I love the allegory of the olive tree and had thought for some time about making it into a picture book. If I had remembered that Jacob chapter 5 is, in fact, the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon, perhaps I would not have attempted the project. But it was one of those ideas that keeps coming back, so I tried.  I put the events into modern language and the short format of most picture books, and the result was so flat that I deleted it—and the idea entirely-- for months, then the thought came back, so I tried another approach. 

I copied the text of Jacob chapter 5 into a dishearteningly lengthy file. Then I began to work with the Book of Mormon language. The allegory of the olive tree is ornamented with Hebrew poetic devices, especially repetition and synonyms. Verse by verse I worked to keep the essence of the story, to shape it into a more modern narrative without sacrificing the beloved language of the translation.

It was a long process, and one that produced, not a picture book, but a manuscript that needed the greater talents of my two sisters to give it life. It has been wonderful to work with them and see the richness and enlightenment their paintings and calligraphy have added to the project.


When Chris first suggested this project, I immediately thought of a lettering style that reminds me of the shape of olives. Then I pulled out some wonderful  Indian hand-made paper from my stash, with a golden tan color and inclusions of  bits of grass  or straw. I did a few sample bits lettering with olive-green type  colors and sent to my sisters.

As the project started to become a reality I searched for that paper to no  avail. Apparently it is no longer available so I had to deal with changing  papers and Carol had started paintings based on the colors in the original sample.

Working with editor and art director was new for me - making all the page  layouts work with their suggestions for which words and phrases to emphasize was a lot trickier than I would have guessed. It helped a lot to change from using larger letters to using a heavier style for those parts, something I wish I had tried much sooner. Most of my work has not been books, so I felt constrained by the need to have pages of uniform layout. It was a great learning experience but I spent far too much time on layouts before getting out the paints - and of course getting to the actual writing quickly showed me that I needed to make adjustments.

I ended up using a German mold-made paper called Niddegen that I have always liked. It has laid lines and a good surface for writing, and takes corrections well. I did end up using a very slight gold wash which ended up scanning even more yellow.

The writing was done using EF66 nibs (clipped and sanded, I did five to make sure I had at least three equal width in case of breaking) and Mitchel-Rexell nibs for larger letters. The colors are all gouache and you may notice that there is always a color change between the narration and speaking. The gradual color changes are done by adding a new color to what is already in the pen nib.

I kept one nib for greenish and one for reddish, filling with a brush from a batch of various shades mixed ahead of time.

I enjoyed finding ways to make the letters reminiscent of not only olives but branches, plants, twigs, etc. and tried to harmonize the colors with each of Carol's wonderful paintings.


I worked on the illustrations for The Olive Tree I often thought about the Old Testament lessons we studied in Primary this year and the many examples of people who were asked to stretch in various ways. Often we are asked to do new things and we feel a little overwhelmed.  Illustrating this book was a good stretch for me. 

The first step was reading the text carefully, and then I began to research on a variety of subjects including olive trees, grafting, harvesting etc. I enjoyed seeing how a variety of artists portrayed olive trees.  One of my favorites is this painting by Van Gogh. I decided to use a similar color palette in my illustrations.

File:Vincent van Gogh - Olive Trees - Google Art Project (Minneapolis Institute of Arts).jpg

The next step was taking reference photos and doing lots of sketches. After the sketches were finished I re-read the text and worked on combining sketches with the story. When the text was divided out and the illustration ideas were in place it was time to begin painting. Some days the painting went well and some days I went back to step one to read the text again, do some more research, take more photos, do several sketches and start painting again.   The story itself encouraged me to keep trying and not give up, and I am glad that I stretched to try something new.

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