During the months-long process of illustrating a children’s book, every word of the story has to be scrutinized and every drawing practiced. It would be easy to give up before the work is complete.
But Birmingham-based illustrator, artist and author Amy Grimes knows the value of persistence and commitment. Whenever she feels the urge to stop, she reminds herself who she is in Christ.
“If God’s my identity, then I have room to fail and be able to keep going,” Grimes said. “One of the biggest ways I see God having worked in my life to get me to where I am right now is in the ways He helps me not to give up. If what really matters is the product you’re putting out or how talented you are or how successful you are, there are going to be points where you get so discouraged, you quit. I don’t need that success to push me forward. I can be pushed forward because I know who I am.”
Because of the time commitment, Grimes is careful about which books and projects she takes on. However, Grimes knew immediately that she wanted to illustrate the latest Ann Voskamp book because she loves the beautiful messages that Voskamp sends out into the world.
‘Your Brave Song’
Her recent release, “Your Brave Song,” focuses on Una Rayne, a little girl who is venturing out into a “big day of big things” full of unknowns.
To combat her fear, her mother reminds Una Rayne that Jesus loves her and that, in Him, she has the courage to face whatever comes, including the thick fog at the start of her journey.
The fog wasn’t just an obstacle for Una Rayne. It was also a stumbling block for Grimes.
Though she had painted clouds before, Grimes had never painted fog. She started by finding photos and illustrations of fog but found that most of these examples were dark and gloomy.
“When I read [the story], I didn’t see darkness in my mind,” Grimes said. “I don’t even see the fog as being a dark or scary thing.
“I didn’t want to represent that the fog itself is a problem, that it’s bad. It’s just you can’t see past it.”
Before officially starting on the project, Grimes prayed. She then spent some time experimenting with painting fog.
The first two samples she painted didn’t set the right mood, but the last one was just what she had envisioned.
Once the project officially began, painting was only a fraction of what she did. Since Una Rayne was loosely based on the author’s daughter, Grimes spent the long hours painting praying for her and for her family.
Having had experience drawing pen-and-ink portraits in the early part of her career, Grimes knew how to transfer the daughter’s image to the character. It helped that Voskamp’s daughter “looked like an illustration,” she said.
Once she had Una Rayne’s face in mind, her outfit had to be chosen. In the photos Grimes used as a reference, two features stood out.
“Everything revolved around the look of that beautiful black hair and red coat,” she said.
She decided to paint Una Rayne’s dress as slightly faded, as if it were her favorite and had been worn over and over.
Throughout the project, Grimes concentrated on keeping the overall work unique while making sure that the pages in the book had a consistent look.
Looking back, she knew God had prepared her for the challenges and long hours of this kind of project. Though Grimes had been “drawing forever,” she didn’t start painting until taking a couple of beginner paint classes in college.
“I was not very good at it. Nobody’s really good at painting at first. It’s a difficult switch from drawing to painting because it doesn’t work the same way. You just have to keep going,” she said.
The pessimism of some of her teachers at art school combined with the negative thoughts that many creatives have wasn’t easy to overcome.
Grimes repeated a couple of phrases to help her get through those times of discouragement: “Reaching for something beautiful is never a waste of time,” and, “This is a beautiful experiment.”
Eventually Grimes decided painting would be her career. Instead of going the typical route of painting landscapes, she decided to pursue story paintings with a goal of making the viewer feel like they “jumped right into the painting.”
Motivated by God
Grimes is adamant that she has been able to create consistently due to knowing who she is in God.
“God’s been my motivation, and He has been my comfort — my solid ground — so that I’ve felt like I’ve had room to do things that might make me feel silly, like maybe I paint pictures that I love but don’t sell,” she said.
“You have to say, ‘Then what’s that mean if they don’t sell?’”
Grimes constantly reminds herself, “I’m loved and this is what I’m made to do. It doesn’t really matter how it turns out. This is just the direction I’ve got to reach.”
Go to storypaintings.net to find out more about Grimes and her work. “Your Brave Song” can be found wherever books are sold.