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Illustrator shows fans how their favorite children's book characters are drawn


LORAIN — They’re drawn to him.

Jim Durk’s illustrations for “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Thomas the Tank Engine” books are beloved by children. Some of Durk’s younger fans gathered around him Thursday at the Lorain PublicLibrary System’s main branch as he showed them how it’s done.

As he drew Clifford on a sketch pad, the Bay Village resident described the illustration process. He said he draws much of his work on paper or a tablet and then scans it into a computer.

Durk said drawing Thomas requires far more detail than Clifford. When he began drawing Thomas, the look was more basic, but it has changed due to improved computer animation.

“Then they made him get a little more complicated, and that took even more time,” he said. “And then they got ridiculous.”

Durk said he rarely speaks with book authors but is sent notes by the publisher on the story line and what kind of poses the characters should be in. Durk said drawing a book cover can take three days, and an entire book illustration usually takes a month or two.

“I don’t nail it the first time, and I don’t think most people do,” he said. “Unless their lying.”

Durk’s art career began when he was about 5 years old when he drew on cardboard cutouts from his father’s dry-cleaned shirts and on the ceilings and walls of the family basement. His mother read him Dr. Seuss books at night — “Horton Hears a Who” was a favorite — and he said he also was influenced by television cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny.

Durk, 53, attended Ohio University planning to be an engineer, but said he soon realized he was better suited to be an artist. “I was horrible at math,” Durk said before the event.

Durk said he began his career in advertising in Chicago, but switched to illustrating when he and his wife moved to Cleveland. He was asked to illustrate a children’s book and was referred to an art agency in New York City that was impressed with his work.

He has worked with them ever since, and started drawing Clifford and Thomas about 20 years ago. “I was lucky that someone gave me the opportunity and I was able to use it,” he said.

Durk was invited to appear at the library as part of National Library Week activities by associate librarian Corinne Jalkanen, Durk’s cousin, who recalled baby-sitting him as a child. Jalkanen said budget cuts have forced many school districts to cut back on their arts programs, and she hopes Durk’s appearance will inspire children to draw. “It encourages a lot of personal development,” she said.

About 55 people, including about 20 children, attended the event. The audience included Sandy Ilcisko, of Amherst, and her 5-year-old and 4-year-old daughters. Ilcisko said her daughters love Durk’s illustrations, which encourage them to read.

Durk said the look of the books they’re reading is changing. He said computer technology has changed his job dramatically from when he started about 30 years ago.

Durk recalled rushing to the airport in earlier years on deadline with drawings done on boards. The boards were flown to publishers in New York City.

“If I didn’t make it, they’d kill me,” he said, jokingly. “No, they wouldn’t kill me. They’d just be mad.”

While technology has made parts of his job easier, Durk said after the event that 3-D computer animation may eventually put freelance illustrators like him out of work. Durk said he sometimes feels like a “dinosaur.” Durk said he worries that his daughter, studying digital art at Bowling Green State University, may not have the same opportunities he’s had.

“I see the writing on the wall,” Durk said. “I’m hoping I can keep it going for another 20 years and then call it a day.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or

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