Sunday, April 8, 2012

A visit with Illustrator Robert Williams

Since January Bob Williams from Vernon Center, Minnesota, has been working on sketches for my new book, A Farm Country Harvest, which I hope to publish with Beaver's pond Press in 2013. Nancy and I visited Bob in November of last year to discuss the project and he agreed to create 36 illustrations according to the text, photographs, and sketches I sent him.
After we delivered the packet of drawings and photographs to him in January, he began sketching each illustration on a piece of wooden slate measuring ten inches wide and eight inches high.
We swapped emails regularly as he would send me a copy of each sketch to discuss and I would send it back with comments. In March he completed all 36 sketches, each exceeding my expectations.

I collected the email attachments of Bob's 36 sketches on the long tables in our library at home. I like to lay them all out side by side so I can check for continuity from one illustration to the next.

Bob told me he planned to paint them in groups of six, selecting non-sequential pages that had similar characters and scenes. Recently, he contacted me to say he had completed six illustrations, and we agreed Nancy and I should visit him to ensure that we concurred on the results.
When Nancy and I visited Bob's studio last Wednesday, we were delighted to view six completed illustrations for our book, A Farm Country Harvest. 

 Before painting the detail, he covered the entire surface with a gold harvest color that gives the finished product the bright, earthy color of harvest in hot August.

Above, Bob works on the next six illustrations, and below, you can see the golden color that covers the details of the sketch on those painting on the right. Bob has painted some of the detail on the paintings on the left. 

Bob is a generous with his time and his art. He willingly explains his techniques and takes time to show us many of his other paintings.

His studio is populated with finished works and some works in progress.

Bob and his wife Anne enjoy the many artworks that Bob has created and hung throughout their house.
He also paints some artwork directly onto the walls in the living room and kitchen.

 Bob Williams with some of his art.

Bob shows us his sketchbook, above, and we see that the sketches below reflect the fact that his first job as an artist was working for Josten's, a company that provides plaques, awards, rings, etc. for schools.

He encourages young artists to keep a sketchbook and draw, draw, draw.
He says, "Prospective employers are often more interested in seeing your sketchbook than they are in seeing your finished paintings. Sketchbooks show your thinking. And drawing is thinking."

Bob expects to finish the illustrations for my book,  A Farm Country Harvest, in three months or less.
So you might ask, "Why is the book not going to be ready until next year?" 
Well, Bob's illustrations are intended to help tell the fictional story of what happens when the threshing machine arrives at the Carlson Family Farm in 1950, but because the word "harvest" or "threshing" brings to mind so many various images to people, the last half of the book will contain a narrative accompanied by actual photographs of harvest activities. 

To gather these pictures, Nancy has been sending out emails to museums, historical societies, and individuals requesting harvest pictures from the 1940s and early 1950s. She has been organizing them, and we plan to select which photos to use some time this summer or fall. Then I will write the narrative as Nancy assembles and identifies the photographs.

A Farm Country Harvest will be a unique attempt at telling the harvest story. The fictional account of the Carlson Family will be in fun meter and rhyme as others in the Farm Country Tales series, and the book will attempt to tell an entertaining, universal story of the activities on a family farm when the threshing machine arrives in 1950. Activities will be accurately represented and the story is based on actual events.

The second half of the book will trace harvest activity with pictures submitted by people from all over the Midwest and other parts of the United States. I hope the combination of a story with illustrations and a narrative with actual photos will help make the book personal, entertaining, authentic, and memorable to readers. I want it to be a book that will be set out on special spot in people's houses and be picked up often to be paged through for its illustrations, its photographs, and its story, a story that people can embrace as their story or the story of their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.

Do you have some photos to submit? Here is an opportunity to get your family harvest photo into a collector series of books. We are looking for all kinds of farm photos so give us a call. My next book will be about filling silo with bundles and a silage cutter so if you have any silo-filling pictures, let us know. 
Nancy will contact you before we use the photo, and if we use a photo that you submit, we will give you a free book.

To contact Nancy or me to submit photos, call 952-461-2111 or click here to email.


  1. Bob's work is outstanding. Love the golden tone, the detail, everything I see in the photos you shot of his work. Can't wait to see this book when it's finished. I especially like your idea of incorporating authentic historic photos into the book. Thank you, Gordon and Nancy, for all you have done and are doing to preserve our rural history.

  2. Yes, we were lucky to find Bob. He is dedicated to detail. Every visit with him is a joyful, learning experience for Nancy and me.