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Education through collaboration

Karen Mullins makes positive impact on youth through illustration, design

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Karen Mullins is sharing her talent in illustration and graphic design to help make a positive impact on youth in the Richmond community.

Karen Mullins

Karen Mullins

Mullins, educational program coordinator in the VCU School of Education’s Teaching and Learning Department, is also an illustrator and graphic designer. In May, she was selected by Richmond Young Writers to illustrate a children’s book in the inaugural year of “The Picture Book Project.”

Richmond Young Writers introduces young people ages 8-17 to creative writing through workshops taught by professional writers. The Picture Book Project is a writing/illustration collaboration between the two groups. Stories were written in the spring and illustrated over the summer. They will be printed in the fall and shown at various events.

Mullins first met with her 12-year-old partner in May to go over her story with her. The total number of pages for the story had to be divisible by four for printing purposes, so after determining where the natural page breaks should be, they agreed on a length of 12 pages. Mullins had her work cut out for her.

“Most graphic design projects tend to be one-offs, so 12 pages in a short timeframe made it one of the most intense projects I’ve ever worked on,” Mullins said.

Karen Mullins illustration

To inject color into her illustrations, Mullins added an occasional toadstool or small forest flower.
Illustration by Karen Mullins, School of Education

The story was also challenging in terms of color scheme. “It’s a story about a family of termites that live in a house in the woods,” said Mullins. “That story lends itself to lots of browns and greens, so I needed to find subtle ways to inject color.” To achieve this, she added an occasional toadstool or small forest flower (see illustration, left).

Additional variety was achieved through a mixed media approach. Since the termites live in a wooden house, Mullins created the illustrations on wooden panels and carefully etched wood grain into each area of the house. Termite figures were created on paper and collaged onto the panels after they were painted.

“My home studio has about everything I’ll ever need – a wood-burning tool, paints, watercolors, inks, plus a sewing machine, copy stand and my computer. There’s nothing I can’t make there,” she said.

Mullins’ illustrations will be featured alongside the author’s story in a special preview reception for “The Picture Book Project” on Friday, September 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Atlas, an art center for teens, at 114 W. Marshall St. in Jackson Ward. The event is family-friendly, open to the public and features an all-ages activity. All of the collaborative displays will be featured through September 22.

Learn more about The Picture Book Project here.