‘Marigold’ author continues to bloom as a writer and illustrator

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The pandemic gave artist and illustrator Kathryn Darnell the opportunity to push her considerable illustration skills in new directions.

Darnell, who has illustrated numerous children’s picture books including “Fibblestix,” by Devin Scillian, and “The Michigan Reader,” by Kathy-Jo Warjin, decided it was time to dust off and self-publish a manuscript that had been gathering dust under her desk for 10 years after being rejected by several publishers. 

The result is the delightful softcover book “Marigold,” which follows the lifecycle of the flower from seed to flower and repeating the cycle year after year.

“The book is an expression of the end of winter and how we want hands in dirt,” she said.

Inspiration for the book comes from the artist’s soul and love of gardening.

One of the features of “Marigold” is a lack of human characters. 

“Leaving out human characters sidesteps the issue of a specific gender, age or racial identity and also eliminates any expectations of dialog allowing simple observations to rule the text,” she said.

The text of “Marigold” is mostly simple two- or three-word phrases. Sometimes it includes a rhyming scheme for each illustration, but it does not detract from the illustrations.

Darnell said when she first imagined the book it had no words at all.

A simple pair of work gloves stand in for humans on most pages as they plant, water and harvest seeds for next year’s crop of marigolds. A field mouse is often found as an observer.

“The gloves are doing the work and play all by themselves without being worn by a person. The mouse character helps, but I deliberately avoided anthropomorphizing the mouse too much, so the gloves and mouse are more equal partners,” she said.

Darnell is always looking at things. While gardening, she noticed how a pair of work gloves began to take on a life of their own. 

“I like gardening, it’s a relaxing thing to do — to be outside and be creative. I have an imperfect garden. It’s partly wild with lots of volunteers,” she said. “I’ve always loved marigolds and save the seeds for next season.”

In addition to writing and illustrating her own book, Darnell has begun experimenting with animation.

Before the pandemic, Darnell supplemented her illustrations by doing calligraphy for awards and citations, something she has been doing for decades.

When the pandemic struck, there were no more events and it’s not happening now. So she began exploring animating her calligraphy, which led to animation of “Marigold.”

“If someone told me 10 years ago I wanted to animate, I would wonder,” Darnell said.

Darnell can trace her career as an illustrator to the late-’70s, when she did illustrations for Elderly Instruments’ annual catalog. She then began doing illustrations for CDs for folk musicians.

Darnell said she comes from people who made things from sewing to woodworking.

“We didn’t sit around with our hands in our lap,” she said.

Darnell said the decision to self-publish was an eye-opener for her — especially the “whole commercial part of putting out the book.”

“I’m usually doing things for other people and I didn’t think about the complexities. I did know I wanted to put the book out as a paperback to make it less precious.” she said. “I’m lucky I get to do what I love. I just like making pictures,” Darnell said.

The illustrator said she sees a future for children’s books where they routinely have animated versions.

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