Art senior illustrates children’s book

Left: Natalie Leininger. Right: An illustration by Leininger for the book “Night Buddies and Evil School Bus #264” by Sands Hetherington. Courtesy photos.
Left: Natalie Leininger. Right: An illustration by Leininger for the book “Night Buddies and Evil School Bus #264” by Sands Hetherington. Courtesy photos.

Art senior illustrates children’s book

calendar icon28 Mar 2024    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Lincoln, Neb.--Natalie Leininger, a senior art major originally from Princeton, New Jersey, is the illustrator of the fourth title in the Night Buddies series, “Night Buddies and Evil School Bus #264” by Sands Hetherington.

The series, for middle-grade readers, includes goofy, surreal, action-packed adventures with characters ranging from red crocodiles to cheesecake-making giantesses.

Leininger learned about the opportunity through a family friend.

“I first heard about Sands Hetherington looking for a new illustrator through a family friend who is an editor and had previously worked with Sands,” she said. “She mentioned that I should audition for the job, and so that is what I did. I sent in an audition sketch and found out a little while later that Sands had wanted to work with me.”

Leininger describes her illustrations as quirky.

“The illustrations are very quirky and unlike anything I had ever drawn in the past, for example, lots of iguanas,” she said. “I would describe them as playful, full of color and dreamlike, in such a way that you might question what exactly you are seeing in the image because it is so unique.”

Leininger worked independently since both Hetherington and his editor lived in various parts of the country.

“I tackled the illustrations from the first chapter on and always started by sending Sands a loose sketch in which he could get a rough idea of what I was thinking,” she said. “Then, from there, he would approve or make some suggestions, and I would move towards the final sketch and then color.”

Leininger was happy to see it come together with the published book.

“To be completely transparent, it was a lot of pressure to illustrate a fourth book of a series and carry on the initial life to the characters that the first illustrator brought,” she said. “I think once I got over the hurdle of making the characters feel true to my style while also honoring the previous illustrator, I had fun putting all of the quirky elements into the drawings.”

Leininger said it was a good experience for her.

“This experience has been very beneficial for me as an artist already because it helped me land my second job as an illustrator,” she said. “I also learned a lot about collaboration and patience because the book required a lot of back and forth input.”

Leininger just recently finished illustrating another book titled “Dee the Mindful Bee,” which is a picture book written by a counselor who aims to help both kids and adults learn more about mindfulness.

“For this book, I took on the role of both illustrator and graphic designer, so I am very eager to see it printed,” she said. “It is headed to the publisher and should hopefully be released in a couple of months.”

She is interested in book illustration as a career, among other interests.

“I have always wanted to work alongside authors to bring their visions to life and maybe someday in the future, I would love to both write and illustrate a book myself,” she said. “Aside from illustration, I focus a lot on oil painting and would love to continue painting and applying to exhibitions to display my work. Other career aspirations would include someday working in a gallery space as I love the curation process of exhibitions and museums.”

Leininger has been interested in art since she was very young.

“I have been making art since I could hold a crayon, which sounds very cliché, but according to my parents, is definitely true,” she said. “I spent all of my time as a child coloring, making crafts, and sewing clothes for my dolls. This only continued as I took my art making more seriously and was always thinking of new things I wanted to portray in my art.”

After being raised in northern New Jersey for 15 years, the family moved to Lincoln and Leininger chose to study art in the School of Art, Art History & Design.

“The art department is a really beautiful collection of people, and the community is my favorite thing,” she said. “We may all be creating such different forms of art, but everyone is cheering for one another, and it is really special. I have made so many great connections with both peers and professors, who are so invested in the arts, and we have such meaningful conversations even beyond the classroom.”

Leininger’s work, along with other graduating seniors, will be shown May 13-17 in the Capstone Exhibition in the Eisentrager-Howard Gallery.

“There is such a beautiful range of work, and we are all very excited for the exhibition,” she said.

Her work can also be seen on Instagram at @_worldinbloom_.