Local artist illustrates first book

What began with a chance encounter with some of her paintings has resulted in a Fort Frances native illustrating her first book.
Artist Heather D. Holmlund, who was born in Fort Frances but now lives in Toronto, has completed the artwork for the children’s book, “As Long as the Rivers Flow.”
Holmlund, the daughter of Bruce and Lois Holmlund of town, has been a freelance artist ever since graduating from York University’s visual arts program. She had toyed with the idea of illustrating a book but never got the chance.
Then two years ago, author Larry Loyie, who wrote the story with Constance Brissenden, was in Fort Frances and saw Holmlund’s work on display at the Fine Line Art Gallery.
“He said it was perfect. He contacted me in Toronto and got me in touch with Groundwood Books and it snowballed from that point,” Holmlund recalled.
“They liked the fact that I was from Northwestern Ontario and that most of my paintings centre around Northwestern Ontario,” she added. “I also do a lot of native people, as well.”
Holmlund said she fell in love with the script immediately.
“It is written as a semi-auto-biographical account of Larry’s life,” she enthused. “It takes place in the ’40s. It is a family story, a lyrical account of the last summer of this boy before he is taken to a residential school.”
The coming-of-age tale follows Larry as he cares for a baby owl, watches his grandmother make winter moccasins, and receives his new name “Oskiniko,” or Young man, from his grandfather.
It ends with a truck coming to take Larry and his siblings away to their new school.
“It is a very Canadian story dealing with a sensitive subject,” Holmlund said.
Originally, the book was to be illustrated mostly by photographs with a couple of paintings. The four paintings initially expected for the book turned into 34 colour page illustrations.
It took a year-and-a-half to complete the project, from research and sketches to the final product, all the while Holmlund was teaching herself to be an illustrator with the help of an art director from the publishing company.
“I think it is very technically demanding. Keeping the paintings consistent throughout the book and keeping the characters sharp and consistent,” she admitted.
“I found it more emotionally demanding because I really got involved in the book.”
Now that the book is completed, Holmlund is ecstatic.
“I felt very good about it. When I received my proofs, I felt like I’d done my best work,” she enthused.
Holmlund will be appearing with Loyie at the Vancouver International Writersfest on Oct. 23-28. She’ll be discussing her illustrations at the conference that also features Pierre Berton, Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje, and Jann Arden.
“As the River Flows” will have its official Canadian launch at the conference.
Holmlund even is considering illustrating the next book by Loyie and Brissenden currently in the works.
“With one book under my belt, there are a number of things I would do differently,” she remarked.