Mary Reaves Uhles has created illustrations for numerous books and magazines. Her newest picture books include A TUBA CHRISTMAS (Sleeping Bear) and THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN TENNESSEE (Sterling), both available Fall 2018. She has also illustrated THE LITTLE KID'S TABLE by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle (Sleeping Bear); KOOKY CRUMBS by J. Patrick Lewis (Kane Miller); and BEYOND THE GRAVE Choose Your Own Adventure Series by Dottie Enderle (ABDO Magic Wagon Press). Mary has twice been awarded the Grand Prize for Illustration from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference and her piece, EAT was a finalist in the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair Gallery. Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. As Midsouth Illustrator Coordinator of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Since creating characters and stories is her favorite thing in the world (even more than mocha fudge ice cream) she feels mighty lucky to do it every day in her hilltop studio.
How wanting a horse caused me to be an illustrator
When I was a kid I wanted a horse in the worst sort of way. I played with horses, I begged my parents to buy me a horse, I drew horses but most of all I read books about horses. My favorite author was Marguerite Henry who wrote Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind. When I was in early high school I read Henry's memoir, Dear Readers and Riders. In it she talked about how she and her illustrator Wesley Dennis would travel the world researching books. To me that sounded like the most amazing career ever! I decided right then and there what I wanted to be was an illustrator.
oh yes! Lucky for me, my mom was an elementary school librarian and my dad was a park service ranger. This means we lived in the middle of nowhere and I was surrounded by books. I considered the library at my school 'mine' because my mom was in charge. Every day after school I would go to the library, pick out a handful of books (usually about horses) and lie under the giant windows of the turn of the century school building and read while my mom finished whatever it is librarians do after school is closed. What I didn't finish there I took home with me to the oak tree in my front yard to continue reading. When I wasn't reading horse stories I was reading stories about cities and the suburbs. These just seemed like exotic lands to me, so different from the very rural National park we lived on. I traveled to New York, Paris, London, Detroit many times over in books.
My studio is on the top floor of my house and it has a giant double window looks out over a giant field and woods. Even though I'm in the middle of a city there are all kinds of animals of that visit this field and the colors and light change all the time depending on what the sun or clouds are doing. When I'm looking for inspiration I've learned that 10% of the time I'm making marks on paper and 90% of the time staring out that window waiting for an idea to strike.
That honor definitely goes to my stellar critique group who are all picture book creators in their own right! Amanda Driscoll, Susan Eaddy, Jessica Young and Meridth Gimbel. Each of them has a unique superpower for helping hone stories or pictures. I'm known to text shots of illustrations in progress to them in the middle of a project just to get feedback in real time.
I just hope they have fun. While books sometimes have messages, or are mean to leave you with a certain feeling the number one feeling I approach my work with is joy. I want to put surprising things in the pictures that kids can look for or have a character make an expression that makes readers laugh.