Inking opportunity

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, May 28, 2011

Linda LaVallie has illustrated the children’s book “Storm,” by Mark Smith, about Smith’s daughter and her experience feeding a weak bird. - Eric Johnson/

Local artist jumps at chance to illustrate children’s book

Breaking into book publishing is no easy task, but one Austin native is discovering a slightly different approach for squeezing into the market.

Linda LaVallie is a die-hard artist, and opportunity came knocking at her door a while back. LaVallie was attending church in Austin when a man offered her a chance to illustrate a children’s book. The man’s brother, Mark Smith, had been working on the children’s book for years, and he needed someone to complete the artwork. By avoiding upfront contracts and expensive agreements, Smith and LaVallie began collaborating on artwork and ideas for the book, “Storm.” The story, which is about Smith’s daughter and her experience feeding a weak bird until it was healthy, offered LaVallie the prime opportunity to draw cartoon humans, animals and landscapes, which would be her first illustrations in a published book.

Now LaVallie is collaborating with Smith on his second book, “Dad and the Christmas Possum.” Although LaVallie doesn’t expect fame or riches from what she is doing now, she’s learned how to compile her own book. She and her husband, Benjamin — who is also an artist — have completed a book. However, they are waiting for the right time to publish it. Illustrating, writing and publishing children’s books is just another way LaVallie can keep herself busy. Because no matter what she is doing, it has to be working with art.

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“I’ve made a study of art my whole life,” she said.

LaVallie remembered watching Bob Ross paint on television as a child, and she became hooked. Her senior year of high school, she had five art classes. Now LaVallie will do a little of everything with drawing, coloring and painting. She’s a freelance artist from home; she’s displayed pieces at the fair, and she’s taken on any task her neighbors, friends and family have thrown at her.

However, working from home can become too easy. LaVallie realizes she needs to stay busy and allocate her time properly, so she doesn’t become lackadaisical.

“It’s hard when I am at home and it’s like, I can sit and watch this. … You really have to discipline yourself,” LaVallie said.

So she’s taken it upon herself to get out as well. She teaches a painting class at the senior center and enjoys helping people in the community. And whether a rain barrel or lawn ornament needs to be painted, she’s happy to do it.

Throughout the years, however, there’s been times where LaVallie has taken breaks from art.

“I’ve taken breaks of literally a couple years at a time,” she said. “You just need a break.”

LaVallie wants to live as an artist her entire life, but she doesn’t want to become burned out on it, either.

“I don’t want to lose a love of it, she said.”

Now, book illustrations have opened another door for LaVallie, and they add variety to her career. The notion of publishing her own product is exciting to her.

“I would just love to illustrate my own books,” she said.

LaVallie prefers to draw cartoons. More than anything, she likes to draw mythical scenes, fantasies or realistic characters. However, her children’s cartoons offered her a good start.

LaVallie’s arrangement with Smith has allowed her to see a little more about the art to writing a children’s book. Perhaps the most important part is to have raised kids. LaVallie is currently watching a baby at home and has a 6-year-old, as well. Her unpublished book centers around a simple but funny experience her child had. Without that experience, and others, LaVallie doesn’t see how she’d be able to compile her own children’s book.

“It’s hard to relate,” she said about writing for kids. “I never would have really thought of how smart and intricate (kids) are.”

Smith displayed “Storm” on Saturday, May 28, at a book signing in the Austin Public Library. And with LaVallie’s help toward the book, Smith hoped the signing would offer LaVallie a little more recognition, so she could have success with books, too.

Whether LaVallie takes off with book publishing has yet to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: She’ll never forgot how to put together something artistic.

“It’s like riding a bike,” she said. “It’s easy to get back into. Once you hit a certain point, there’s just really no going back.”