at turning this faucet on, like exercise, you get better at it.

2. Still in problem solving mode, I decide which paper surface is right for the book. You must experiment and get some paint on paper to decide. This starts to get playful, right brain says. You can’t run out of a certain paper and have a page where the watercolor texture just doesn’t match the rest of the book – been there. All of these steps set a precedent for the look of the whole book so these early decisions are crucial. You get these out of the way so your mind is free to flow through the easy questions, such as, what color should this be? How do I paint this? And which color to paint first? All these just seem easy and thoroughly enjoyable.

3. The palette. I always add a new color (or two) to my existing favorite palette. My newest book features Winsor Newton Raw Umber and Daniel Smith Cascade Green. To my surprise and joy the color Cascade Green is actually made of two colors – Raw Sienna and Thalo Blue, so right out of the tube you have this perfect mix of two colors that tend to move or separate showing themselves, which is quite lovely. Nerd left brain kicked in and asked why – so I had to look up the properties. The two colors create a tension which causes them to move, one is granulating one is not, they both have some transparency and one is high staining the other low. It is beautifully explained here.

Interesting – but mostly beautiful to watch while painting!

4. Don’t forget the Color Key! I’m almost ready to begin painting the forty illustrations for the book. I’ve got my new colors, freshened up my palette trays and I’m ready for some doodling and noodling as test strips. Then as I began actually painting the illustrations I remember to take notes on my COLOR KEY so as not to forget what colors I used for consistency.

Happy painting!

Layers of Colors

I love color and I love to paint – white walls are like primed canvases ready to take color. Just give me a good angled cut brush.

My second job ever was on a crew of house painters. We were two men, two women. We got the job done but the women of the household appreciated us girls taking the time to put down the drop cloth, wipe up any little splatters and take extra care in their homes. I became a pretty neat painter.

Today, as I painted the pink over aqua, I thought of my mom allowing us to paint our bedrooms any color we wanted. My sisters chose red, white and blue because that was just cool then. I chose avocado green for the walls and bright yellow furniture to match my pop art daisy comforter. “It’s just paint,” my mom said as we beamed with the freedom of our creativity. I also thought how this very room had once housed my oldest son, and then my daughter and even my youngest son at one point in the house’s life, and now it was being painted pink for my granddaughter. The doors are accents in lavender and sky blue. I’ve got the first coats on and can now see the wood trim painted in bright glossy white like icing on this candy colored room. Oh, the stories the bones of this house could tell through layers of colors!

And…check out the walls that I helped paint at our local Food Co-op !

Finding A Way of Seeing

Magritte, Key of Dreams, 1930

When we hear words are we all seeing the same picture?

I remember this Magritte painting from the cover of John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing”, a mandatory reading assignment for art students. This painting from his Key of Dreams series displays simple flash card type image word pairs. They appear to be accurate, yet they are all wrong –except for the lower right corner. The displacement is the whole point.

      “What one must paint is the image of resemblance—if thought is to become visible in the world.“ —Rene Magritte

The paintings represent objects that are part of our common visual culture. He violates our earliest learning of recognizable words and pictures; A is for apple, B is for bear. Which brings the question. Do we all make the same universal associations? What if we are from different cultures?

As an illustrator I wonder how I can illustrate ideas and associations from someone else’s culture? I need a key in my lower right corner to guide me to the right answer.

Images symbolize concepts. Usually the simplest stylized version is effective because we all can recognize it. The symbol of a house as “home” has become an accepted symbol to guide you back to your “home” page on a website. But does that make sense in every culture? Does every culture have its own way of representing objects and ideas and images as concepts? A simple picture of a house can symbolize home (where you live) but does it say “navigation to the main page” or have we just become accustomed to it?

The word illustrate comes from the Latin illustrare ‘to light up or enlighten. To illustrate is to explain or make something clear by using pictures. It is also to show the meaning or truth of something more clearly by using pictures. My goal in illustrating a story is to add or enhance it in some way. My task of illustrating an idea or concept starts with a visual image that arises from words. The picture may be clear in my mind’s eye but in the translation between thought and the action of drawing many surprising things can happen. Sometimes I end up with nothing at all like I’d imagined and beautiful directions were discovered along the way. When you bring words to life through imagery it is a form of magic.

Some have the gift of words that are driven by imagery – good writing is usually full of visual ques. But a word can mean different things to different people. When you are translating someone else’s words you might not conjure up the same image. Hopefully this is a good and surprising thing – but sometimes not. A friend of mine, an author once had a story interpreted by an illustrator with a different gender. The story works both ways but it was not as imagined or visualized in the writer’s eye.

As an author I write with images. Because I am also an illustrator it would be hard to turn over my words to someone else’s pictures. It is this thought that drives me to succeed at the task set before me – to take great care of the author’s words and to find ways of seeing with another person’s eyes and thousands of years of a whole other culture riding behind it. I have to get it right.

Trinkets As Treasure

trinkets as treasure, coin button, worry dolls, sparkly button, crystal, seaglass

With the release of my latest book Treasure, I think back on the inspiration for this story. There was the little girl in Seattle who left food for a neighborhood crow and in return the crow left her tiny gifts. But the true inspiration began long ago with a small broken crystal, a tiny tear of glass that held so many rainbows. It was a thing of beauty, a small piece of magic that I squirreled away like buried treasure. It broke off of a chandelier that hung over the fancy dining room table where we only ate Thanksgiving and birthday dinners.

I keep that crystal and other treasures on the windowsill over the sink in a lumpy pottery bowl made with love by my son. I’ve never owned a dishwasher, but often pined for one as I washed the dishes. Gazing out the kitchen window, the suds caressing my hands, slowly the hot water transported me to another time and place. While hands do the work, the mind is free to play.

Looking at the crystal, I hear my mother say, don’t fiddle with the chandelier, and please put the dishes in the dishwasher. From inside the bowl are the the weary voices of Guatemalan dolls that keep your troubles. A piece of blue glass worn smooth by the sea calls me back to the waves, back to the place where we play in the water.

Why do we keep these things? They are reminders of how and where we got them, they are time travelers to embody a time and a place, and keep the memories for us.

Here are some of the items I found as trinkets for treasure, but they didn’t make it into the book. Button tins and sewing drawers are great sources of treasure as well as jewelry boxes. Do you recognize any of these items?

The Raven is Notable!


Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children’s books. According to the Notables Criteria, “notable” is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.

Click to read more about the book.