Creating magic: Illustrator Cathy Morrison has a studio with a view

She calls the place where she works a studio with a view, but that’s a serious understatement. Children’s book illustrator Cathy Morrison spends most of her day high above the ground level of her mountain home where she has a broad, expansive view of a peaceful meadow and the Mummy Range of the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

In the 5 1/2 years since she and her husband, Andy built their green, energy-efficient home in Glacier View Meadows, Morrison has produced colorful, detailed, realistic and enchanting illustrations for children’s books, one after another. She recently completed the artwork for Daisylocks, to be published this spring, and at the end of January is coming up on deadlines for two more books, “The Wild Prairie that Nature Built” and “Dino Treasures.”

In December 2013, “Dino Tracks,” illustrated by Morrison, was launched at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. In 20 years, she has illustrated 30 children’s books and won many awards including Childrens’ Booksense 76 recommended list, Foreword magazine book of the year, a Parents’ Choice outstanding designation and Moonbeam Children’s book award.

It wasn’t until she had children of her own that Morrison became interested in illustrating children’s books. A graduate of East Texas State University with a degree in fine arts and education, Morrison figured out early on that while she loved kids, teaching was not for her.

She worked in an animation studio in Dallas, Tex. for five years and while there was encouraged by her employer to freelance on the side. In 1980, after becoming enchanted by Colorado during a summer visit, she moved to Denver where she worked in a graphic design studio doing advertising and editorial art.

After she married and had children, Morrison discovered the area of art that interested her most. In course of buying books and reading to her children, she decided to give children’s book illustrating a try. She admired a little board book published by Tiger Tales Books and decided to try her hand at writing and illustrating. The publisher accepted I Want a Pet and it became a picture book.

The Morrison family fell in love with the Northern Colorado mountains where they went frequently to camp and fish. Both Cathy and her husband Andy work at home which made it possible for them to leave the Denver area and build their dream home in the hills of Northern Colorado.

Fortunately, the 2012 High Park Fire left their home unscathed. Their son, who was living in it while the Morrisons were in Thailand on business, documented the course of the fire for them as it raged nearby but spared their house.

No messy paint splatters are in evidence in Morrison’s studio. She does all her illustrating on the computer using the Cintiq digital drawing and creative tablet and a pressure-sensitive pen. She says she was a holdout for a long time but eventually made the move to creating on the computer and finds it suits her well. It also makes delivering her work to publishers much easier.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” she says when asked what she loves about her work. It seems to come naturally to her and to bring her great pleasure. She has drawn and painted since she was a small child. “I don’t have a long list of life skills,” she said smiling.

Yet she’s adept at school visits to talk about her illustrating, maintains a chatty, child-friendly blog and volunteers regularly at the Museum of Discovery and Science Center in Fort Collins taking school groups on museum tours.

She’s also a lover of gardening, even the challenge of finding drought-resistant, high-altitude-compatible plants that deer do not like to eat.

Over time Morrison has illustrated books for several different publishers including Sylvan Dell, Dawn and Patria Press, for whom she has illustrated 14 historical fiction chapter books. She plans to donate proceeds from a future book to the High Park Fire recovery effort.

During the month of January, Morrison figures she’ll need to produce two spreads a week in order to meet her dual deadlines. Even the incredible view that confronts her each morning as she begins to work won’t stop her from completing what has to get done.

Check out the work of Cathy Morrison at www.cathymorrison.blogspot.com.

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