A Telling in Pictures

A Telling in Pictures
By Anna Horsnell

Doretta Groenendyk’s paintings elicit a smile. There is something familiar, something comfortable, that pulls the viewer into a world of colour and whimsy and storytelling. We recognize the landscape. We feel the playfulness. As an illustrator and author of 11 children’s books (and illustrator only on 4 more), the Canning artist has created an enviable career around her priorities of family and getting outside.

She does not see her work as author and illustrator as separate. “I see things in pictures first,” she explains. “The stories or ideas that I want to communicate, I see in images.” Many of those stories reflect family life quite naturally as she worked from her kitchen table, versus a studio, for years. For example, her book Love You More Than Anything grew out of a game she played with her son. “I think what I am presenting are ideas that people love…that part feels communal.” Groenendyk elaborates in her artist’s statement: “The feeling of inclusion and the capacity for creating conversations is present. Gently, diversity is visually communicated and poetry is felt as much as it is read.” Her skill lies in sharing those thoughtful reflections and issues, that perhaps concern her as a mother, in a very accessible way.

Groenendyk received her degree in art education from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and she has worked in the school system consistently in the subsequent years, substituting, teaching art, and as part of the Writers in School program offered through the Writers Federation of Nova Scotia. Right from the start, however, her dream was to create picture books, and teaching keeps her in touch with her book audience. She also truly enjoys working with children. The best part is being self-employed and the freedom that has allowed her to pursue all of her interests while raising a family.

The process of creating a book is a well-worn trail after a decade of annual publications. She begins with an idea which she submits to her publishers (Acorn and Nimbus) via a covering letter, manuscript, and sketches providing a sense of the story board. Once the manuscript has been edited, she works on the illustrations over the winter. The images are then scanned and laid out over the following summer, design work is finalized, and the book goes to print in late fall for an October launch.

Each book generally involves between fifteen to twenty illustrations. Those images must hold together, create an atmosphere, and build the narrative. Her book illustrations must also allow for text placement. Luckily her publishers allow her the freedom to play with style, materials, and size. They trust what she will do artistically. A constant in every book is her trademark use of rich and sparkling colour.

Groenendyk’s current project is a new book to be entitled What If? Playful and slightly humorous, the book will also present a serious message about anxiety and positive thinking. This time, a grant has afforded her the time to explore the medium and stretch her creative muscles before submitting the proposal to her publishers. “I like to shake it up. Every few works, I try something new. I feel like I’m always growing.”

Her biggest challenge as an artist? That changes every week, but certainly solving creative problems in the making of art is something all artists face. She strives to communicate as honestly as possible, pushing her abilities, and serving as her own editor while working alone. Above all, she focuses on maintaining originality and staying true to the idea, the concept, and the story.

The artist’s books are available through Box of Delights in Wolfville, and her paintings at Harvest Gallery. She accepts commissions, and welcomes teaching projects. See her website at doretta-art.com.