In this installation of Conversations with the Artist, editor Glenn Hovemann interviews author and illustrator Catherine Maria Woolf. Catherine is a graduate of art history at the University of California, Berkeley. As an artist, she deftly communicates the fresh joy of discovery in nature. She lives in Berkeley, California and says, “I love the nature and hiking here.” My First Hike is Catherine’s first book with Dawn Publications.
Glenn: Catherine, I can just imagine that you were sitting in the park one day and along came a sweet grandpa with a couple of young grandchildren and you followed them around with your easel. It probably didn’t happen that way at all! Let us in on the real story.
Catherine: Actually, one day when I was pulling out my sketch pad to practice drawing, I imagined what it would be like to be a kid again and to be out hiking with a grandpa. So I did an illustration of it. Since I really love nature, for a while each time I sat down to draw I continued doing more and more illustrations of the same little characters on an outdoor adventure.
Glenn: Is sketching in the park a kind of recreation for you?
Catherine: I like to bring a sketchbook along when I go hiking so that I can draw if I want to when I take a rest. Just looking at the beautiful scenery is very inspiring, so I find that I also take a lot of mental notes of what I see. Most of my sketching on paper, though, happens at home when I’m curled up in my favorite chair. But even then I sort of feel like I’m in a park. My room has large windows that look out on wonderful trees (I love trees!), hills, plants and flowers. Lots of different birds, squirrels, even deer occasionally appear right outside the windows. In the evenings a raccoon family often scurries past one window that’s at foot level outside and sometimes peeks inside!
Glenn: And you wrote as well as illustrated the book, of course. What came first, the words or the pictures?
Catherine: The pictures. At first I did most of the illustrations just for fun and practice, without even intending to make a book out of them. At some point, out of curiosity, I arranged them to form a wordless story. Later I added just a few words. They helped to gently connect the images together. Then I did some more illustrations as needed. I wanted to use as few words as possible, leaving the images to tell most of the story and letting the reader’s imagination add to it too.
Glenn: It’s a really simple book, of course, but that’s part of its charm.
Catherine: Because it’s a very simple book, at first I didn’t even consider sending it to a publisher. The project had been a joy, and when I was done, I just put it away in a drawer. Two years later I took it out to show my sister. Her face lit up, and she encouraged me to send it to a publisher. So I gave it a try. It’s a board book for the very young.
Glenn: How do you hope this book will be used?
Catherine: I’ve always wanted to do something to help promote appreciation for wildlife. I hope the book will put smiles on lots of little children’s faces and that grownups and children will feel inspired to visit a park together or explore their own backyard. Even if in a small way, I hope this book will help to nurture children’s natural love of animals and nature.