Today, I’m happy to be talking with Talitha Shipman, an award-winning illustrator whose work appears in picture books, board books, magazines, and on greeting cards and other stationery products, about her inspirations, interacting with readers, and depicting emotion in illustrations.
What inspired you to become a children’s illustrator?
I have loved art all my life, and I was the “kid who could draw” all through elementary and high school. I went to college for Fine Art, but I realized after I graduated that what I loved most was telling stories through my art. That’s when I went back to school to get an MFA in illustration. The picture book illustration classes were my favorite. I knew I wanted to focus on that market.
Which artists were influential for you when you were growing up? Which picture books or illustrated books were your favorites?
My absolute favorite artist growing up was James Gurney of Dinotopia fame. I spent a lot of time redrawing his dinosaur illustrations. I also loved Bill Peet a former Disney artist who illustrated many picture books, and Steven Kellogg, who wrote and illustrated the Pinkerton series.
What drew you to John Coy’s story when you first read the manuscript?
My daughter had just learned to walk about two years beforehand when I received John’s manuscript, so the process of babies taking those first few wobbly steps and all those crazy mixed emotions that come with them were fresh in my mind. There was that immediate emotional connection with the story that I hope other parents and caregivers of babies will make.
Your illustrations really shine with details that show a loving connection between characters. What, for you, are the keys to depicting the joy of being together or empathy between characters?
I think life is so much better when we focus on those little joyful moments that happen throughout the day. In my art, I try to really feel the emotions and moments I’m trying to portray. There’s that feeling when my daughter comes running at me full tilt and throws her arms around me. I can tuck that away and pull it out later to make an illustration more authentic. I think when we draw on life experiences, good and bad, and are vulnerable enough to express them somehow in art, we are able to pass that feeling along to an audience.
You count many greeting card companies among your clients. Can you talk a little about the process of designing cards and other products like notepaper?
Greeting cards are fun to create, but there are usually two avenues for artwork to get picked. Many illustrators will create designs that are finished, and card companies will buy them at trade shows or through the artist’s agent. They add text later on. Sometimes they will commission art, and they usually have a pretty good idea of what they want to be depicted, right down to the color palette. They’ll send reference images as well.
Meeting your readers at a book event must be a joy! Can you talk about one of your favorite events or visits? Why is this one memorable?
Hands down, doing an interactive art workshop with kids is the best. I want to inspire kids to pursue their own creative passions. Last year I did a winter-themed workshop with @KidLitCrafts in my hometown of Fort Wayne, and we created a wall of snowflakes and snowmen on black paper using white and blue paint. It was so amazing to watch the paper fill up with all the kids’ beautiful art.
One thing you love is helping kids find their style of creativity. How do you encourage children to develop their special talent? Do you have any anecdote from these interactions with kids that you’d like to share?
I’m going to tell a story about an adult. I recently met a woman at a state park nature preserve. She watched me sketch some turtles in a terrarium and then approached me and told me that when she was little, she loved drawing. One day her art teacher gave the class an assignment of drawing a turtle. She didn’t consider herself artistic, but she tried her best and was so proud of that turtle. All of the kids’ work was going to be on display for a special art night. She was so excited to share her turtle drawing with her parents. When they got there, she couldn’t find her drawing. So she asked her teacher where it went. The teacher told her that she accidentally spilled some coffee on it and threw it away. This deviated her so much that she didn’t do anything artistic until recently. This is tragic. One careless teacher changed this girl’s life and not for the better. Teachers, parents, tell your children that they are creative, and prove you mean it by valuing their work. If kids are bummed that they can’t draw as well as one of their classmates, help them practice and improve, or try some other way to express themselves artistically. Don’t ever tell them that art may not be their thing. Let’s face it, not everyone is going to be a working artist, but everyone can incorporate art into their lives and reap the benefits. Don’t be the person who shuts that down in a child.
Which classic story would you like to illustrate? How would you portray a pivotal scene?
This isn’t a classic fairy tale, but we sing Silent Night to my daughter every night before bed. I’d love to illustrate a picture book version as a poem with visuals reminiscent of Austria, where the carol was written. I think there’d have to be a scene with snow softly falling and Christmas tree lights shining in village windows.
What’s up next for you?
I am working on my first Author/Illustrator book. It’s called Finding Beauty and it’s about a mother hoping to open her daughter’s eyes to the beauty in the world around her.
What is your favorite holiday?
Christmas all the way. I love the lights, the snow (if we’re lucky), Christmas carols, (as mentioned before) Christmas movies (Polar Express), and candlelight Christmas Eve services. The Christmas season encompasses so many happy memories and traditions in my family.
