Illustrator Mary Barrows brings storybooks to life | arts & entertainment

Mary Barrows has long held a passion for art.

She’s a children’s book illustrator, freelance artist and a graphic designer who has spent most of her life in Walkersville and recently moved to Hagerstown. Barrows has roughly 40 books under her belt, with more on the way.

One of her most recent books, “Officer Jack: Baby’s Breath,” part of a picture book collection authored by James Burd Brewster, honors Transportation Security Administration Officer Cecilia Morales, who saved a baby’s life at Newark International Airport, according to a news release from the book’s publisher, J2B Publishing.

“The ‘Glad To Do It!’ collection thanks and honors the commitment, courage and bravery of millions of police officers, fire fighters and EMTs who go to work every day fully prepared to place themselves between their neighbors and danger,” the release states.

In an interview with The News-Post, Barrows shared how she approaches her work and what’s next for her career.

How long have you been an illustrator? How did you become one?

I illustrated my first book in 2014, so I guess I’ve been doing this for almost eight years now. I had always enjoyed drawing, but I was really encouraged by family and friends to pursue art full-time, so I did. I work as a freelance artist, so when I’m not drawing, a lot of my work is looking for new clients and working on updating my social media to make sure my work is out there for people to see. I’ve been blessed to have had pretty consistent work since starting out and have been able to work with some pretty incredible people along the way.

What other books have you contributed to?

I’ve worked on many books over the years. To date, I’ve illustrated around 40 books. Most have been for self-publishing authors, but I have also worked with some publishing companies like Belle Isle Books with books like “Roly-Poly Prole” and “From a Tree to a Chair,” and J2B Publishing, which is where I’ ve worked on the Officer Jack book series as well as “EMT Morales,” Uncle Rocky” and “Pete and Petey,” as well as several others.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I do a lot of my work traditionally, which means I’m working on actual paper with pen and paint, as opposed to digitally, though I do a little of that as well. I love the old illustrators like EH Shepard [Pooh Bear and “The Wind in the Willows”) and Beatrix Potter [Peter Rabbit], so I draw a lot of inspiration from that type of work. I like making art that is imaginative and colorful.

What inspired the “Officer Jack: Baby’s Breath” story?

Well, I didn’t write this story, but all of the Officer Jack books are based on real-life stories of police officers helping people in trouble. This story was inspired by a TSA officer who, while on duty at the airport, helped a baby who had stopped breathing.

How did you approach the illustrations?

Whenever I start a new book project, I start by reading the whole story while trying to envision some of the scenes. Then I’ll sketch out the entire book in thumbnails drawings — small, 1-inch drawings that give a rough idea of ​​the scenes — trying to capture key moments from the story. Once these are approved by the author, I’ll move on to detailed sketches. In this case, this was based on a real story, so oftentimes there are reference images that come with that, so I’ll rely on these to make sure places and people look like they should. This is actually where I’ll spend most of my time, because I want to make sure everything looks right. Then, once these are approved, I’ll move on to the actual illustrations, which is when the art really starts to come to life. It’s here where the color comes in, and to me, that’s the best part.

What’s next in the series?

We’re currently in the process of working on the next book, “Trusty Tinsley,” by James Brewster, which will be the sixth book in the Officer Jack series. Like all of the Officer Jack books, this is based on a true story of a dog who saves his owner’s life by leading the police to him after an accident. I’ve had a lot of fun working on this book so far, and I think it’s one many people will enjoy.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

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