Terry Widener wants to see your fairytale scenes

James Madison Hemings, illustrated by Terry Widener

Award-winning children's book illustrator Terry Widener shares how he created the animated cover for You Never Heard of Willie Mays!?, the 2013 picture book he created with Jonah Winter for Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

A gifted athlete as well as artist (he attended the University of Tulsa on a golf scholarship), Terry worked for many years as an in-demand commercial and editorial illustrator before a children's book assignment came out of the blue from an editor who'd been watching his work for years. Like many great illustrators, he's interested in many things, not just sports. He loves history, popular culture and he's interested in seeing your fairy tale scenes in the November 9 Group Critique where he'll preside as guest instructor.

Here's what reviewers are saying about his latest collaboration with author Winters, published just last month by Schwartz & Wade/Random House, My Name is James Madison Hemingsa picture book account of the son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings:

Kirkus Reviews

"Winters creates a tone of secrecy and distance in a place where no one is allowed to speak truth. Widener’s acrylic illustrations with their pastoral palette contribute to this with stillness, though they are not static. The many images of Madison as an observer of his surroundings reflect the fact he was the only one of Sally Hemings’ children to leave a written record of his life, a major source for Winter’s story...

"The strength of this telling is the way it encourages readers to empathize with Madison’s plight, making it a solid entry in that class of picture books tackling tough topics. (Picture book. 5-9)"

Publishers Weekly

"The creators of You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! bring poignant and personal dimension to the story of Thomas Jefferson’s family with Sally Hemings through the fictionalized first-person perspective of one of their sons. A somber mix of historical details and plausible fictional particulars, the book was inspired by an 1873 newspaper interview with James Madison Hemings (1805–1877), in which he described his Monticello childhood and claimed his paternity. Alongside Hemings’s candid narration, Widener’s emotive acrylic art underscores his perception of his life’s station: he’s repeatedly pictured peering in from the outside, with Jefferson (who isn’t identified until late in the story) shown at a distance..."

"A moving final scene reveals Hemings as a free man and accomplished carpenter who is still perplexed about how his father—and master—viewed him: “Perhaps he would be proud. I do not know.” Ages 5–9."

On November 9, Terry Widener will talk about creating the art that took 20 months to complete for this book, including time researching (six months to paint the pictures), and also about his recent forays into Western Art.  He'll review your illustrations including several left over from last month's group critique with author-illustrator Robert Quackenbush.

November's Guest Group Critique with Terry is set for 8 p.m. (U.S. Central Time)Wednesday, November 9.


Join us around the critique table in November

cover and book illustrations by Terry Widener

Fine art by Terry Widener

Terry paints his illustrations in traditional acrylics. Many of the the more than 30 books he has illustrated have been recognized on state reading lists, ABA, SCBWI, ALA, and a number of 'Best Book' lists. You can see a list of his awards here.

His work has appeared in the Society of Illustrators #’s 26,27,29,30,31,33 annual exhibitions and The Society of Illustrators Original Art exhibitions in 1997, 1999 and 2005. His work was also selected for the Communication Arts Illustration Annuals in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991.

His artwork is also a part of the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books at the University of Findlay (Findlay, Ohio) and in collections of national and international corporations.


Your fairy tale assignment (revisited):

Terry is known best for his illustrations for picture book biographies – often of sports and historical figures. But he loves a dramatic fairy tale picture, too and he's looking forward to seeing yours on Wednesday, November 9.

unnamed-1If you uploaded a two spread for last month's guest critique with Robert Quackenbush, you're good. If you haven't, there's still time!

Robert asked to see a finished illustration in any media – a spread (two facing pages is a spread) showing  an important moment from a fairy tale, fable, nursery rhyme or a story of your own.

Size/format? 10" x 16" or 8" x 20", depending on whether you want horizontal or vertical 8" x 10" book, which a standard size for a picture book when closed.

Terry Widener, illustrator

"For subject matter I suggest a fairy story or nursery fable – one that hasn't been done before. You can find that out by googling the name of your selection and see if it has been done. There is always a market for unusual folk tales and fables," Robert told us last month.

"You might even consider a fable or folk tale from India that has not been published before in the U.S for a wide audience including India that looks for books in English. Or write your own story, which is even better."

Give Terry a chance to see and comment on your work

Scan or take a photo of your finished 2-page spread and that's what you'll upload into the November shared folder, now set up for you here.

At 8 p.m. (U.S. Central Time) on Wednesday, November 9, we'll meet with Terry on this unlisted YouTube page.