A holiday-themed event you recently participated in was Paddles Aweigh in Fort Wayne, Indiana that coincided with National Rivers Day. The paddle you painted is lovely with its depiction of river animals.
Can you tell readers about this project?
This was such a fun project and a bit out of my wheelhouse. I haven’t painted traditionally for a long time. Most of my work is digital art, so it was a bit scary to break out the paintbrushes again. There’s no delete button! I wanted to create a paddle that featured Indiana wildlife that you might see on or near rivers. I painted a beaver, a bullfrog, some minnows, a painted turtle, a northern water snake, and some Indiana wildflowers.
Fort Wayne sits at the confluence of three rivers, the Maumee, the Saint Joseph, and the Saint Mary’s. I was just one of over a hundred artists who painted a paddle. They’re all going to be on display at our new riverfront Promenade Park from the end of September through October. The project is also going to help fund field trips for kids on Fort Wayne’s restored canal boat the Sweet Breeze.
You can see more about this project on Talitha’s Instagram!
Thanks so much, Talitha, for this fun chat! I wish you all the best with On Your Way and your upcoming Finding Beauty, also with Beaming Books!
You can connect with Talitha on
Happiness Happens Month Review
About the Holiday
Happiness doesn’t have to be something we plan for, schedule into our calendars, or spend money on. In fact paying attention to those little moments during each day, going on spontaneous outings with friends or family, or taking time to do a favorite activity may be all you need to feel happier every day! And there are always those times of achievement, large and small, to celebrate—just like the one in today’s book!
On Your Way
Written by John Coy | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman
On a glorious morning as the sun rises, a mom sits under an apple tree while her son climbs its branches and recounts a momentous day. It was a glorious day, just like today, and she and her little one sat together in the rocker on the front porch. But then he began to squirm, wanting to crawl. As he made his way down the long porch, he watched the action near the barn: “cats and kittens crept round a corner. Ducks and ducklings waddled to water.” Rabbits and their bunnies and dogs and their puppies also bounded in the yard.
When the baby reached his own little chair, he pulled himself up and “steadied for balance.” Perhaps there was a certain look in her son’s eyes that told her that day was the day. She tells him, “I knelt down and held out my arms. You wobbled, tumbled, plopped.” For inspiration they watched the sheep and her lamb ramble and the goat and her kid trot near the brook. Out in the yard now, the little boy tried again and fell again.
Mom picked him up and they watched their horse and her filly galloping. A deer and her fawn even jumped over the fence of the coral. With resolve and his mom’s encouragement, the tyke stood on his own again and with a “serious look” took one step and then another. With a smile of pride, he reached his mom’s outstretched arms. Then, she remembers, “We walked in the grass, where you practiced over and over.”
As he grew, his mom tells him, he took off, hopping and bounding, jumping and galloping. “Now,” she says, “you’re big and move in so many ways.” And even as she recalls his first halting steps, she imagines how far he will go.”
John Coy’s sweet reminiscence of a child’s first steps is a tender book for parents and children to share as they grow and achieve milestones both large and small. Coy’s encouraging storytelling juxtaposes the little boy’s progress with that of the baby animals on the family farm, a touching connection for children with nature and the wider world. The open ending is a heartening and emboldening look to the future for both children and adults.
Talitha Shipman pours heart and soul into her vibrant, cheerful illustrations that follow a child as he successfully accomplishes a major milestone. The soon-to-be toddler displays uncertainty, resolve, and pride in his expressive eyes, while his mom has that look of encouragement and love so familiar to parents and other caregivers. Each scene captures just the right gestures from Mom, who is caught rising from her chair as she realizes what her son is contemplating, kneeling down to meet him with welcoming arms, and holding his hands as he marches through the wispy grass. The toddler wobbles and high steps and in the blink of an eye—just as it seems in real life—is stomping through puddles and running with his dog. The shining dawn sun illuminates this new beginning and the child’s bright future ahead.
An adorable book to share with children just starting out on life’s road or to celebrate their accomplishments, On Your Way makes a delightful gift for new parents or other caregivers and a tender story time read at home, in the classroom, or for libraries.
Ages 3 – 5
Beaming Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1506452586
Discover more about John Coy and his books on his website.
To learn more about Talitha Shipman, her books, and her art, visit her website.Happiness Happens Month Activity
Happiness can happen anywhere, and you can help make someone’s day extra happy with these printable Happiness Cards. Just give them to a friend, someone in your family, or someone who looks as if they need a pick-me-up. It’ll make you feel happy too!
You can find On Your Way at these booksellers
Picture Book Review