Nancy Barnet fondly remembers her elementary school librarian, Mrs. Orbach, as one of the first people to unlock the wonders of children’s books. “Mrs. Orbach tantalized us by reading library books, and opened doors to so many avenues of exploration I cold hardly read fast enough.” Although Barnet flirted with the idea of becoming an astronaut and then a journalist, in her last few semesters at California State University, Sacramento she came back to writing and illustrating for children.
Barnet describes herself as an eternal optimist. “Every day has new possibilities; every day gone offers lessons learned.” Her upbeat view of life is reflected in her art—Barnet’s color pencil illustrations leap off the page and celebrate the book for which they were created. In Dream Meadow, Barnet’s first picture book, the illustrations are rich with detail, yet soft and dreamy; a perfect complement to the dreams of the main characters. Children’s authors and illustrators frequently use bits and pieces from their own lives in their books, and Barnet is no exception; in Dream Meadow the illustrations of the young girl and the dog are based on one of her two daughters and their beloved dog, Molly.
Where’s the Fly? showcases Barnet’s talent for fine lines, color, and detail. Her illustrations begin with a fly on a dog’s nose and move progressively farther and farther from the fly, until the reader winds up in outer space. In each picture Barnet includes a tiny detail that grows smaller as the perspective grows larger.
The creative spirit was strong within Barnet even at age four. “My first masterpiece was a life-size baby whale done in indelible red lipstick on my bedroom carpet.” Barnet also remembers watching her mother paint and being fascinated by the colors and textures of oil paints on the palette. “I got up very early one morning to add a few of my own touches to one of my mother’s works-in-progress.” Today, colored pencils are her tool of choice and she uses paper instead of carpet.
According to Barnet, inspiration comes in many forms—“dreams, the play of sunlight and shadow outdoors, the fascinating creatures we have all around us, including the human ones.” Animals are her favorite subjects.
When Barnet is under contract for a picture book, her initial efforts are geared to setting up scenes and character poses for her first sketches. Once the sketches are complete, Barnet and her editor discuss possible changes before the final art is drawn. She usually spends five hours per day at the drawing table in her Elk Grove home. Barnet is constantly surprised by the misconception that children’s picture books are easy to create—it takes her roughly ten months to illustrate one book. “Good children’s books—the ones that last for generations—are jewels that take about as much work as it takes to turn coal into diamonds!” As the instructor for “Illustrating Children’s Books” (Sacramento Learning Exchange), and a frequent speaker at Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators events, she reminds would-be writers and artists that the competitive children’s book industry is not for those “of wimpy spirit and thin skin.”
In addition to her children’s picture book art, Barnet’s illustrations have been used by several organizations and agencies including a cover illustration in a special section ofSacramento News and Review celebrating the SPCA’s 100th anniversary; a large aerial view of a forest for a display on resources consumption for the Sacramento Science Center; a wetland habitat panel at Effie Yeaw Nature Center; and posters for the annual Strauss Festival of Elk Grove.
Barnet makes a few school visits per year. Her presentations vary from large assemblies featuring a slide presentation to small workshops creating dummy books or completing a simulated illustration assignment. After each visit she receives mail from her toughest critics—the children. Marta writes: “Thank you for coming to our class and sharing your illusions.” And Brad says: “I think that you are a super artist and that you should get promoted or go into the Hall of Fame.” Perhaps Brad has just cast his vote for the next Caldecott Medal winner.