Taratories Blog

More Than Meets the Eye

Recently I did an art lesson with my art class based on the book, "Over and Under the Snow" by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.  The book takes readers on a trip through the woods in winter discovering the secret world of animals living under the snow.  

I decided that collage would be a good medium of choice for this project.  They were allowed to use a mix of construction papers and pieces from magazines.  I instructed them to start from the top and work their way down, that way they could overlap their pieces without covering anything important.  The goal was to have 3 layers including the background (sky), middle ground (landscape), and underground! I love the affect of the different white pieces from magazines that were used to create the snow.  There is so much more shading and texture that comes from using magazine pieces compared to just using white paper.  

I taught them how to draw a variety of animals that they could draw and put into their scenes.  I showed them step by step how to draw an owl, squirrel, bear, mouse, and a fox.  I love the variety of scenes that they came up with!  As I thought about these underground winter habitats, I thought about how sometimes we are fooled by other surfaces we encounter.  Just like these animals that are hidden from the naked eye, in the same way we are fooled by what we see on the surface of people in the world around us.  Sometimes it takes getting to know people on a deeper level to find out what is really going on inside.  I am guilty of making judgements of people based on my first impressions, but I want to work hard to always give people a chance to show who they really are.

I also have a friend a fellow artist here in Akron named Deborah Shapiro http://deborahshapiroart.com/ who creates works of art from torn pages of magazines.  I shared this video of hers to my students to give them some inspiration for their collages...

"Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billy Graham": Book by Jess Archer, Cover by Moi

In the fall of 2014, my dear friend Jess proposed that I design the book cover for a book that she was writing.  After several years of writing this book, she finally completed a manuscript that was destined to be.  Her life story was now a memoir in the pages of a book, telling the story of a girl growing up within the Billy Graham Association. Her father was the director of all the Billy Graham crusades and moving all over the world left her with some amazing memories but also her quest for "home".  

I had never designed a book cover before, so my first item of business was to ask Jess a million questions.  "What was the feel you wanted for the book?"  "Did you want to conjure up a certain emotion?"  "What were to be the subjects?"  "Preference on color palette?" Etc., etc. After gathering all the information together I began.  I painted a young girl leaving a town with a solemn face.  Gritty environment, pops of color found in the symbolic bumper stickers, a little reflection of waving hands.  Each detail important to the cover as a whole. 

After I completed this cover, the consensus was that by having a girl on the cover it might narrow the audience.  It was important to make the book appealing to both man and woman, because it is a book that everyone can appreciate.  So with that, we decided it would be best to make another cover.

I kept the second cover gender neutral with the van being the only subject.  This particular van was significant to Jess because this was the kind of van that their family drove through these particular years covered in the book.  I decided to include maps from some of the places that she lived in the clouds and bumper.  This cover went through lots of changes.  It was a challenge to create a cover that was kind of solemn but kind of hopeful at the same time.  The sky changed colors a lot of times, the clouds went from rainy to not so rainy, solid road to a road that showed movement... all things that help portray the feeling that she wanted in the book.  Art is such a process, and when I do work for others it is sometimes more challenging because I don't have the vision in my head to use for reference.  I am simply going off of another persons words.

We came across another challenge along the way.  I used the famous Beatles logo with the drop down "T" which was a definite "no no".  I wasn't even thinking that using this bumper sticker would be a copyright issue, but it indeed was.  It took so many hours to find the contact information we needed to get permission.  After all the time searching, our contact said that we could not use it.  I definitely learned my lesson through this experience. Just when I thought I was done with the cover, I was not!  I had to make another, more generic, Beatles bumper sticker.   One of the last finishing touches was the license plate. It is actually a photo of an actual license plate that was used on their van and it has great symbolism in the book.  

Now we come to the end of this book cover journey, and this is where the funny part happens!  I had this canvas professionally photographed and the photographer pinned it up on a black background and said, "lets just get the canvas edges in here incase they want to use that material on the spine of the book or something."  When I designed the layout of the painting, I left room in the sky for the title and room on the road on the bottom for her name.  All that changed the day that Jess got the preview of the book jacket sent to her email.  The graphics designer who did the layout of the jacket included the entire photograph of the canvas with the border and raw edges! He definitely had a different vision in his head than we did!  When I opened my email, Jess called me and we laughed on the phone together as I tried to process what had just happened.  I had envisioned it looking so different, but it turns out I actually think this was a better design!  The black really makes the painting pop which will make the book more eye-catching on the shelves.  I love the way it feels like it could be a page out of her journal or something which relates with it being a memoir.  Note the way that the canvas is slightly crooked and how the edges of my paint and pencils are spilling over onto the border.  These things give it more of an earthy, organic, authentic, and slightly imperfect feel which is what Jess was going for anyway!  Seeing it for the first time made me feel vulnerable.  I felt so exposed with my imperfect edges, etc.  I can be a perfectionist when it comes to details but I had to set that aside with a dose of humility and agree that this was the better design!

Art is always a journey.  Continue with me on this journey and pick up your copy of "Finding Home with the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billy Graham" in just a few weeks!  Its going to be quite a ride...  

To follow the latest happenings with Jess and to read some more of her writing visit her website at:


This video is a glimpse into the book and Jess' life.  It was created for a crowd funding campaign but is a personal interview with Jess that you won't want to miss!