Sharks with legs, walking up the stairway to my room.  Squirrels who could talk, waging epic battles against Dirty Dog and Nasty Cat.  Picnic tables that took flight as B-52 Bombers.  Gods and angels wrapped in clouds.  Monsters buried beneath our basement floorboards.  A lovestruck soldier from the Civil War, wandering, looking for his sweetheart.  And his leg.  

These are only a few snippets from the stories told to me and my siblings as we were growing up.  I was born into a family of artists and dreamers.  Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, whose official job titles were more like Historian, Teacher, Architect, Journalist.  But the stories were always there, ready to be told to any willing audience.  The art ready to be made.  One of my fondest memories is of a fresh ream of paper being sprawled across our nicked kitchen table, and my father gathering us around as the stories began.  Heroes and unfathomable creatures tumbled out of his pencil as his hand whispered over the paper, our crayons barely able to keep up.  This is where I first fell in love with stories, and where my art education began.

The youngest of four, I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to a New England father and a New Orleans mother.  My mother eventually lost the War Between Warmth and Cold, and my family moved to Cleveland, OH, when I was five.  It is in that beautiful, tarnished city that I grew up.  

After earning a BFA in Painting from Miami University (OH) in 2000, I married my college sweetheart and moved to Chicago.  There, I pursued a freelance art career, alongside other typical young-aspiring-artist jobs such as waitressing, shop girling, and the like.  In between painting portraits of dogs, houses, and kids, I’d scratch out a few stories of my own, conjuring scenes and characters to dwell within those stories.  For while I enjoyed painting portraits, my heart was, and always has been, in the world of picture books.  

In 2006, despite my life-long assumption that I’d eventually live on the East Coast or The Most Beautiful City in the World (that’d be Cleveland), we moved deeper into the bowels of the Midwest.  A month after moving to St. Louis, MO, I became pregnant with the first of four children.  Within six years, there’d be a total of four little Ewen’s.  Because I like to keep things interesting and have little regard for sleep, I also completed my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2012.  After the birth of my fourth child, I decided to delve head first into the world of picture books, and haven’t looked back since.  

And now, here I am.  Somehow lucky enough to not only be with my family back in The Most Beautiful City in the World--Cleveland Heights, OH, but I get to make picture books for a living!  In the few morning hours when the toddler is at preschool, and late into the night as the dish washer hums and the gym uniforms tumble in the dryer, I’m working away in the attic.  The stories that have been rattling around in my brain and thumping in my heart, making my fingers itch to draw and paint, finally have release.  

Stories that have patiently waited, marinating, transforming over the years.  Fragments culled from my childhood, unfurling, stretching.  Old stories passed to me by the storytellers of my youth, words and images morphing into fresh creations of their own.  New stories that pop up unexpectedly as I drive our jalopy of a van, as my daughter’s feet kick an amber blast of leaves every pass of the swing, as I rock an upset child back to sleep at night.  It feels like breathing.  Sometimes labored, sometimes singing.  As my hand, like my father’s once did, and his father’s before him once did, whispers across the paper.

© Eileen Ryan Ewen 2021