Adventures in Storytelling

I suppose it’s a good thing for an artist/writer to have an active imagination, but when I was writing The Hollow Cedar, the story seemed to take over my reality for a while. I became deeply immersed in the world I was creating.

It’s not unusual for authors to get wrapped up in their work—it’s probably one reason we like writing so much. It’s trippy.

When I was first planning The Hollow Cedar, I dreamed of telling the story through words and pictures—true illustrated fiction, the kind that hasn’t been done much since it fell out of favor in the early 20th century. The Hollow Cedar is a novel-length book aimed at early-young-adult readers, so it wouldn’t be a child’s picture-book, and I didn’t want to do a panel-style graphic novel, either. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to use illustrations to best serve the story—to intensify the immersive reading experience.



A Google search of ‘what is reading?’ will come up with a ton of academic discussions on the subject. But, for people who love to read, it feels more like magic. When you ‘get into’ a book, something happens in your head, almost like entering a meditative or hypnotic state. The words on the page seem to melt away and you enter another world. There’s science behind it, of course. Your brain is making mental connections between each printed word, its associated meaning and the warehouse of accumulated data in your own brain—your own imagination. Synapses fire, and the magic begins.

A good writer helps you get into this magical place. Once you’re there, the words on the page are like hypnotic suggestions. Dropped into your mental storehouse, each word can expand into whole volumes of meaning, and then, you’re off on a trip down the long pathways of your own mind, with the writer as your guide. You go deeper and deeper into the story until it feels like you’re right there with the characters: sword-fighting, or mountain-climbing, or having your first kiss.

So, once you’re there, the last thing a writer wants is a distraction that pulls the reader out of the experience. Reading, like hypnotism, requires a certain amount of concentration.

So, what to illustrate to help the reader enter deeper into their own imaginations? The story of the Hollow Cedar is quite visual, with settings ranging from the Amazon jungle to a Pacific Northwest old-growth forest. There are six main characters plus a dog and slew of wild animals and a fair bit of action. There were a lot of directions I could have taken with the artwork.

Ultimately, I decided I wanted the illustrations to serve as ‘portals’ the reader would enter as they begin down the pathway into the reading experience. The illustrations would fill in the gaps in the reader’s mental warehouse—they will be a springboard into the magic imaginative place you go to when you’re reading.



Here are some samples of illustrations I’ve done for various interpretive sign projects. These illustrations were paired with two or three brief sentences of text and are a different sort of illustration than I plan for The Hollow Cedar. (You didn’t really think I would show you the actual Hollow Cedar illustrations, did you?)

I did this illustration of pioneers on the Oregon Trail for the Idaho Power Company project.


This illustration I did for the BLM shows a shelter cabin in the Alaskan wilderness in the early days.


Now when I look at this illustration for Oregon State Parks, I worry that the little voyageur is going to accidentally shoot his own head off.


This illustration on an interpretive display for the U.S. Forest Service in Michigan shows how one of their historical pioneer cabins was used in the Depression era.