I grew up in Connecticut just outside of New York City in an energetic and artistic household. My mom was a talented folk artist and my dad was a gifted storyteller with a vivid imagination. From an early age I loved drawing and painting on any surface, including my bedroom walls. I also enjoyed looking at picture books and being in the worlds created by the illustrations and words.
Later, I became an Illustration major at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I attended a slide lecture by Maurice Sendak. When he explained how his illustrations were designed to bring the reader along on Max’s journey in Where the Wild Things Are, I was fascinated and my interest in picture books was re-kindled. When I had kids of my own, I saw the magic that storytelling creates.
I live in Bethesda, MD, and have visited hundreds of schools to give my presentations and workshops about writing and illustrating picture books. I’ve enjoyed speaking to grades K-5, as well as preschool, middle school and college students. I also present at conferences.
Scroll down to learn more about my programs and what teachers and students have to say about my presentations. You can also visit: www.JenniferOConnellArt.com.
A Garden of Whales (written by Maggie Davis and illustrated by Jennifer O'Connell, Firefly Books,1993) is the story of a boy who dreams of the endangered whales that he loves. In this fantasy, he grows whales in a secret garden to replenish the oceans.
“The book gently delivers to children the important message that this magnificent and endangered species must be protected and preserved before it’s too late.” - Hugh Bowden, Ellsworth American“O’Connell fully enters Davis’s dream and strikingly echoes the fluent reverie. This is a bedtime read-aloud that will set heads nodding.” – Publishers Weekly
About my Programs
I would love to visit your school or library to demonstrate the process of creating picture books. Students will learn firsthand how books are written and illustrated and will be inspired to create their own stories and books!
Fee: For the Washington, DC Metropolitan area - $700 for one presentation and $150 for each additional presentation. For visits outside the DC area, workshops, artist-in-residence programs, adult groups or Skype presentations, please call or email me to discuss your needs.
Creating The Eye of the Whale (All Ages)
In this interactive presentation, I share the many steps that went into writing and illustrating this nonfiction picture book. The process included exciting research, visiting California to interview the lead diver of the rescue, and venturing out into the Pacific Ocean on the rescue boat, Superfish. With PowerPoint slides and visual props I show the many drafts, storyboards, sketches, dummy books and final paintings that went into the book. I stress to students how revising sketches and words is an integral part of the process. I also discuss ways in which we all can act to become stewards of the natural world.
Then, playing recorded music, I sketch several whales in pastels on dark blue paper, which I leave with the group. I share fascinating facts about whales, and unfurl a life-size painting of a baby blue whale that is 23 feet long. I also display as a backdrop a 19-foot wide, life-size painting of a humpback whale's tail. A lively Q & A session follows. (45 minutes)
How Ten Timid Ghosts Came to Life (all Ages)
In this “spirited” presentation, I discuss the creation of my bestselling picture book, Ten Timid Ghosts. Using projected slides, I show my research, storyboards, sketches, dummy books, revisions and final illustrations as I explain how the characters and story came to life.
Later in the presentation, the children direct me as I draw, and together we create our own unique, (often funny) new character. After I sketch in the setting while playing spooky music, we all make up a story about our new character. The drawing remains with the class and often, more stories are created!
A lively Q & A session follows. (45 minutes)
The Magic of Making Picture Books - A Program and Drawing Exercise (K - Adult)
In this new program, I use PowerPoint slides to discuss my beginnings and how I became an illustrator, and then an author. I share my process of creating picture books and challenges that I’ve encountered with my fiction and nonfiction book projects.
I then lead the group through a simple drawing exercise in which each student creates four unique characters with different emotions and settings. This exercise organically flows into stories about the characters.
All students have had great success and fun with this activity. The only materials needed are a sheet of plain white copy paper and pencil (with an eraser) for each student. (45 – 60 minutes)
Workshop - Let's Create a Picture Book! (Grades 2 - Adult)
After reading one of my picture books to the group, I briefly discuss how I created the story and key aspects to consider when they write and illustrate their own books. With the participation of the class, I demonstrate how to use six grab-bag 'idea boxes' to spark stories. Then everyone picks ideas from the boxes and soon there are exciting new characters, stories and pictures coming alive in the room.
No one is required to use any of the grab-bag ideas for their story, but these words are fun catalysts and seem to spark everyone's creativity and imagination! Each student puts his/her own picture book together using tagboard paper for the cover, hole punched white paper for the pages and brass or decorative fasteners. (45 – 60 minutes or longer, if the class schedule permits)
For the last four years I have given a five-day artist-in-residence program at a local elementary school that includes the workshop described above. I would be happy to discuss a possible workshop or residency for your school or group. I can provide an outline of the program and can tailor it to fit the needs of your group.
“Your presentation was inspirational. I appreciate the multi-modalities shared and how you offered your personal story. The students couldn’t stop talking about it and many teachers remarked about the perfect timing for their goal to increase creative writing!” - Molly Ketterer, Principal, Bushy Park Elementary School, Glenwood, MD
"...The children loved your presentation. ...You have a special gift with an audience."
- Eleanor Fall, Librarian, Loudon Country Day School
"…Her love for art, story-telling and children was apparent in every aspect of her visit, especially the extra care and time she put into making it special for our students." - Jennifer Stacey, NBCT, Library Media Specialist, Patrick Henry Elementary School, Arlington, VA
“…You taught me something very important. You taught me how to draw in a funny way! I drew a camel with a surprised face. It was awesome.” - Austin, 5th grade student, Laytonsville Elementary School, Gaithersburg, MD
"I highly recommend her program and, of course, the book!" - Tim Troy, Children's Librarian, Children's Center, San Francisco Public Library, CA
For more information, please visit: www.JenniferOConnellArt.Com.