North Huntingdon graphic designer tries out new skill with book illustrations
When Latrobe author Paul J. Volkmann asked Kate Dillon, a graphic designer with Blue Sky Sign Company in Greensburg, to illustrate wildlife for his new book, she was a bit hesitant.
Dillon, 24, of North Huntingdon, earned a bachelor's degree in computing and information science, minoring in graphic design and photography, from Saint Vincent College in 2016.
But when Volkmann, whom she knew as a client, asked her to consider the project, she was intrigued.
"A Talk with Delbert and other Creatures of Southwestern Pennsylvania" features Volkmann "interviewing" animals about how they meet their mates, bring up their young and face their threats.
"He gave me a manuscript to read, so I knew what the chapters were going to be and the animals in each one. But he kind of gave me free rein," Dillon said.
Her cover sketch shows the back and side view of a man's head, with a cap and glasses similar to those Volkmann wears in his website photo.
He's holding a notebook and appears to be interviewing a deer — Delbert.
"I've never actually met Paul. He sent me the book and I gave him my ideas. ... He said, 'Just do your thing,' " Dillon said.
Volkmann, 74, has a background in photography and writing.
He based the animals in the book on those inhabiting the southwestern Pennsylvania region, particularly Latrobe and Unity Township, he said.
"I guess I really love nature so much. I used to fish along Loyalhanna Creek. I saw all of these animals down there. I kind of made them my own," Volkmann said.
A white-tailed deer grew comfortable enough to "chum up" to him, he said.
"And I love rabbits. My father used to tell me rabbit stories. He told these fantastic stories. When my kids and nieces and nephews got old enough, I made a coloring book of his stories," Volkmann said.
Not a children's book
"People think if they see animals illustrated, it's a children's book. It's not. It's intended for those ages 3 to 103," he said.
Volkmann calls Dillon's work "phenomenal."
"I really had faith in her. Her confidence just built right up. It was wonderful. She read the book and put the personality into each animal. She came through with flying colors for me," he said.
Drawing the black and white pictures by hand, so that readers can color them in if they choose, presented a challenge, Dillon said.
"Sketching art is a lot different than what we do here (at Blue Sky)," she said.
"It seemed like he wanted a more realistic look to the animals, rather than a cartoon (appearance), so it would appeal to a bigger audience," she said.
Dillon worked nights and weekends for about two months to bring them to life.
She found her groove while working on her last sketch, Bertha the Bear.
"I really liked it, so I thought, 'I can go back and make (earlier sketches) a little more realistic,'" she said.
"I was glad Paul wanted the black and white look. I don't think I had the confidence to take (drawing in color) on," Dillon said.
She's since given it a try, using the mediums of photography and digital addition of color.
While an undergrad at Saint Vincent College, Dillon worked for the marketing and communications department under the guidance of the school's art director, George Fetkovich.
He tapped her for a work/study position while she was a student in his digital layout and design class.
One challenge he gave her was to make the school's mascot, the Bearcat, appear less aggressive in a design for a school event.
"We give Kate credit for creating the 'happy Bearcat.' ... She just understood how to make that work," Fetkovich said.
His student final involves production of a four-page editorial spread, incorporating text, illustrations and photography into a story.
"She had a real, fine, intuitive sense of how that comes together," Fetkovich said.
He is not surprised that she shows a skill for illustration, or that she is sought out beyond her workplace.
He still funnels work her way on occasion.
"She remains — and I have probably had half a dozen work study students since Kate — the best I've ever had as far as professionalism, timeliness, organization — all the things any employer would look for in a young adult, as well as being creative," Fetkovich said.
Dillon says she's happy in her current workplace, but enjoyed the opportunity to try out a new skill and add to her professional portfolio.
The book is published by BookBaby Publishing. It's available for $16.50 at the Latrobe Art Center or at peeveesproducts.com
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or email@example.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.