Article

My Back Page

A life-long illustrator

How a routine patient encounter turned a hobby into a rewarding part-time gig.

Megan Wellman has provided illustrations for 15 children’s books since getting her start through an ophthalmic patient in 2006.
COURTESY MEGAN WELLMAN

I have been drawing since childhood, starting by copying images from my favorite books or cartoons. My parents helped nurture this artistic side. My father was an artist who did not pursue his talent, so I feel that I owe my gift to him. My mother also helped spark my creativity by constantly reading to me. In middle school, I even developed my own unique characters for the school newspaper.

In 2006, I earned my first illustrator job — thanks to one of my ophthalmic patients.

While working as an ophthalmic technician at Kellogg Eye Center in Ann Arbor, MI, I met a patient in clinic who told me about a children’s book, “Lonely Teddy,” that she wrote. When I mentioned I earned a degree in Fine Arts, she asked if I could draw up some samples for her latest manuscript.

Since then, I have worked as a freelance illustrator for 15 full-color children’s books as well as covers and illustrations for three independent reader books. The majority of my books have been published through Fern Press. I have also worked on logos and family portraits.

An “old-school” illustrator

A project can take two to three months to complete. I’m still “old school” in my approach, in that I don’t use digital tools. I begin with pencil sketches, which can take two to four weeks. Once the author approves them, I move to inking and coloring, which can take four to six weeks. Depending on the project, my drawings vary between pen and ink, colored pencils, markers, and watercolor. Then, a printing company scans my pages and a layout artist sets the text — I must always leave room for the text as I draw.

My favorite things to draw are people and animals — I love drawing facial expressions and the fluid motion of the body. My art has evolved over the years, but my high school classmates still tell me they can spot a “Megan character” from a mile away.

Every book I’ve worked on is important to me, but that first book, “Lonely Teddy,” gives me the most pride. It helped validate my art as more than a hobby and proved to myself that my Fine Arts degree was not the end of this passion.

More than a hobby

I still work full-time for the Kellogg Eye Center, now as a clinic lead, so I illustrate on the weekends and evenings. Deadlines can make things tense, but I love it. Illustrating doesn’t feel like a second job.

Both positions have taught me to be open-minded and considerate to another’s emotions and expectations, whether that person is the author or a patient. OP