Elizabeth Person began her work to illustrate a children’s book not with her customary ink pen and paints, but with a camera.
The Everett watercolorist took a trip to Orcas Island and captured more than 1,000 images to help guide her in her task.
She was hired to illustrate a book set in the San Juan Islands, “To Live on an Island,” by California author Emma Bland Smith.
“I went for a very long day and drove all over Orcas,” Person said. “I wanted every page to be grounded in a real place on the island.”
Person, 35, is known for her illustrated maps and informational art, such as her drawings of the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Range that list their names and elevations. She will be one of the working artists at Fresh Paint, Everett’s art festival, for the fourth time this year. Her “Everett Sketcher” feature appears quarterly in Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald.
In 2017, Person made the leap from working part time to full time as an artist. Three weeks later, she received an email from an editor at Sasquatch Books in Seattle. The publishing company had purchased a manuscript about a boy living in the San Juan Islands and wanted Person to illustrate it.
Person had hoped to illustrate a children’s book. “This was a character-based book, which was an exciting challenge for me,” she said.
The text is simple, geared for children 3 to 8 years old, so she tried to enhance the story through her drawings.
Person has a long-time familiarity with the geography and waters of the San Juan Islands. Her family moved from California to the Lake Stevens area when she was 8. Her father was a private pilot, flying a 1959 Piper Comanche.
“Every weekend my parents tried to take us somewhere new,” she said. One of the first places they traveled to were the San Juan Islands, just a 20-minute flight from a private airpark in Lake Stevens.
One of her most vivid memories from those trips was the surprise of looking down to see gray whales swimming below.
All those experiences helped guide her as she began work on illustrating the book, which she set out to complete in about three months. While illustrators are usually given a year to work on such a project, Person made a goal to do it in a fraction of the time.
“It made for some long, lonely days,” she said.
She created her drawings in January, February and March, typically dark, stormy months. The book is set in late spring, depicting a day in the life of a young boy and his family.
Person starts an illustration with ink for the technical drawing, then adds watercolor to turn a black-and-white image into a vibrant one.
For the book, she included animals in every two-page illustration, such as orcas, eagles, otters, seagulls, deer, humpback whales, cats, dogs, a goldfinch, octopus and sheep. “That was part of my research — what kind of animals live on the island,” she said.
Locals will recognize some of the scenes depicted, such as one based on Grandma’s Cove on the southern part of San Juan Island.
Person said she wanted to illustrate a children’s book in part because she feels that the best art is found in them. Among her favorite children’s book illustrators are Carson Ellis (“Wildwood”) Trina Schart Hyman (“Saint George and the Dragon”) and Bill Peet, who specialized in including animals in his work. “I loved those as a kid,” she said.
Person said her advice to children who like to draw and may want to pursue it as an adult is practice, practice, practice.
At a talk she gave at the Everett Library last week, she offered proof that she follows the advice she gives, pulling out sketchbooks with her drawings from the past 10 years. “In particular, I wanted to show the children I keep practicing,” she said.
That work includes a trip she’ll soon make to Italy to take a watercolor class.
Her current projects include creating a map of the Richmond Beach neighborhood in Shoreline.
Her work on “To Live on an Island” led to two more book illustration projects, one involving a trip up the Inside Passage along the coast of British Columbia to Alaska, the other a memoir based in Port Townsend.
“It’s wonderful I can make a living as an artist,” she said. “I think the Northwest is art-friendly, with tons of artists. It seems like a little mecca for the arts.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Everett watercolorist Elizabeth Person is scheduled to do a reading and book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. June 22 at Nature Together, 619 Fourth St., Suite C, Mukilteo.