Tabitha Rychener always loved expressing herself through art, but she never imagined having the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book.
That was until a chance meeting with local author Cindy March Sheeks opened that door for the 2017 Tecumseh High School graduate.
“Cindy was sending packages to the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp,” Rychener said. “I mentioned that I had attended the camp myself and was a freelance painter. That’s when she told me she was looking for an illustrator for her book, A Friend for Mahogany.”
The pair met for coffee, where Tabitha shared some of her work.
“I wasn't specifically looking for someone local, and certainly wasn't looking for a novice illustrator, but I liked her enthusiasm and decided we might collaborate well together,” Sheeks said. “I thought Tabitha’s work would fit well with what I wanted to achieve in my book. Her characters were very whimsical, and I could see that she "got it" when it came to my vision for Mahogany.”
Sheeks said ordinarily the author-illustrator relationship is filled with consultations and deadlines with the team collaborating on individual illustrations over time. But this relationship was different.
“I decided to allow Tabitha the space and time to work on the illustrations on her own,” Sheeks said. “She is new to the process, and I was in no hurry, so I encouraged her and let her use her own artistic vision.”
Rychener said the fell in love with the characters and began to bring them to life with colored pencil and watercolor.
“Cindy gave me the manuscript and the story was just so sweet,” Rychener said. “I let the story guide me through the artistic process and worked on the book for about a year.”
The result was 13 beautiful illustrations that help to tell the story of a brown bear named Mahogany and her forest companions as they go on an adventure to learn more about a new friend.
With the manuscript and illustrations ready, Sheeks was then able to take the next step of making her dream a reality, and invested her time and resources into self-publishing A Friend for Mahogany. The book became available for purchase on Amazon in August.
Rychener’s art teachers said they knew her talent, drive, and work ethic would lead to exciting opportunities.
“I remember Tabitha as an elementary student; she was the kind of kid who made teaching easy. She was eager to learn and her artistic ability was evident at a very young age,” said Jackie Whiteley, THS art facilitator. “When she contacted me and told me about her success as an illustrator, it was no surprise.”
THS art facilitator, Christine Obeid said she also saw a special gift in her former student.
“I had Tabitha as a student for Drawing and Painting and Art and Design,” Obeid said. “She was always self-motivated with excellent drawing skills. I’m so proud of her to be published.”
Both author and illustrator advise learners to follow their passions and prepare to work hard to achieve their goals and dreams.
“Write down your every weird thought. Even if you never do anything with it, just writing it down is the key,” Sheeks said. “If your goal is to be published, be prepared to work hard, edit like crazy, and believe in yourself.”
“Do what you really love,” Rychener said. “Work hard every single day. You’ll make it.”
A Friend for Mahogany is available on Amazon for $16.99. Follow Tabitha Rychener on Instagram @T.Artistics.