Meet Dino Tracks Illustrator Cathy Morrison

Cathy-Morrison-originalIt is an incredible talent to take an author’s words and bring them to life in a picture book. Cathy Morrison has this incredible talent, and has illustrated Animalogy, Three Little Beavers, Nature Recycles: How About You?, and most recently Dino Tracks. Cathy talked with us about the challenge and process of bringing dinos to life!

Working with dinosaurs seems like it would allow an illustrator a lot of creative freedom. Did you find these prehistoric creatures fun or challenging to create? Do you have a favorite dinosaur you worked on in Dino Tracks?

Illustrating Dino Tracks proved to be both fun and challenging.  On one hand there is a lot of creative freedom, or what I like to call “artistic license” in drawing dinosaurs since nobody’s ever seen one. But the science is evolving so quickly that by the time I’d finished my last spread of artwork, I found things I wanted to go back and change in the first spread of artwork because of additional research that I uncovered. I had so many questions: which dinosaurs had feathers and what about colors? We’re used to seeing them portrayed in earth tones but now that we envision them as more like birds (and lizards too) I wanted to go more colorful. Just think about the colors of birds, it’s pretty much endless. So I went out on a limb (yes, that’s a pun in case you were wondering) and made them more colorful. Here’s an article from “Live Science” that explains how much we’ve discovered about dinosaurs in the last twenty years. This article came out after I completed the illustrations but sums up a lot about the research.

I think my favorite dinosaurs were the ones that lived in polar climates. They looked like ostriches and I think they’re called timimus, which are small theropods. I still get confused with all the names. I learned a lot when I worked on this book but still feel like I barely scratched the surface compared to true paleo-artists.


What type of programs or medium did you use for Dino Traks? And, how were you able to create these semi-transparent dinosaurs on some of the pages?

I illustrate digitally on a Wacom Cintiq tablet, drawing directly on the monitor. The software I used for Dino Tracks is Corel Painter and Adobe Photoshop.  I create the artwork in layers, so the background is on a layer, the mid and foreground might be on their own layers, and the dinosaurs are isolated on their on layers.  This helps the Sylvan Dell editor to be able to pull out a dinosaur and use it for their Creative Minds section or marketing materials. Also now a lot of publishers are turning their books into apps and the layers can help with animating these apps. I used to work in an animation studio years ago and it’s the same concept that we used to shoot animation cells.

finalBut back to your question about the semi-transparent dinosaurs; I wish I could say I’m just that good but there’s a pretty simple way that I made that happen. I didn’t want to show people with dinosaurs, just thought it might be confusing to the reader. So I thought it would be cool to ghost back the illustration of the dinosaur in the spreads that included people. Since the dinosaur was isolated on a separate layer from the background I worked with Donna German, my editor and art director and we were able to play around with different percentages to give it that semi-transparent effect. I think we ended up screening them back 25%. You still see the dinosaur but it gives the feeling that the image is from another time, sort of like a ghost. Hopefully it gives the look we’re trying to achieve.


There are a lot of repeated background elements throughout the book such as water, mountain ranges, and sparse vegetation. Was this the plan all a long or something that just occurred once you started working? And could you shed some light on your creative process? Do you have a signature artistic style or element for fans and readers to watch out for? 

I had absolutely no plan when I started illustrating Dino Tracks, just a lot of questions. This is the first dinosaur book for Sylvan Dell and for me too. Sylvan Dell has all their books vetted by professionals in their field. Even though they are picture books, they need to be accurate. So initially I did my research and sent my rough story board layouts to them and they turned them over to Jeffrey A. Wilson, Associate Professor at the department of Earth & Environmental Sciences and Associate Curator of the Museum of Paleontology at the University of Michigan. He didn’t make a ton of suggestions but his comments really helped to clarify what was important to show about dinosaur tracks. It focused the direction of the illustrations and I was able to get a clear vision and go on from there.

Every artist has a signature style, their own voice that they develop over the years. I like adding a lot of interesting little details that I hope will enhance the author’s words.


What advice would you give readers who are interested in illustration or art? What was your favorite art project as a kid? What inspired you to become an illustrator?

I think you should do what you love but don’t expect an easy road ahead. For every job I’ve been contracted for, I have probably gotten over twenty rejections before that one job came through. So you need to listen to construction criticism and grow with each project. Art styles may be popular one year then passé the next and you have to stay true to yourself but at the same time evolve and keep up with technology and what publishers are looking for. It’s not for everybody and it’s not easy.

