GAMBIER — Knox County has several hidden gems and Richard Cowdrey is one of them. Cowdrey is a New York Times best-selling illustrator and one of several guests hosting workshops at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster.
This will be Cowdrey’s 10th year doing the Buckeye Book Fair. He will be hosting a “draw-along” session where he shows the audience how to draw the famous hippo Fiona.
He takes his “draw-along” sessions to schools at every level. He’s been to speak at most of the schools in Knox County since he moved to the area. During these and other speaking events, he encourages kids to do what they are interested in.
“If you love it, that’s what matters,” he said. “I just try and encourage them.”
Some of his best known works include the “Marley” series, “Fiona The Hippo”, “A very Fiona Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” written by Steve Nelson, the “Guardians of Ga’Hoole” books series, and the Super Bowl XXXII program cover.
“I was the kid in class who drew constantly,” Cowdrey said. “So when people ask me ‘when did you know you were an artist’ or ‘when were you going to be an illustrator,’ I can’t remember not ever knowing.”
He would go on to graduate from The Columbus College of Art and Design in 1981 and land a job with Hallmark. But that job didn’t last long and he soon left to go out on his own. He started doing drawings for local stores and businesses and little by little made his way to drawing book and magazine covers.
It was his work doing the cover of “Bad Dog, Marley!” that got him onto New York Times best-selling illustrator list.
“I was thrilled. It’s an honor,” he said about how he felt when he got on the list. “To be honest with you, it meant that I would make decent money.”
He explained that illustrators, and some authors, are paid some money up front. This covers their time in case the work doesn’t sell well. If the work does sell well, Cowdrey said that’s when the royalties kick in.
When it comes to choosing what book or cover he wants to do, he has a representative who would pick what to put in front of him. Sometimes, his work doesn’t always get chosen to be used. He drew up a cover for the “Warriors” series, a book series about cat clans written by Erin Hunter, but was told the cat didn’t fit the look the publisher was going for.
The process to illustrate a book, such as “Fiona the Hippo,” takes longer than most people expect. He’ll send the drafts to the publisher, who often times send them back with suggestions.
“When I first did them, they actually took me almost six months,” he said. “I do a lot of sketching… A lot of time is spent on drafts.”
Cowdrey does hope to illustrate and write his own book.
“I love storytelling,” he said. “An illustrator is someone who tells stories with art and I’m a storyteller.”
The Buckeye Bair Fair is Nov. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fister Auditorium on the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Cowdrey will host his “draw-along” session starting at 1:45 p.m. Cowdrey will be holding a book signing event at Paragraphs Bookstore in Mount Vernon Dec. 7.
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