Color and creativity burst from the pages in the charmingly whimsical picture book, Santa’s Sleigh-Train, written by Dorinda Shelley with illustrations by Nora Hutton. Simply put, it’s the perfect holiday gift for both children and adults, transporting readers to a magical, wintry world through Nora’s enchanting artwork.
An author, as well as an artist, Nora has illustrated several books, including Sea Turtle’s Journey, which she also wrote. The lyrical text matches the playfulness of the illustrations, making it another excellent gift idea.
Tell me a bit about your journey as an artist?
I began illustrating children’s books about fourteen years ago. The first books I illustrated were for retired dermatologist and writer Dorinda Shelley. Our collaboration led to a series of three books, each introducing a science topic, namely Helium. The inclusion of Dorinda’s farmette, where she and her husband raised their three children, provided a setting for the books. These people, animals, and their four-pillar house began my career as an illustrator.
Most writers and artists can name people and/or events from their childhood that have influenced their art… Does anything from that time period stand out for you?
I began scribbling and doodling at an early age. My father used to donate the cardboard from his new shirt purchases to my juvenile efforts at drawing. My mother and father gave us fantastic coloring books replete with Kings and Queens. I can’t say I always stayed within the lines, but it gave me the opportunity to aim for something elite.
In school my first color sense came from a French class I had in kindergarten. I remember sitting in an attic classroom at Ibstock Place in London. I remember learning colors and the French words for each, via a colors-specific magic-marker dot placed adjacent to the word on a white board.
I also had a nice bookshelf full of books by different authors and illustrators who continue to inspire me: Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, Tasha Tutor, and Eric Carle, and more.
How about when you were older? Any junior high or high school teachers that were memorable?
In junior high school I had an art teacher named Martin Nagy. He ran a terrific art room with all kinds of things like a potters wheel, enameling and embossing equipment, and regular things like pencils, crayons, and ink to create with. He even set us up with silkscreening and type-facing stuff.
In high school I had another good teacher named David Burkett. He had us do wonderful projects where we learned how to think more, design more, and I enjoyed the art room which is now the Wolfe Gallery at Maumee Valley Country Day School in Toledo, Ohio. I recently had my first exhibition there.
I mostly work in pencil and watercolor. I enjoy pastels. both chalk and oil. I always feel there is lots to explore and feel inspiration comes from many things. I think children’s books are a wonderful medium for reasons that I continue to affirm in my work as a substitute teacher.
The variety of children’s wishes, wants, and needs–their ways of coping in a world where they are learning so many things–makes the possibility of communication through pages, enhanced by colorfully-illustrated pictures, an extraordinary thing to do for a living.
Outside of illustrating, what other areas of the art world have you explored?
I worked for a few years as an apprentice art conservator. I worked with three men who taught me some things about materials, the handling, restoration and conservation of objects and sculptures. One summer I went to Italy to work on a dig of Etruscan Art in Tuscany. A town nearby opened a museum which housed the work excavated from the dig. I used to stroll in the beautiful fields spotted with poppies, big round hay mounds, bright green grass, ladies dressed in black, and men sitting at cafes drinking at sundown. I started a children’s book then and stuffed its unfinished pages away somewhere in my luggage. I was told by mentors that I was good with my hands. I kept that thought in mind and then after some consultation with a few other people I decided to pick up my paints and pad and follow my pencil and brush into the world of children’s illustration and other art creations I make with my hands and heart.
I hope to make a few books in the coming years. I have ideas for children’s books, which I keep on a list in a notebook. I am engaged to be married in June, and my fiance Kevin Radwanski and I are taking a trip west with our camper and two dogs. Perhaps this will provide inspiration for a children’s book.
My friend and collaborator in the children’s book, The Lakeside Symphony Comes To Town, Amy Heritage, is a flautist. She and I have performed a few readings. She plays flute while we show images from the book and simultaneously I read the text. I would like to do more of these readings.
When approaching an illustrating project, how do you begin? What’s your process?
I look through books I take a lot of walks or go running, absorb nature and maybe something will come to me while I cook or begin sketching. I have a good grasp of art history, and I like to go to galleries and museums.
I begin to work as quickly as I can, juggling my first few ideas to create a dozen or so more. If I am collaborating, I read the text, make notes, and then develop illustrations through the extrapolation of images that filter through my mind.
I might listen to music, make a palette and begin to fill my paper with what is satisfying to me and my watercolor dreams. I never forget the young audience who may later look upon my completed effort, as somehow they are always near.