Thursday, January 8, 2015

Marla F. Jones on Life as a #Kidlit Writer/Illustrator

As a writer who can draw a bit, I have huge admiration for people who hone their skills in both fields, and thereby can illustrate their own books. One great example is today's guest, Marla F. Jones.

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I love books. I love reading. As a first grade teacher and mother of two, I read literally thousands of children's books. So when I retired from teaching, I promptly joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and began the on-line writing course at the Children’s Book Insider, or “the CBI Clubhouse.” My first real writing gig was creating curriculum activities for Augsburg Fortress Publishing. My first book, Ponder Porcupine, was written to supplement a piece of curriculum.
Susan York Meyers, a published author and friend, graciously mentored me through the process of writing for children. I  completed the Children’s Book Insider’s writing course (some parts more than once), joined a couple of critique groups, revised and polished, received additional critiques, revised and polished some more. I followed submission guidelines exactly and sent my manuscript to editors and agents. Rejections abounded, saying 'I like it, it just doesn't fit our line-up' or “really fun story, it’s just not for me”. So, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and publish it myself.
But did I have what it takes to illustrate my own picture book? As a teacher, I enjoyed working with beautiful papers, creating colorful bulletin boards and games. So, I created a few cut-paper art illustrations for my story and asked my family, friends and colleagues if the pictures were good enough for a children’s book. Everyone gave me an enthusiastic “thumbs up”!
I’m a folk artist. I am not classically trained but I’ve always had a deep appreciation for all types of visual media. Folk artists typically use bright, bold colors in a unique or unusual way. The illustrations for We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! include colorful papers, fabrics and found objects. Look close and you’ll spy twigs, pinecones, and textural objects. I especially love repurposing. After all, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”! The layers are assembled then scanned. Scanning causes shadows to appear, giving it a fun, 3-D look. The paper and the scanner do the shadows for me! At this point, with my computer I add highlights, shading, and tiny details as well as fix imperfections.
When author Susan Meyers saw the published book, We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark!, she liked the artwork and asked me to illustrate her picture book,  Grrr…Night!.  It stars a little monster who can’t go to sleep. My latest book, Let’s Follow Them!, came out in July 2014. I wrote and illustrated it, using the map of our city in the cover background.
I work hard at my craft. Every day. I attend writing conferences, take classes, and soak up everything I can about writing and illustrating picture books. I’m also the co-founder of a group called Next Generation Writers. Our slogan is “nurturing tomorrow’s storytellers and artists.” We teach writing/illustrating workshops to elementary students and adults.
What could be better? I get to do the things I love every day—teaching, writing and illustrating.
Full circle, right?
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Books written and/or illustrated by Marla F. Jones:
Let’s Follow Them! (available through Ingram and Amazon)
Grrr…Night!, written by Susan York Meyers, (available through Amazon or author/illustrator)
We’re Counting on Noah’s Ark! (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)
Ponder Porcupine (available through Amazon and Marla’s web site)

Learn more about Marla F. Jones on her website.
Purchase her books on Amazon


  1. Marla's "I work hard at my craft. Every day." is the inspiration I need for the day. :) I'm a writer who likes to paint and I'm always glad to read about writer-illustrators' journey.

  2. Marla, I'm so proud to know you. I've always admired your talent. Now others will get to know you and your work.

  3. Marla, Your work is awesome and I feel very blessed to have you as my critique partner!

  4. great piece, marla. love your commitment to paying it forward. that's what makes our group so wonderful.