It all started with a mouse in her house. Or more specifically, in her garage. When Jeanne Dorie met the uninvited miniature rodent checking out its potential new digs on Terrace Street in New Glasgow, she didn’t set a trap, she wrote a story. While her stories didn’t have the same multiplier effect as her would-be new housemate, Jeanne has written, illustrated and published three picture books that all began with Mac the mouse and have evolved to include other furry characters that teach compassion and kindness towards our four-legged friends.
When the rhymes and story started to take shape in her imagination, Jeanne wrote them down and then called her four-year-old grandson Evan in Newfoundland. She read him her story and, when she was finished, he told her he liked it but, like most four-year-old book reviewers, he thought she needed some pictures. And so began Jeanne’s first dive into picture book illustration.
“At first I thought the story idea would be a wonderful way to communicate with my grandson when we were on the phone together. Once you get through what we each did that day there is not much left to hold the attention of a pre-schooler, but when he liked my verses and asked for pictures and then a few weeks later when he came to visit and asked if we could make prints, it was like he opened the proverbial Pandora’s box,” says Jeanne.
Writing has been the easiest part of her new endeavour. Her previous life working out west as a trainer in a mining company included writing procedural manuals, scripts for training videos and the development of software and writing a corporate newsletter for the last two years of her job. All of the tasks demanded attention to detail. An attribute that is evident in almost all aspects of her personal and artistic life.
Jeanne is known in many circles as a creative soul with a passion for both textile work and photography. From a young age growing up in Westville, her parents encouraged her creativity. She remembers her grandmother putting a needle and thread in her hand when she was four and showed her how to sew on a button.
“I played with her button bag and her treadle sewing machine. A new sewing machine was bought for me when I was 15 and I repaid this kindness by using it until I finally wore it out many years later. Their generosity was not lost on me. They also put up with a trail of pins I left in my wake,” she says with a smile.
Today her mum Ruth is her eagle-eye editor. At 100 years of age and failing vision she can still catch the tiniest details where she thinks Jeanne should make a change.
“How amazing is this that I have my 100-year-old mother and my grandson now five years old helping me with these stories?”
All of Jeanne’s previous apprenticeships have been the divining rod to her current writing and illustrations. Her appreciation for the structure that came with making and following patterns as a child was the precursor to her passion for quilt-making during most of her adult life. It’s here that she honed her creative writing skills curating several articles about this niche community in Canadian Quilter Magazine. It seems that as soon as Jeanne gains a knowledge of one artistic channel, she starts to navigate another. Her interests in photography and graphic design enticed her to learn more studying on-line, joining the local photography club SNAPS and becoming a member of Creative Pictou County where she finds support and encouragement for her ambitions. Another steppingstone to her book illustrations was her exploration with photo montages.
“The photo artistry gives me a lot of pleasure. Using pictures, some of my own and some others have photographed and making them into something new is exciting to me,” says Jeanne.
There is a Mouse in My House, There is a Flea on Me, Abbie Lou, I Love You and a Halloween book titled, You Can’t Fall Off the Magic Broom, that is finished but not yet published are all illustrated in a montage style. With the help of a software program designed by a South African artist who creates data bases of whimsical graphics, Jeanne infuses her own artistic elements into the scenes she wishes to help portray the story. It’s a style that she thinks adults will enjoy because of the retro “paper doll” aspect of the human characters. In the first two books of the series Jeanne incorporated repetitive elements that children have fun looking for each time they pick up the book. “There is a lot going on in all of the illustrations. It’s my hope that each time a reader picks up the book they will see something a little different on the pages,” she says.
It’s hard to imagine but Jeanne says that none of her pursuits came easy for her, but she has a love of learning and a natural curiosity. She believes that with each book she will become more adept with the graphic illustrations. As the stories unfold Jeanne introduces more characters. At the end of the first book in the series where the main character tries to solve the housing problem for a resident mouse, Jeanne introduces a Siamese cat named Niki at the end of the story. In the subsequent books a dog named Nigel and another Siamese named Abby Lou make an appearance. Both Jeanne, her late husband Jim, who was a well-known musician in Nova Scotia before his passing in 2015 and grandson Evan all find a place on her pages as the series builds from one house to a neighbourhood of caring and compassion.
While she is having fun learning the craft of illustration, Jeanne is also creating important messages in her picture books. What she hopes readers of all ages will take away is embedded in the story line that all animals have feelings, thoughts, have needs and a place in the family dynamic. She anthropomorphizes the animal characters so you can read their thoughts and language as if they were humans but, since the humans can’t understand the wishes of their animals, they need to pay attention to their pets behaviours. “If you just stop and pay attention, you can figure out what they really want and are trying to tell you,” says Jeanne.
Down a spiral staircase to her basement workshop you will find a lot of little details set out like a road map of Jeanne’s artistic journey. Her serger and sewing machines are at one end of the room, her mother’s wedding suit is displayed on a dress form tucked into a corner, a quilted hanging covers a computer monitor when she is not using it, photos of her three adult children, husband and grandson and several of her montage projects hang on the walls. There are a lot of passionate pursuits each with their own special place in between the four walls but they all are pieced together very neatly to illustrate a beautifully creative life.