He'll talk about his own work and process a little, then pick about 10 pieces from the November folder to talk about and teach from. (We'll cover any remaining spreads in another, future 'just between us' session. Watch your e-mails for news about that.)

This is an opportunity for you to create a piece of final art to include in a picture book dummy of your own – or very nice anchor portfolio piece based on a classic fable or tale.


To access all of the past critique replays and other resources in the members' area, you need to first register yourself (with a user's name and an easy-to-remember password that you'll give yourself) here.

After that, you’ll be able to log in each time to the library here.

Or by going to the site directly here (where you'll be asked to log in.)

Tech tip: Last Pass is a good, free password management solution to help you keep up with passwords if you're looking for some help, there. I know it can get a little crazy with so many membership sites and passwords.

Once you're inside the Guest Group Critiques members' area, you might enjoy checking out some of these pages to get you started:

🙂 Tutorial page on how the critiques and uploading to shared folders work

🙂 Our visit with children’s publishing literary agent Kelly Sonnack about how to present yourself online as a children’s book artist

🙂 And this valuable session agent and art rep Nicole Tugeau

To navigate the library of archived videos from previous sessions with our guest instructors, go the Guest Group Critiques home page, then click on a face!

Please holler back if you have trouble with any aspect of your Guest Group Critiques membership, run into difficulties using the site, or have any questions!

Guest Group Critiques are meant to help you develop your portfolio as you discover more about your craft, the children's publishing market and yourself.

We hope you can join us for November's session with Terry next Wednesday, November 9. 

Monthly group critiques are 'perfect practice'

They tell you...

  • What isn't working

  • When to push harder

  • When to just stop

And help you to...

  • Get a fresh perspective

    Our guest critiquers – illustrators, author-illustrators, children’s literary agents, art directors, maybe an editor or two  – examine your final in a spirit of teaching and mentoring.

  • Think more like a pro

    Watch up close and personal how full-time creatives evaluate and troubleshoot their own and others’ pieces.

  • Prepare for that thing

    That upcoming kidlit (or illustrators’) conference, important promotional mailing, post or sit-down with a client.

  • Sharpen your discernment powers

    Remind you of those bedrock principles of draftsmanship, design and communication. (Funny how they keep bringing you back to those.)

  • Meet your tribe

    Your colleagues and the expert practioners. Who share their What I Wish I Knew Then stories and become your contacts in ‘the biz.’ (It’s called networking.)

  • Get better at getting better

    Practice with critiques helps you understand the hierarchy of feedback and how to navigate it wisely – knowing what’s valid for you now, vs. what to set aside for later.

Improvement comes from consistent focus

Sometimes it will be your work being discussed. More often, someone else's...

Either way, you'll benefit by being there. You'll take away the insights to help you later — when it's just you behind the table making all those decisions, big and little required for a really good picture.


You don't have to go it alone...

With a subscription you can participate in all of our monthly live critique programs and access replays of all sessions we've enjoyed and learned from so far by these top professionals:

Click on the photos to see their websites!

Mira Reisberg

Mira Reisberg, author-illustrator, teacher and founder, Children's Book Academy

Karien Naude

Karien Naude, illustrator

Karien Naude

Chris Schechner, designer, illustrator and art director for 20+ years for "Pockets" magazine

Loraine Joyner

Loraine Joyner, senior art director for 23 years with Peachtree Publishers

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby

Jeff Crosby, author-illustrator

Marsha Riti

Marsha Riti, illustrator

Christy Stallop

Christy Stallop, illustrator

ustyme books art manager Nick Balian with the cover of his

Nick Balian, illustrator animator, art manager for digital publisher ustyme Books


Nicole Tugeau, agent and artists' rep, Tugeau2 Children's Illustrators

Award-winning children's illustrator Larry Day

Award-winning storyboard artist and children's illustrator Larry Day

C.S. Jennings

C.S. Jennings, author-illustrator

Annette Simon

Annette Simon, author-illustrator

Mark Mitchell, http://HowToBeAChildrensBookIllustrator.com

Mark Mitchell, author-illustrator and moderator

Denise Fleming

Denise Fleming, award-winning author-illustrator

Penguin Random House art director Giuseppe Castellano

Giuseppe Castellano, Penguin Random House art director

Renowned author-illustrator Robert Quackenbush

Renowned author-illustrator Robert Quackenbush (Halloween Critique Bash)

Wendy Martin, author-illustrator and teacher

Wendy Martin, author-illustrator and teacher

Mary Sullivan

Mary Sullivan, award-winning author-illustrator

Jodell Sadler and KidLit College

Jodell Sadler, founder KidLit College and agent


Kelly Sonnack, senior agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency