Posted by Angelica R. Jackson
Rachel Allen Dillon took some time from her busy life as a mom and author/illustrator extraordinaire to answer some questions about her projects. She's also generously provided a signed copy of her book to give away (details below)! Thanks, Rachel!
Rachel graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Art, emphasizing Graphic Design. She combined a passion for animals, children, and creative expression, to write and illustrate her first book, Through Endangered Eyes - a poetic journey into the wild (Albert Finney/Windward Publications, 2009). She is currently working on a second endangered species book, Through Desert Eyes (Finney/Windward Publications, Spring 2012). Rachel completed the text and research last summer, and is now working on the illustrations.
ARJ: If I remember correctly, in your first book, Through Endangered Eyes, you did the paintings first and the poems later. But for Through Desert Eyes, you've done the opposite--poems first, followed by the artwork. Why the change in technique, and do you recommend one way over the other?
Many of my illustrations for Through Endangered Eyes were painted first, and then I wrote the poems. Often, I didn’t connect the two. I figured the paintings, which were mostly just animal portraits in dots, worked fine on their own, and so did the poems. It wasn’t until I was starting to wrap up the first book that I started to allow the words of the poetry inspire the images. You can see that in “Speed of the Herd,” and “Worried about Melting World.” These illustrations are telling a story, and the poems take that story even further.
I am doing things differently for the second book, “Through Desert Eyes,” which is slated for a late Spring 2012 release. Each animal’s illustration spans across both pages, so that the words of the poem are sitting on the painting. I think it’s a much more powerful connection between the poem and the image. I wrote the book first, and turn to the words to inspire my illustrations. What’s funny though is that the last illustration I completed, which is more dynamic than my initial sketches, doesn’t fit the poem. So, I’ve gone back and revised the poem to fit the illustration. I guess that’s the benefit of being both the writer and artist, I have that flexibility.
ARJ: You've been to Australia, an influence that is clear in your dot painting. Did your travels there inspire you in other ways?
We traveled to Australia three times to visit family. My first trip there was when I was seven, a highly influential time in my life. My Australian uncle, who is very proud of his country, sent me a book when I was a teenager about Australian endangered species. I think that was the first time I really became aware there was a problem on our planet. I knew that panda’s were endangered, but seeing a book, and it was a big book, filled with endangered animals made an impact on me.
I was nineteen when I was exposed to Aboriginal acrylic dot painting. I had just decided to major in art at UW, Madison. It was a time when I was taking art history, and trying an assortment of mediums to figure out who I was as an artist. I combined how aesthetically pleasing mosaics were to me, and acrylic dot painting, and started to create my own style. To this day my technique is evolving (as you can see in this cheetah painting from Through Desert Eyes).
ARJ: Any cool facts you came across while doing research for Through Desert Eyes that you'd like to share? Do you have a new "favorite animal"?
Sometimes, I think my “ah ha,” moments seem silly to adults, but are great for kids. It makes sense that all desert species are able to handle living in such an extreme environment, but as I researched the animals that range from fish, reptile, marsupial and mammal it still shocked me how much they have in common.
As far as my favorite animal in the desert book, my heart strings are always pulled by big cats. I already know the cheetah will be my favorite painting, and I’m only a third of the way done with the illustrations. I think the species I’ve been most surprised by is the Desert Pupfish--now there is an extreme survivor.
ARJ: What else are you working on?
I am working on two young adult contemporary fantasies, one about young witches, and another about a girl that is part-lion (only on the inside.) I have gone back and forth between them, but I’m spending most of my time on a book titled, “The Lion Within.” I really enjoy this type of writing. I have been working on “The Lion Within” for two years, and have learned so much in the process, especially with the help of the two critique groups I work with.
Thanks so much, Rachel! And if you'd like to win a signed copy of Through Endangered Eyes, Honorable Mention Winner of the Eric Hoffer Award 2010, please leave a comment by Sunday, June 19 @9 PM Pacific (extended from Friday, June 17) and make sure to include your email if it's not in your profile. Winner will be announced on Monday May 20! (Sorry, only able to mail the book within the U.S)