Aside from the fact that alligators live in her neighborhood just outside of Houston, and that her youngest daughter has a favorite alligator (the stuffed kind), Roberta Baird understands all the right things when it comes to illustrating The Swamp Where Gator Hides.
Roberta understands kids: she was a Montessori teacher for grades one through three, as well as being the mother of four children. She understands children and drama: for many years she was a set designer for a children’s theater in Houston. She knows art: she has illustrated several children’s books. She knows animals: at home she has three dogs, a cat, rats, a hermit crab, fish, and birds, including a very colorful Amazon parrot. But that’s not all.
It was her digital illustrating abilities that got Roberta really excited about illustrating The Swamp Where Gator Hides. Her computer becomes her canvas, paints, and paintbrushes all rolled in one. Actually she still starts out on a project like this with old-fashioned pencil and paper. She makes sketches of the animals as she wants them to look, and then she sketches out the pages as she thinks they should be composed. And then she scans her sketches into the computer and starts painting digitally.
In front of her screen is a special tablet and a stylus, which looks like a pencil. She chooses the type of “brush” it should be, the color and texture. Made a mistake? Zap and it’s gone. Cleanup? No problem! And with her computer she can paint in layers, so the background is separate from animals in the foreground. They can be moved around in relation to each other. Having layers helps a lot if the book is made into a book app.
Regardless of her style of art, there’s no substitute for reading the book to kids. Recently she visited a kindergarten. When Roberta started reading the book, the kids all wanted to talk at once! But the pressing question of the day was . . . DID THE GATOR EAT THE FISH? Roberta illustrated it in such a way that it might have gotten caught—or maybe it got away. We’ll let you decide.