Simply 7 with Janice Hechter–“Adventure Girl: Dabi Digs in Israel”

Today I get to share another author illustrator picture book with you and this one fits into a very unique niche market!

Janice Hechter is an award-winning fine artist who has exhibited her paintings in various galleries and museums throughout the country. Janice has illustrated six picture books, including SCBWI Crystal Kite Award finalist, The Great Elephant Escape. You can learn more about her at her website.

ADVENTURE GIRL: DABI DIGS IN ISRAEL is her debut picture book as author illustrator, published by Alazar Press. It’s the story of a young girl who loves to dig and play in the dirt, but when she goes to visit her family in Israel, her parents keep telling her she needs to change.  She should wear a dress and behave more respectfully of her grandparents.  Yet her aunt intervenes and takes her to an archeological dig site, where digging is not only allowed, it has rich results!  This picture book focuses on the Beit Guvrin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the way kids can explore there.  What a marketing opportunity!

Welcome Janice.

Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey?  When did you first start drawing and/or painting?  How did that bring you to illustrating this book?

Janice: I have been drawing and painting from the time I was a little kid. I especially loved drawing portraits and would draw anyone who would sit still for me. And I still enjoy drawing and painting portraits! My degree from Carnegie Mellon University was in Illustration. I had been working as an Illustrator/Graphic Designer for many years before I began illustrating children’s books. But back then I was illustrating for an adult audience, creating posters, brochures, book covers, invitations, greeting cards, and logos.

I first started noticing children’s book illustrations when my daughter was born. I was reading to her all the time and enjoyed looking at the artwork in many of the books. It was then that I knew I wanted to illustrate children’s books. After illustrating several books I had a new goal, and that was to both write and illustrate a picture book. It took many years and working away at manuscripts for that to happen. 

Me: Can you talk a little bit about how you create your illustrations?  Do you use traditional media or digital?  Or both? 

Janice: I create all my illustrations digitally. I have been drawing on a computer since it was first an option. The drawing tools have come a long way and are quite sophisticated now. Back then I was limited to drawing with a mouse and polygons. When Painter came out and I got a Wacom tablet, I was thrilled to be able to draw with a pen. I did the illustrations for this book using Corel Painter, but since that time I purchased an IPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Procreate. I love being able to draw directly on my tablet and the results have been fantastic! In the future I will draw all my illustrations that way.

I had a young girl model as Dabi for this book.  Here is a photo of her posing as if holding a sifter, my black and white sketch, and the final illustration. I also searched for photos of dig sites and sifters to use as references when creating the illustration.

Me: Wow!  That’s incredible. You’ve illustrated several other authors’ books.  This is the first book that you’ve both written and illustrated.  Which was harder: writing or illustrating?  Why?

Janice: I would say writing because I made so many revisions to the text. For this book, as in all the other stories I have written, my biggest hurdle was in paring down the word count. I tend to write too much. After that, I kept looking at the story with fresh eyes each day, noticing something that needed alteration every time I revisited the manuscript. I did not make anywhere near as many adjustments to the illustrations.

Me: Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut!  What draws you to writing and illustrating picture books specifically over other genres?

Janice: Thank you! Picture books combine my two favorite art forms, writing and illustrating. To me, it’s a duo that can’t be beat. There are other writing genres that offer the opportunity for book covers and small black and white interior illustrations. But I prefer the larger canvas and wealth of colors picture books allow.

Me: This book fits a very specific market (among others), filling the need for books for kids at the Beit Guvrin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Was this something you thought of on your own? Or did they approach you about the story in a work-for-hire situation?  What gave you the idea?

Janice: Adventure Girl is a story that I thought up on my own. Although people who work in organizations affiliated with Beit Guvrin National Park have since expressed interest in and requested copies of the book, Beit Guvrin did not approach me about this story and it was not a work-for-hire situation. The book was published by Alazar Press.

The idea of writing a picture book about archaeology had been percolating in my mind for quite some time after I had attended several archaeology lectures at a local college. There were so few picture books on this topic and I felt there was a need for it. Although I had a subject in mind, I still didn’t have my story. Then one day I walked into my house and the idea suddenly came to me. It just clicked and I knew I had it.

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?

Janice: The one thing that surprised me was how much work it takes to draw archaeological dig sites. But I must say I enjoyed it, especially experimenting with different rock textures.

Me: Any additional advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?

Janice: Join a critique group or work with individual critique partners. I learned so much from critique partners. Getting honest, to the point feedback is invaluable. Be prepared for constructive criticism. It’s a big part of the writing process. And stick to it!

Great advice.  Thank you for stopping by my blog Janice.

Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to check out this book, you should give it a read.  It might spark an idea for you about a unique market no one else has thought about.  I’m sure there are sites all over the world just waiting for the perfect story like this one that will appeal to the kids who visit them.

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