Jeanie Mellersh: Artist
“Stepping Out”
by Sarah Newman Illustrated by Jeanie Mellersh

A book for parents of special needs children aged 5 to 12

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The picture on the right shows
the desolation of the boy who
has just lost at a game. The
young carer swoops down and
with eye contact says “You can’ t
always win a game”. I found this
moment so moving that it still
brings tears to my eyes.

carer helps

 

being rude
How I illustrated “Stepping Out”
This is the second of two books I’ve illustrated on special needs children. The first, “Small Steps Forward” about younger children, won a BMA prize, (Popular Medicine Book of the Year) so I was excited to work on the second.
.
 
Sarah wanted me to show emotional scenes and gave me a list of suggestions. At first I was totally lost, but I got invitations into schools and opportunity groups in England and California, where I watched the children at work and play. Soon I won the children's confidence, my novelty wore off and I could watch them closely without disruption. I wanted to paint pictures to tell the emotional story behind the advice and inspiration of Sarah’s text. I also wanted each picture to be a work of art.

During my research I saw parents and carers totally dedicated to the children. Soon I became emotionally caught up in the lives of these children. In the swimming pool with a class of special needs children a carer called out to me “Haven’t we got a fabulous bunch of kids?” “Yeh – I’m in paradise” I called back. They are fabulous adults too!
boy in a world of his own

The 84 illustrations do important things for the book. First they show emotional scenes that parents can identify with. They show the children as beautiful and lovable. They act as easily remembered marks so it is easier to find your way around the book, and finally they lift the book and enhance it so that it shines out. I really loved illustrating this book. I was moved by the body language and the eye contact that I saw, and I empathised with both the children and the adults. Some of the pictures, like the big picture at the top of the page, seem to me to be a breakthrough in my art. I’m hoping for more illustration work showing similar strong emotion and social interaction. I love to work in colour though I liked the discipline of painting these illustrations in black and white.

These pictures are drawn at a high definition and look great enlarged up to the size of a door! They would make a lovely exhibition!

friends make eye contact

Buy Stepping Out:

picture of the book Click here for Jessica Kingsley (the publisher) where you can buy online. Or go to Amazon or other online book store.

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All artwork © Jeanie Mellersh 2003

Reading together

granny reads

Granny reads a favourite book to her grandson. They are both close family friends of mine. Here I wanted to show mutual love.

Swimming games

turn face

Several carers gather the children into a circle and play games, encouraging them to duck in the water. Notice the girl on the right looking out of the circle? Her concentration has wandered already.

Wheelchair Dance

wheelchair2

All children love to be included in activities, games, and dancing. Here two wheelchair children join in a dance.

Showering

carer showering bo wearing bathing costume

Showering an older special needs child; you are likely to get a soaking. So this carer is well prepared wearing a swimming costume and with a chair and hand-held shower.

Pictures in the left hand column

Top: The author’s middle son posed for me. Sarah had asked me to illustrate bad behaviour and he was delighted to assist and suggested this as one picture – a brilliant spontaneous gesture.
Second: A very sulky girl angrily refuses to swim today. Her carer persuaded her to kick the water to show how angry she was They both got soaked, and hugged and, laughed. The complete sequence is shown in the book
Third: Many special needs children are stuck in their own small worlds a lot of the time. I drew this boy in his own small world as the class played around him.
Bottom: Two close friends and a toy garage. The two boys play together quietly and happily making eye contact.

Technical notes: I collected the work using sketches notes and digital photographs which I then downloaded onto my computer. Using Corel Painter 7 (software) and a Wacom tablet and stylus (hardware), I then painted directly onto the computer, using very few “tools”:mostly scratchboard pen and airbrush. I placed it all, when finished, onto a CD to hand to the publisher.

The computer as an art tool is capable of extreme sensitivity and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. This project would have taken me many times as long without a computer. I do love modern technology! It makes things happen.