When I was young (not a kid but early twenties) I liked sewing and fashion design a lot. My mom used to sew all our clothes growing up and she taught me to sew as well. I was never as skilled as her but became fascinated by what went into making clothes and how fashion evolved through history. It’s pretty amazing what lengths people go through to be fashionable and the role that clothing has played through history; from the bound feet of the Chinese women, to quilters sewing quilt codes to guide slaves in the Underground Railroad, to the revolutionary mini skirt, to tattoos and body piercing today. Fashion makes cultural and political statements around the world and I’ve always been interested in that. I considered being a fashion illustrator and did a summer abroad program in Paris, France with Parson School of Design which was a life changing experience. But I have to say when my kids were little and I started reading children’s books I knew that was it for me. And I feel very lucky to still be illustrating children’s books today.


Readers don’t have to wait long for new books by Cathy.  Coming to stores in February is Daisylocks, an adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Marianne Berkes,  and more dinosaurs will be hitting bookshelves this fall with Dino Treasures set for release in August 2014. Stay connected with Sylvan Dell Publishing to find out more!



All About Artist Shennen Bersani

Shennen Bersani has two million copies of her books cherished and read by families throughout the world, including Astro: The Steller Sea Lion and The Glaciers are Melting! for Sylvan Dell Publishing.  She has been a freelance illustrator since 1989, and her art delivers a unique blend of realism, heartfelt emotion, and life lessons for all ages.


How does art impact other areas of your life?

The art of illustration is somewhat unique, but it has similarities to artists working in other forms of art, e.g., ballet, music, photography, and painting. People who are successful in these areas and want to stay on top of their game, must work at it for long hours every day and have little time for much else.

Since my art is somewhat less typical in that it provides more emotion, near-realism, and detail throughout, it takes longer and more hours to create. I also spend time and doing up front research and referencing, many times traveling to far away places. This provides better accuracy and allows me to create the level of detail normally found in my books.  

Based on these needs, the time required per week is very demanding.  However, the time spent while working is very enjoyable to me.  It does get challenging though, when you have children with many types of needs, you want some time with your friends, and you have a day-to-day home to operate. Somehow though, it miraculously works. Mostly, because all the people in my life are supportive of me and my work, and they understand what drives me.       

What is the most difficult thing about illustration/being an illustrator?

I find the most challenging aspect of my career trying to juggle doing my work and making time for my loved ones.  As noted in the previous answer, my illustrations take far more hours than typical. When a need arises during the day and pulls me away from my work, I will typically work throughout most of the night to keep from falling behind.     

Do you think that the digitization of so many areas of book publishing-especially picture books-is a good thing or bad thing?

I do not believe it is a good or bad thing.  I do believe it’s inevitable. 

Certainly computers have impacted my illustrations for the better. Instead of having my finished art sent out to be photographed or drum scanned, obviously I do all that now in-house quickly and conveniently.   I see the biggest impact on time management, especially with using colored pencils.  Once upon a time I used colored pencils exclusively.  It isn’t a very forgiving medium.  It’s challenging erasing and making corrections.  Actually, rather frustrating if you make a mistake.   Now, with Photoshop, I feel free to experiment and make mistakes, for I can easily change them – on my illustrations.  A much different world if I am creating fine art to be exhibited.  Every stroke needs to be thought out in my head.  There’s no ‘history’ window with a rubber eraser.  

The world of data, text, print, photos, video, and film have always been in a considerable state of transition.  The speed at which it transitions will continue to increase more and more over time.  The reason publishing seems like such a big change, is because the sources of information the general public uses every day are changing much more rapidly than in the publishing business.  It becomes expensive for everyone to keep up with the current technology.

Digital books are great in the fact that a person can download them quickly and easily.  I have many of them myself.  But personally, I dislike being a slave to a power cord.  I’d rather hold a book in my hands, touch the art, turn the pages.  I don’t feel sitting in front of a computer for any length of time is a healthy activity for a young child.  Nor would I want to give an expensive iPad to a toddler to drop onto the floor.  I’m hoping the world always has a place for a physical book.

How do you think it has impacted your art?

The Cintiq I use allows me to create art directly on it’s screen.  This provides better clarity, detail, and better results with repetitive strokes. 

Another effect is in the layout of the art.  Most art is not adequately designed for use on eReaders.  Borders, text size, design layout, and text contrast to background are all areas that need to be adjusted.  I now need to make more room for digital text than I had for printed books.


What is your favorite technique or medium for illustrations?

I like to use my colored pencils.  I used a mix of colored pencils paint and some crayons, before adding some elements using my Cintiq.  I find the Cintiq very effective for drawing in whiskers and fur on my animals.  

How do you create the life-like quality seen in Astro and The Glaciers are Melting?

