In less than two months, author Katy Farber and I will be celebrating the launch of our new picture book, Salamander Sky! We’ve been working hard to spread the word to bookstores, libraries, nature centers, and science museums. We hope that it will encourage kids to get outside to learn about salamanders and other amphibians and to actively participate in conservation.
I joined the Salamander Sky project two years ago, after contacting our publisher, Green Writers Press, and that is when my research began. While living in Albany, NY, I visited many nature preserves to sketch and study forests, back roads, and wetlands. On spring days and nights I went out in search of amphibians along the roadside and hiking trails near vernal pools, and I even carried spotted salamanders across a road in Altamont, NY.
A guided walk on a Vermont Land Trust site in Wells, VT, lead by herpetologist Kiley Briggs, was a highlight for me. I observed masses of spotted salamander eggs next to those of other species, and noticed the features that differentiated them (thickness of gelatinous layer, overall rounded shape). This helped me improve the accuracy of the illustration showing their life cycle. ▼
The early autumn week I spent as an artist-in-residence at Platte Clove Preserve in the Catskills also brought me inspiration. The illustration on the end papers in Salamander Sky began as a finger painting I made at Plattekill Creek! I sat at the base of the waterfall surrounded by sedimentary rocks, scraped them into a pigment, and painted in my sketchbook. Later I scanned it into Photoshop, modified the colors, and added salamanders, leaves, and rain.▼
The tree root illustration also began as a stream-side sketch. It was the last piece I created at Platte Clove Preserve.▼
Thacher State Park was the place I visited most often and in all seasons because first of all, spotted salamanders live in this environment, and second, it was a short drive from my house. Here lots of little ideas came to me: What plants should I put in the story? What does the side of a dirt road look like on a rainy night? Walking through the salamanders’ environment, and experiencing it from many perspectives, was an essential part to telling their story.▼