ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
Ask most junior high kids how they spent the summer, and they’ll tell you about swimming pools and baseball games. But Goessel eighth-grader Travis Duerksen has a different story to tell.
He spent his summer illustrating a book.
Travis, 14, created the artwork for the latest “Slickfester Dude” book by Goessel authors Carol Duerksen and Maynard Knepp. The book, “Slickfester Dude Visits the Amish,” is the second Slickfester book in the couple’s growing list of books about the Amish.
Carol, who is Travis’s aunt, recognized his art talent early.
“Whenever we’re anyplace, he’s doodling constantly,” she said. “Whether we’re at a restaurant and he’s doodling on the placemat, or we’re going someplace on a family trip and he has his sketchbook in the van with him-he’s always drawing.
“And so we would see those drawings, and when we started to think about this Slick book, I asked him to draw an Amish man looking at Slickfester Dude the cat,” Carol said.
“I just wanted to see what he could do, and I didn’t even tell him about the book because I didn’t want him to be disappointed if I thought he couldn’t do it.”
Both Carol and Knepp were impressed with Travis’s drawing of an Amish boy and a cat.
“We looked at it and we said ‘This could work-he could do this,'” Carol said.
Although Travis has been drawing for years, the book is his first attempt at illustration.
“I really started to draw in the fourth grade,” he said. “At restaurants with paper on the tables, I would draw until I had to leave.”
Travis said he generally draws imaginary characters, so drawing the true-to-life images was a change for him.
Slickfester Dude is a real cat that lived on his aunt’s farm, WillowSpring Downs, and Travis had a picture of the cat for reference.
“I tried to make it look like him,” he said. “I basically just used his obvious physical attributes.”
Other objects required more research before he could draw them accurately.
“Sometimes on buggies and stuff, I had to look at a book to get it right,” Travis said.
“He told us later that some of the stuff was really a challenge,” said Carol. “Most of the drawings he does are more the ‘Star Wars’ things-the stuff kids are into these days. So the drawing we had him doing was a bit of a stretch for him, I think, which he never told us until it was all over. Some perspectives and depths of fields were things he wouldn’t have done normally in his everyday drawing.”
Matching the illustrations to the text required a back-and-forth exchange between Travis and Carol.
“As she thought of stuff, she just told me what she would like to have done, and I drew it,” Travis said.
“For example, she would tell me ‘two kids in the back of a buggy and Slick in the middle.’ Then I would ask her whether she wanted a side view, top view, or front view. She would say whatever preference she wanted, and I’d just take it from there.”
After Travis completed a first draft, he reviewed the drawing with Carol.
“She told me what I should change and what I should keep,” he said.
Carol said Travis actually worked on some of the illustrations before the text was competed.
“That was a challenge we ran into,” she said. “My schedule was just pushing me so hard that I wasn’t getting the book written as soon as I wanted to.
“I wanted him to have all the illustrations done in the summer so he wouldn’t have to do it during school time. But that meant I had to have the book all written during the summer.
“I got a draft done enough to know the outline and enough to know the basic scenes,” she said. “We had to change a few scenes a little bit based on the continued rewrite, and we ended up having him do some additional drawings by the time the book was done.”
Travis said he could complete a first draft of an illustration in about 45 minutes.
“It depends how complex they are,” he said. “Some of them are really simple-all I had to do was draw a kid, cat, lake-like that. Some of them-like large buggy, three people and a cat-took more time.”
Travis did all his drawings in pencil, which is the medium he prefers.
When he and Carol agreed the drawing was complete, he then traced the picture so the final copy wouldn’t have any eraser marks.
“Jim Friesen at Mennonite Press then took the illustrations and scanned them and added shading to all the black-and-white illustrations and added color to the cover,” said Carol. “So the illustrations, rather than being just pencil one dimensional, now have some depth.”
Carol said Slickfester’s first book was a book of short stories, but the new book is a different format.
“This is one story,” she said. “It’s a 32-page illustrated children’s book. It’s a story of Slick and his friend Kent going to visit an Amish farm.”
Kent the character is named after Travis’s brother, Kent Duerksen.
Much of the content is based on the real experiences of Carol’s husband, Maynard, who grew up Amish.
“The things that happen on the farm are all very real,” she said. “It’s either stuff that Maynard did as a kid or that would still be happening on Amish farms today. They go fishing, they milk the cow, the bring a calf home, they slide down the barn roof.
“Many people are curious about the Amish,” Carol added. “This is the kids’ version with a little bit about the Amish lifestyle.
“Obviously you don’t get into everything in 32 pages. But the idea is to help kids that are not Amish to understand that Amish kids are fun and have a great time even though they don’t have all those electronic things.”
She said the book is written at the third- to fourth-grade level.
The book will be available in stores Oct. 31.
“It will be out in time for the arts and crafts fair at Goessel Nov. 1,” Carol said. “We’ll have a booth there and have Travis signing the books. That’s the time when people can hook up with Travis if they want to.”
Although he is looking forward to the book signing, Travis is nonchalant about his success as a published illustrator at age 14.
“I severely doubt it will be a career,” Travis said with a laugh. “But it would be a fun thing to do on the side.”