Bringing Billy’s Story to Life

Billy was found chained to a doghouse, sick and malnourished. He was rescued and fostered in New England. At this same time, Susan Joyce—a writer, marketing professional, and animal lover—was looking at rescue websites to find a (non-cat) companion for her 11-year-old black Lab Oliver. Billy seemed like the perfect fit, and a meet-and-greet in a park was planned to make sure the dogs would get along. A young boy playing in the park asked to say hello to the dogs, and Billy was introduced as a “rescue dog.” To the surprise of the adults (including his mother), the boy interpreted this to mean a dog who rescues people. (Logical, really.)

This chance meeting proved to be the story’s key. For months Susan knew she wanted to write Billy’s story, but where to begin? Then she remembered the boy, and the story unfolded: “Billy is a rescue dog. Not a dog that rescues someone lost in the woods…or in the snowy mountains. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that Billy is a rescued dog.”

Illustration © by Thea Ernest

After many drafts and invaluable input from friends (including some young readers), the story was ready to be illustrated. Susan turned to an artist friend in Rhode Island—Thea Ernest—whose work she loved. Thea agreed to take a leap of faith and help turn Billy’s story into a book. Susan asked another talented friend, Jeanette Chow, to typeset the book and design the cover. A wonderful partnership was formed.

With a degree from Rhode Island School of Design in metalsmithing, Thea’s talents encompass many disciplines, including sketching with pen and painting with watercolors. Her work captures place and time with detail, vibrancy, and a lightness of touch that makes you smile. Her approach to this latest illustration challenge was to study countless photos of Billy, Oliver, Luke, Hazel, the goats, chickens, and Billy’s home on Maggie’s Farm. She researched bloodhounds, Saint Bernards, foxes, and the other creatures who play a role in Billy the Rescue Dog. Then she created pencil thumbnail sketches for each page. These became refined pencil drawings, then ink drawings, and finally watercolors which were scanned and sent to Jeanette.

With her extensive career in graphic design, printing and production—and a love of children’s books—Jeanette understands the important role of typography. The style and placement of text on the page helps tell the story. 

Jeanette Chow’s type treatment; illustration draft by Thea Ernest

Jeanette wove Susan’s text with the thumbnail sketches, creating a book map that allowed the three creators to get a true sense of how the book would flow. Jeanette designed the book cover to encapsulate the story and grab the reader’s attention. She then prepared the story files for Hemlock Printers to transform into a book.

The book has now been printed and is ready to be read, shared, and, we hope, loved by your own families. You are an important part of our collaboration.

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