Childhood Photo of Karen Ritz

City Girls, Age 8, First Prize, Diocese of Albany School art fair, 1965

Karen, 1st Grade
St. Thomas the Apostle School, Delmar,NY

My kindergarten teacher said that I was going to be an artist when I grew up but it wasn’t until I connected my drawing with the written word that I knew she was right! I grew up with four brothers outside of Albany, New York. It was quite rural at the time and we didn’t have many close neighbors, so I had lots of time to read and practice drawing. I also enjoyed projects and hand work – many years our Christmas trees had entire new sets of decorations. I tried to take extra classes to learn about techniques, portraits and perspective, even in grade school, and attended Rhode Island School of Design a few summers during high school. There I learned the pencil technique I still use today. When I was fourteen, a lady I knew wrote a bunny alphabet book and asked me to illustrate it. She sent it to Random House and they liked the illustrations and not the story. I was hooked on illustrating for children! It is still the written word that inspires me to draw and paint.

I decided not to go to art school as I was still interested in lots of different subjects, and attended Kirkland College which has since merged into Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. By chance, the president’s wife was Natalie Babbitt! I showed her my work and she kindly set up an independent study with me, teaching me about the history of children’s literature and giving me a sentence to illustrate every week. Natalie also taught me pen & ink, using a fine crow quill point, and after two years, urged me to study children’s literature with Dr. Norine Odland at the University of Minnesota. I graduated from there in 1979 with a degree in children’s literature. My first book, Cornstalks and Cannonballs, illustrated in pen & ink, came out in 1980. I worked part time at a children’s bookstore until I could support myself as an illustrator. I have been working as a full time illustrator of books and magazines since 1989, and teach classes for teachers and librarians about visual language and the art of children’s books. Some of my original work is housed in the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota and Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express appeared as an animated feature on public television’s “Reading Rainbow.

I recently moved to downtown St. Paul and my drawing table now has a stunning view from the 30th floor. My youngest child, Daniel, also loves to do projects, though his often have something to do with planets! We just worked on a wooden boat to float in the continuous stream waterfall in the park below us. Andy is a college student and Natalie (named for Natalie Babbit), just finishing law school, and they all still like to draw. Willa, our cat, likes to sit right smack in the middle of whatever we are working on!

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