Mimi Goes to the Beacon
Commissioned book design & illustration project:
A reflection on a woman’s remarkable life and epic battle with cancer, written by Rob Curran.
While Mimi is fighting a fierce battle with cancer she inspires everyone around her. Surrounded by her loving family: her husband Joe, their eight grown up children and twelve grandchildren, she sets a goal, to perform on the stage of her beloved Ardclough pantomime.
As Mimi goes in and out of the Beacon, the hospital in Ireland where she’s being treated for stage four appendiceal cancer, she keeps up her whimsical spirit and sense of humor.
“I want to help people cope with this insidious disease,
by sharing with them some of my experience,” said Mimi.
She cheers her fellow roommates with an impromptu theatrical show and helps a golfer on his grip. And even when confined to a hospital bed on Christmas Eve, Mimi makes sure the family traditions and holiday cheer carry on. True to her motto, Mimi’s sage advice to her son Rob is:
“I’m having my insides taken out and a fridge put in . . . I wanted a red fridge for Christmas, now I think I’ll get a red wig instead.”
“You’re never too far gone to think of others.”
When Rob Curran, a writer for the Wall Street Journal and the Dallas News and my friend, asked me to illustrate the book he was writing for his mother I was deeply touched and humbled by the task he had trusted me with.
In the beginning of my work, I asked Rob to tell me more about his mother. I wanted to get to know her better to be able to capture her in my illustrations. And so I learned that Mimi liked to spend time in a special place in her house where she would read, surrounded by photo albums, plants and birds. That Doctor Zhivago was her favorite movie, she kept the movie program from a visit to theater many years ago. And that she liked to visit the beach on warm weekends with her family.
When designing the book’s appearance and layout, I tried to keep a fine balance between the words and the art. While most pages show text accompanied by full illustration page, selected pages have text with small spot illustrations, and some pages show family photos on colorful background.
My preferred drawing tools are digital brushes that feel like watercolors and gouaches, brushes that I design and configure. I draw with Apple Pencil on iPad Pro, then use Photoshop for editing the images and adding text. A fun feature of ProCreate, my illustration app, is that it records the work. Here’s a time-lapse video of Mimi reading in the conservatory: Mimi reading
Some illustrations required long research before the art process could begin. Sifting through pictures from a movie I never saw before, ruling out scenes that were too sad or too intense for the book, I eventually chose the scene of Doctor Zhivago and Mimi in the Ice Palace as the fitting background for her hospital room. After all the poking and prodding by real doctors, I thought Mimi would appreciate a reassuring visit of the handsome doctor.
Another illustration was based on pictures from Edwardian Christmas, a book the family loves reading during the holiday. And since Mimi and Joe played the Darling children in the Peter Pan theater show, they became the stars of the illustration with Captain Hook sticking his head into the Edwardian nursery.
So much heart was poured into this book by Mimi’s family. Rob, who lovingly weaved memories from Mimi’s youth with her experience as a cancer patient, gracefully and humorously bringing forth a message of unity and strength. The Curran siblings, who advised and supported and dug through the family archive to find the right photos for the book. Aunt Margaret, who read the drafts and corrected historical inaccuracies. And Joe who is always there for his Mimi.
Thank you Currans and Rob for allowing me to take part in your family’s journey!