This year I had the absolute pleasure of illustrating a wonderful picture book for an truly incredible person. Jessica Thedinga, aka ACO Jess, wrote sweet little book about saving raccoons and everyone should get a copy!
Jess is an animal control officer who amassed a TicTok following during the lockdown. She was continually surprised by some of the comments she was receiving about what animal control actually is. Animal control officers want to see all animals safe and treated well, whether they are pets or wildlife living near us.
ACO Jess & Friends: Raccoon Rescue follows ACO Jess as she spends a day rescuing raccoons and educating people about them. The book is available for preorder right now and will ship this winter. More info will be coming soon. Please check out acojessandfriends.com to preorder your copy! While you are there download the free coloring pages I created!!
I began to focus on illustration as a career only after having children. When the hectic days of toddlers in diapers and endless trips to the kitchen for more snacks were over, when they started preschool one by one and then elementary, and I began to feel like less of a mom and more like a person again, illustration began to whisper in my ear.
“Make beautiful things to share with the world,” she whispered. And I wondered how long she’d been sitting there waiting for me to hear her. Had she been there in college when I was teaching myself oil painting and pastels in between lessons, and homework? After I graduated, had she followed me to the bookstore where I drew funny comics about customers on pieces of receipt paper in the break room? Had she been there when my three year old begged me for the tenth time that day to draw Hulk using wipe-able crayons on a dry erase board I bought to teach the kids letters they refused to learn?
It is quite possible that she had always been there. When I did hear her it seemed like the most natural thing to lean in and consume myself with the thought. “Make beautiful things to share with the world.”
It was better said than done however. Though I had always drawn and always felt that I was good at it, I realized that to fulfill my new passion I needed to learn a lot and become much better. So while I watched my children and tended to the house, I also drew and learned. And I saw progress. The pretty little faces I had been doodling since middle school had bodies and believable hair. Soon they were moving about in environments that I had created. I was telling stories. I was illustrating.
I will never forget my very first paid illustration job. I was to create a poster of a family at a cabin nestled at the base of a ski slope. I did an honestly good job looking back. I was so immensely proud of myself and after I received payment I remember turning to my middle son, who was in kindergarten at the time, and said, “you can now tell your friends that your mom is a professional illustrator.” I can’t recall his reaction, but that statement meant so much to me.
Up until that point I hadn’t done anything that had put myself on a solid career path that I was genuinely happy with. I got my degree because that was what you did after high school and I worked at a bookstore because it was fun and I liked books. I had to quit to start a family because I wasn’t being paid enough to make working there logical. When my kids were little they used to ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up. But I didn’t know. Something creative? Probably? But after I heard that small whisper, “Make beautiful things to share with the world,” a dream was born.
Years later I am still happy that I heard that voice and that I get to create every day. In between pick ups and snack runs and play dates. Because some things don’t change that quickly.