First, I research my subjects extensively and become very familiar with what I am illustrating.  I’ve graduated from planting gardens in my yard for reference to traveling around the country, seeking out the best reference material possible.  This will include bringing home actual items, on-site field sketches, and taking photos.

I create my finished illustrations larger than they will be printed…  it is amazing how loose and sloppy they can look blown up as compared to when they are shrunk down.  I also use many layers of color, one on top of another.  I feel this gives my art depth.

Do you try and do all your research before starting on a project, or add details as you go?

I become immersed in a project right at the beginning!  With Astro The Steller Sea Lion my research brought me from Boston, MA, to Mystic, CT, San Francisco, CA, Sausalito, CA, Corte Madera, CA, and Santa Cruz, CA.  All before I ever picked up a pencil to do preliminary sketches.  The on-site research allows me to provide more accuracy and detail, which show up as more realistic too.  


As someone who is such a long-standing and successful illustrator, what advice do you have for anyone interested in working with children’s picture books?

I get so wrapped up in creating my illustrations I find very little time to do anything else.  I admit I am very poor at answering emails, phone calls, mowing my lawn, and dusting.  Not that I desire to neglect these other areas of my life, it’s just that everything eventually takes a back seat to my work.  Creating art is my obsession.

I’d suggest an artist get wrapped up in their work and make it their obsession.  Go to the library, hang out in bookstores.  Read and reread as many picture books as you can.  Get a feel for characters.  Sketch often.  Bring your sketchbook with you everywhere you go.  Take classes.  Take more classes.  Join the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators.  Network with fellow illustrators.  Go to art exhibits, visit museums.  Observe, observe, observe.  And most of all, believe in your self and follow your dream! 

To learn more about Shennen visit her website at or see her at

Get to Know Barbara Mariconda, Author of Ten for Me

Barbara Mariconda is the award winning author of two Sylvan Dell Publishing books, Sort it Out! and the Fall 2011 release Ten for Me, in addition to being a professor, mentor teacher, and partner in an educational seminar and consulting firm.

Where did the inspiration for the butterfly catching in Ten for Me come from?

I have a garden in front of my house that attracts butterflies of all kinds. They are delicate and strong at the same time. I love that dichotomy of delicate and strong. I suppose I tried to capture a little of those characteristics evident in my own personality.

What are the most frequently asked questions you encounter as an author?

Most people ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The answer to that is that I believe stories are expressions of our unconscious mind — reflections of the emotions, issues, concerns and questions we only look at in a superficial way on a conscious level. In fact, I believe all art forms — music, visual and theatre arts, as well as writing — are all vehicles for this kind of powerful self expression. It’s why people write — not to make a ton of money, not for any kind of fame, but because it is so satisfying to tap into the unconscious self.

What is something no one ever asks you about writing or being an author that you would like to share?

No one really asks about the amount of time, energy, resilience, and persistence it takes to get published. The effort is a testament to a driving force within the author that is all about the process and little about the end result. Writers write because there is something in them that needs to be expressed. And the process is life-giving. It allows the writer to deal with disappointment and rejection.

Why is teaching kids about math so important?

Math is not usually an end unto itself, rather it’s a way to think, analyze, quantify and ob-jectify reality. When kids learn to think mathematically, they learn a variety of ways to see and to think about other aspects of life.

What has writing taught you about yourself?

I’ve learned that what I write about is always a symbol, a powerful metaphor for some aspect of myself I seek to know or understand better. I don’t think authors intentionally create symbols in their writing — the symbols emerge from within and often inform and empower the writer as well as the reader. As I look over Sort it Out! I begin to wonder what aspects of my life need to be sorted through, and how many ways I might group and regroup everything important to me. This is why I have a passion for teaching chil-dren about writing — to empower them to use the written word as a means of opening the channels of self reflection and self expression.

Any advice for children who someday hope to become writers?

As you go through your days NOTICE everything. Look carefully at the people, places, and feelings in your life. Before you can write you need to learn how to really SEE. Question everything. Ask why, how come, why not, what if? Write every day. Never give up. Believe in your own view of the world. And write it true.

Barbara Mariconda is an author of children’s books, an educator (K-6), a mentor teacher, and an adjunct professor of Children’s Literature and Process Writing. Barbara has also written a wide variety of musicals, songs, novels, and numerous professional books for teachers. She frequently speaks on the topic of writing for and with children, and provides professional development for teachers at seminars across the country. She lives in Connecticut where she is a partner in the educational seminar and consulting firm, Empowering Writers, LLC., and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Visit Barbara’s website at, see Sort it Out! at, and don’t forget Ten for Me, which releases this Fall.

Get to know Marianne Berkes, Author of Animalogy: Animal Analogies

Marianne Berkes is the award-winning author of many titles, including the upcoming new release from Sylvan Dell Publishing, Animalogy: Animal Analogies.  She is a retired teacher and librarian who turned her love of nature and teaching into writing. 

What drew you to writing, children’s books especially?
  As a child our home was filled books and music.  I wrote plays that my friends and I performed in the summer in our back yard.— my Dad even helped us build some of the scenery.  Reading, writing, music and theater have been a constant in my life. In high school I did interviews for the school paper, and in college wrote my first picture book for a Children’s Lit class.  But it was many years later, after I moved to Florida, that I said “I can do this!” Reading so many books to children at the library where I worked, I kept coming up with ideas of my own.  Because I love kids and love “words,” I started submitting my stories to publishers, and one day……

 What do you hope children get out of your stories?
 An appreciation of our Earth and a respect for nature.   I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and still do.  Discovering nature is a life-long adventure that I hope kids today still appreciate. Nature has so many stories to tell and is available to anybody, any place, any time.  I hope kids will be entertained by my books, but also that they will want to learn more about the topic I’ve written about.  My first book published in 2000 was about frogs making music in the night.  Hopefully after reading this book, kids will go outside in the early evening, especially after a rain, and listen for the sounds I’ve written about.  I’ve followed with stories about birds, shells, creatures living in an ocean reef, rainforest animals, animals that migrate, Arctic animals and Australian animals.  I’ve also written a book about the planets that I hope kids enjoy. How can we ask them to save the earth, if they don’t learn to appreciate it first?  My books are in lyrical verse, making it easy and fun for kids to read, with lots of facts blended in.  I want kids to really get inside my books, to read them more than once, each time finding something new and exciting!

What tips do you have to encourage young readers?
READ! READ! READ!  Reading can take you to so many places, near and far.  Also,   open your eyes to the world around you.  Ideas are everywhere!  When you get an idea, write about it.  It’s a wonderful way to express what you feel or see.  And if you don’t know much about the topic you are writing about, do some research.  It can be so much fun, kind of like a treasure hunt, because you never know what else you will discover.  I do a lot of research for each book I write, using lots of reference books and on the Internet.

What other authors do you look up to?
There are so many that I have come to love over the years, having been a children’s librarian.  I’m a huge fan of author/illustrators like Eric Carle and Kevin Henkes whose touching stories with perfect illustrations can be read again and again. I’m envious that they write so beautifully and illustrate.  Patricia Polacco is another one that comes to mind; she is a wonderful storyteller!  Naturally I enjoy authors who write in rhyme like Jean Marzollo and Stephanie Calmenson, and repetition like Laura Numeroff, since that’s what I like to do.  Kids love rhythm, rhyme and repetition. It’s like making music with words. When you ask specifically which authors do a good job creating a learning environment, the three that come to mind first are April Pulley Sayre, Steve Jenkins and Anthony D. Fredericks. After I write this I’m sure I’ll think of a lot more who write “creative non-fiction” including your Sylvan Dell authors, of course!

What is the most rewarding thing about having your books published?
That I get to read my books to kids in schools and libraries.  I hope they will be inspired to keep reading and also write stories of their own.  Actually, though, the kids inspire me, and often give me ideas for a book. I was reading Marsh Music, which ends with a bird beginning the music of the day, when a student planted a seed!  “I know what your next book is going to be!” he said with assurance.  I wondered how he knew, because I was working on a book about seashells, but hadn’t told anybody.  The boy assumed it would be a book about birds.  The next day I was out at the crack of dawn recording bird sounds and researching bird species.  I wrote Marsh Morning as a companion book to Marsh Music and set Seashells by the Seashore aside for a while.

 To learn more about Animalogy or Marianne Berkes check out or on the Sylvan Dell website at

Get to Know Jennifer Keats Curtis

Jennifer is the author of two great Sylvan Dell books: Turtles in My Sandbox, and Baby Owl’s Rescue. She was nice enough to answer a few questions for Sylvan Dell about her books and writing.

What advice do you have for writers looking to develop or maintain a regular writing schedule?

Regular?! From personal experience—with a very active and fun family including pets; working on books and writing and editing for two magazines; and speaking at schools, I find it nearly impossible to maintain a regular anything! However, I find that, for me, I have to set aside time to write as soon as I’ve finished my research; otherwise, my motivation (and memory) fizzles.

 What are the most frequent questions you receive as an author?

Kids often ask me why I write. I write because I’m nosy! For one thing, when you tell people you are a writer, they start dishing their deepest, darkest secrets, which is always great fun. Plus, the writing process allows me to learn about things I’d otherwise not have the opportunity to know about—like terrapins, owls, and wildlife rehabilitators—and to get answers from real experts.

 What do you hope that children will learn from your stories?

I hope my readers find my words and the illustrator’s fabulous art entertaining and interesting and that they learn a new fact and consider possible ways that they might help animals in need.

 How do your personal experiences shape your stories?

When I was a kid, I didn’t think I liked history. I struggled to memorize dates, facts, and leaders’ names. However, as an adult, I began reading historical nonfiction, and not only do I love it, I have discovered that I remember those important facts love history because it’s written as a story. As an author, I love writing realistic fiction because this is the genre that allows me to create an entertaining story without preaching important information about animals and the ways in which we can help them.

 What does being a green author mean to you?

It’s really an honor that the kids have nicknamed me the “Green Author!” I’m lucky to be able to research and learn about ways we can help our environment from kids, teachers, and experts. I love being able to pass some of this advice along in person and through my writing.

Jennifer Keats Curtis wants to help bring children close to the animals in their own backyards.  By diligently researching her topic and interviewing real experts, including children working to help preserve and protect local wildlife, the journalist has developed a knack for teaching young children about important ecological issues and what they can do to help. Jennifer’s first book, Oshus and Shelly Save the Bay, won the Frederick Douglass Award (Maryland Council of Teachers of English Language Arts). She also wrote Osprey Adventure, based on the work of Peter McGowan, a biologist with US Fish & Wildlife. Most days, Jennifer can be found among students and teachers, talking about literacy or conservation. She also regularly presents writing workshops to elementary school sudents. When she’s not in schools, Jennifer contributes to several magazines and serves as editor-at-large for Maryland Life Magazine. Avid fans of anything having to do with the outdoors, Jennifer and her family spend their summers in and on the Chesapeake Bay. She resides in Maryland, with her family and a wide variety of pets, including a turtle. Visit Jennifer’s website at

Quick Q & A With Illustrator Susan Detwiler

Susan Detwiler is the award-winning illustrator of several picture books, including Pandas’ Earthquake Escape (Mom’s Choice Award), One Wolf Howls (Nautilus Book Award), and the new spring 2011 release Big Cat, Little Kitty for Sylvan Dell Publishing. She very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the SD blog.

You have a very creative professional background—what led you to children’s illustration? 

I have loved making art from early childhood, and was always attracted to books with great illustrations. By the time I was in high school I decided that being a professional illustrator was my goal. I went to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and studied graphic design and illustration. While I was a student I worked part-time as a sign painter. After that I got a job in the art department of a printing company, where I learned about how artwork is reproduced. Eventually, I was hired as a staff illustrator for an advertising agency and while I worked there I also began freelancing at night and on weekends. I liked freelance work so much that I decided to do it exclusively. My favorite assignments are for children’s publishing and so I seek them out, with help I have found from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

What type of medium do you use for your illustrations? Any particular reason you prefer this?

Pencil is my favorite medium for drawing, but I like watercolor and gouache for painting, and I enjoy drawing in ink, either with a pen or a brush. The illustrations for One Wolf Howls were done in watercolor on Strathmore illustration board, but Pandas’ Earthquake Escape was done entirely in soft pastel on variously colors of paper, which was a fun departure from my usual style. For Big Cat, Little Kitty, I combined the two — I applied pastel details to watercolor paintings — because I wanted the colors to be vibrant. Also, I have become more adept at digital media, and use it to augment my images.

How much research do you do when getting ready for a book?

I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a book assignment doing research at the library and online. I like to have many photographs in front of me when I work so that I can fully understand the structure, texture, and light/shadows of what I am trying to depict. It also helps to know other details about the subject, so along with gathering pictures I also read about what I am illustrating. 

What is the most frequently asked question you are asked as an illustrator?

I am often asked how long it takes me to do an illustration. Each spread takes several weeks from start to finish.

Any tips for aspiring artists?

Make art often and practice different styles by mimicking your favorite artists’ work. Eventually you will have a style that is all your own. Use your ability to make images wherever possible in school, to illustrate reports, make posters for school events, etc.

What is your favorite aspect of the illustration process?

My ideas feed off the ideas of others. When I am given an exciting assignment, my head fills with images and I cannot wait to start to work in the morning. Each new job is an exciting challenge; sometimes I can hardly believe how lucky I am to get paid to do this! My new goal is that my pictures touch people in the same way that I was affected by the illustrations I saw as a child.

Be sure to check out Susan’s website at
For more information about any of Susan’s Sylvan Dell titles, be sure to visit