Picture book illustrator spreads creative message

Mark Ludy tells illustration students his messages and techniques in class Monday. Ludy often speaks publicly to encourage audiences to develop their creativity and be themselves. Photo credit: Richard Hirst

Mark Ludy is an author and illustrator of children’s books who made Waco home last year. His vibrant—but often wordless—stories, with titles like “Grump” and “The Farmer,” are meant to appeal to children as well as adults with their expressive characters and detailed scenes of paper monsters, busy city streets and Noah’s ark.

Ludy created his first picture book, “The Farmer,” when he was 25. It is a work of colorful detail with vivid illustrations about a farmer who is dedicated to his work but must learn to overcome disaster. The central theme in that story, and in many of his ensuing books, is being a good neighbor, Ludy said.

Ludy’s love of color and detail is perhaps illustrated best in his story “The Flower Man,” which shows, without words, how one man brings color to the streets of a gray and dismal city. Each of the more than 60 windows above the city streets holds its own personal story, which readers can explore for themselves.

Ludy said the stories and lessons that are told through his art and books are applicable to everyone. He said some of the recurring themes in his books are perseverance, trust, faith and forgiveness, all told through vibrant, detailed pictures.

Ludy doesn’t limit his life lessons to his books, however. He also shares his counsel on art and life as a public speaker with Baylor classes and other groups. Baylor art lecturer Greg Lewallen has asked Ludy to share his technique and life lessons with his senior-level illustration class in the past.

“He’s extremely creative,” Lewallen said. “I’ve seen some of his sketchbook stuff. He takes just a concept, just a flash of an idea, and sketches it out. Then [he] begins to develop it and flesh it out so that these crazy creatures that he invents, dragons or fairies or whatever, they can actually come to life. He’s very creative that way.”

Lewallen thought inviting Ludy would be an excellent chance for some of his students to learn tips about illustrating from a professional in the field.

“He is local and he does beautiful work, so I’m really excited that he’s able to come,” Lewallen said.

Ludy also came to campus to speak at a children’s literature class in the fall, showing students how he tells stories through pictures.

“He was friendly and entertaining,” said San Antonio sophomore Deborah Young, who took the class. “He came and shook everyone’s hand in the class. He has a loud and fun type of personality, and he made the class interesting and funny.”

Ludy’s books are always centered on his pictures, although he has written stories to go with some of them.

“I call them picture books, not children’s books,” Ludy said. “I sell most to children, but they are for all ages.”

He said the messages he wants to convey, both through books and public speaking, are not just relevant to children. His talks, as well as books like “The Flower Man,” often include the message that not fitting into a mold is all right.

“My heart is to encourage people that they are not to be normal, but to be the person they were intended to be and to be that person to the fullest,” Ludy said.

Ludy’s message comes from the journey he himself took to become an illustrator. He was born in Seattle but spent the majority of his childhood in Colorado. Ludy said he became interested in art at a very young age under the influence of his older siblings.

“When I was younger, my brother and sister drew all the time,” Ludy said. “They had fun drawing, and I was inspired to draw as well from seeing them draw.”

He said once he started to draw, it was hard to stop.

“I had the itch, and I found it fascinating to doodle and draw things, capture images on paper,” Ludy said. “I just keep on drawing and kept on having fun with what I was able to create.”

His illustrations today show the same love of doodling. Books like “23 Lost at Sea” are filled with intricate details that come from a lifetime of absentminded drawing. Ludy said his desire to think of things from an abstract, artistic angle made school something of a challenge for him.

“I did terrible in school,” Ludy said. “My homework assignments were works of art, but we’re not going to talk about the letter grades slapped upon it.”

Because of his poor grades, Ludy did not try to go to college. Instead, at the urging of his mother, he went to a printer to ask how much it would cost for him to start creating and printing his own greeting cards. After seeing his designs, the printing company offered to hire him on the spot, he said. From then on, his life was centered on art.

“I see life uniquely, which I see as a very good thing now,” Ludy said. “I’m very grateful that I didn’t get broken over that. I didn’t let grades define me in school.”

A year ago, he brought his illustration business to Waco.

“I had some speaking gigs in Texas,” Ludy said. “Next thing you know, we’re driving through Waco and my wife asks, ‘You ever thought about living in Waco?’”

Soon after, he and his family found a house and settled into the Waco community, and he began to introduce his artwork to the city. His work can be found at Anthem Studios Artisan Market, and he can be found in elementary schools and Baylor classrooms sharing his art and his message.

Ludy said he hopes readers will come to his picture books and find their own meanings in his work.

“Every book has different nuances, different messages, but I’m one that doesn’t like necessarily giving you a moral of the story,” Ludy said. “I like people discovering that for themselves. What someone is going to take from a good story is going to be unique person to person.”