Sunday, Jun 25, 2017

HHS student’s drawings published

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Harvard High School junior Claire Okkema drew illustrations for the book “All Mixed Up.” COURTESY PHOTO

Junior year in high school is difficult with college testing and applications to think about, but Harvard High School junior Claire Okkema can add to that list illustrating a children’s book of limericks.

For as long as Okkema can remember, she has loved art.

“Even in kindergarten, I was the kid who was always interested in the noodle projects,” she said.

Okkema was chosen as the illustrator of Brent Aronsen’s book “All Mixed Up: A Collection of Limericks for Kids.”

“All Mixed Up” is Aronsen’s first publication. He recalled that he was talking to a former co-worker, Anne Mikesell, about his book and casually mentioned that he still needed an illustrator. Mikesell told him about her cousin, Okkema.

“She showed me some of Claire’s work and I was really impressed,” Aronsen said.

“I worked in watercolor for this project, which began in September and ended in December,” Okkema said.

There are 30 of her pieces included in the book, but Okkema said she probably painted around 40.

“I sometimes painted two pictures per limerick so that Brent [Aronsen] could choose. … Sometimes I went to repaint the pictures so they would all be the same quality. I didn’t want to let anyone down,” Okkema said.

“She truly impressed me right away by going through the effort to allow me to have a choice,” Aronsen said.

Okkema and Aronsen never have met in person; all of their communication has been through email. This is not unusual in children’s book publishing – in fact most authors and illustrators have no contact at all. Aronsen said he feels extremely lucky to have been able to choose who illustrated his work. He self published his book through CreateSpace and spoke highly of the ease of the process.

Okkema said she wanted to encourage writers and artists to dream big and never think that they can’t do something. She said it is much easier to get published than people would think.

“I also want to thank my parents for being supportive, Brent for choosing to work with me, Kerrie (Hobbes) for helping me grow as an artist, and Anne for suggesting me,” she said.

The duo expects to publish another book of children’s limericks shortly, which Aronson describes as a follow-up to his first.

“It will be about animals, and I am really excited to start working on that,” Okkema said.

After all of her entries into the Walworth County Fair and her lessons with Harvard resident and private art instructor Kerrie Hobbes, Okkema’s hard work is earning her accolades. Aronsen said he often is asked if he painted the pictures, and he usually responds by saying, “I wish I were that talented!”

“One of the English teachers uses this book in her class, so a lot of my friends know I’ve done it; I try not to make a big deal about it. I want to stay humble,” said Okkema.

She is surrounded by excited friends and family, but in her immediate future Okkema is thinking about her participation in the Milk Days Queen pageant.

“I will get to milk a cow. It sounds silly, but I am really looking forward to being able to have that opportunity,” she said.

Okkema and Aronsen’s book is available through Amazon. There is a Kindle version as well. The Harvard Diggins Library plans to incorporate “All Mixed Up” into its summer reading program and will organize an illustrator signing event in June. Library Director Karen Sutera said to check the website for postings.