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Helen and the Trace That Launched a Thousand Trips

to live forever andra watkins

Helen Rice is an internationally acclaimed graphic designer. I’m lucky to know her.

Before she became famous in advertising circles, she put up a collection of her art at a local Starbucks. The one frequented by MTM and me since more than a decade ago.

I never forgot the whimsy on display.


It was MTM who had the Helen-should-illustrate-my-book epiphany. He met with Helen and her husband Josh Nissenboim on another matter, and he came home and said, “You should talk to Helen about illustrating your book.”


I already dreamed about Helen illustrating my book.

It was a sign. (And, we all know how I believe in signs. You can judge the results when you read the book.)

I asked Helen to complete a little interview questionnaire to help you get to know her, Dear Reader. She’s responsible for everything visual about To Live Forever. I couldn’t be more tickled that she agreed to collaborate on this project. Questions are me. Answers are Helen.

Andra: What was the strongest inspiration for your illustrations for To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis? Was it a particular character? Meriwether Lewis’s expedition drawings? The story? How did you get started?

Helen: I really loved the relationship between Meriwether and Emmaline. The sweetness of the unlikely pair crept into my mind a lot as I was working; however, it was Meriwether’s original expedition drawings that influenced me the most. I referenced them a lot in the beginning, and when I felt like I had a good handle on the style, I let it evolve slightly.

to live forever meriwether lewis andra watkins

Andra: Did you draw these in your tent? You said you might actually get that thing out and use it for this project, and I’m dying to know if you did.

Helen: Haha! I really should have. I prefer drawing on the floor, so I threw down a big wool blanket, piled up my references and supplies and drew for hours. I really, really enjoyed it.

Andra: Have you ever done a project like this? How is it different from what you do every day?

Helen: My day to day includes running a creative agency called Fuzzco. I wear a lot of hats including creative direction and strategy for our clients along with a healthy amount of business side work for Fuzzco. I’m turning from one thing to the next quickly. Getting to draw, for long stretches of time without interruption… it was a much needed, meditative experience. (Check out fuzzco by clicking here:


Andra: Which illustration is your favorite? (Mine is the same as Helen’s.)

Helen: The cover illustration is my favorite. The complexity of the scene, the intricate plants and animals, I really enjoyed working on this one. You left a lot of the direction for the project up to me, but you did have some ideas about the cover, I really enjoyed pushing it further based on your direction.

to live forever andra watkins artwork

Andra: The cover is very distinctive. How did you approach it?

Helen: The illustrations are more delicate and slightly feminine. I wanted the cover to feel a bit mysterious, unexpected. The color lends a more masculine tone to the art and the big, bold type offers a nice contrast to the hand-drawn illustrations.

to live forever andra watkins

Helen made my novel look amazing. I’m grateful that she agreed to work with me.

Last few days of To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis pre-launch details are here:

54 Comments Post a comment
  1. As brilliant as Helen is…and she is….I still love the fish in original Merriweather document best. I keep meaning to buy the book and I will…

    February 25, 2014
    • I’m partial to that drawing myself, Roger. It was the one that inspired the approach to illustrations in the Merry chapters of the novel. I wish we could’ve laid one out the way he did in his journal, but I feared that would distract the reader too much.

      February 25, 2014
  2. I like the illustrations

    February 25, 2014
  3. wow, how lucky the two of you connected. both talents to be reckoned with ) b

    February 25, 2014
    • Charleston is a pretty small town. People are bound to run into each other sooner or later.

      February 25, 2014
  4. The illustrations just fit. A real compliment to the words.

    February 25, 2014
    • I’m glad you feel that way, Robert. Especially in the paper version, which you read.

      February 25, 2014
  5. Gotta agree, the illustrations fit very well. In fact after reading your book and looking at the illustrations I had to go look up Meriwether Lewis’s journals so I could see how he fit his illustrations of the journey in with his words. Everything “just fits.”

    February 25, 2014
    • Both his and Clark’s journals are real works of art.

      February 25, 2014
  6. A pair of aces. That’s what you are. I’d bet on you guys any day.

    February 25, 2014
  7. LOVE the cover, Andra. Happy hiking. So is the Inca trail gonna be next? We could do that one together.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    February 25, 2014
    • I wish that could happen next year. Not walking the Inca trail, but seeing you and Sara.

      February 25, 2014
  8. I really love the cover, and for what it’s worth I think I’m going to have to purchase the physical book just so I can see the illustrations – I haven’t seen any but the cover in the Kindle edition so far.

    February 25, 2014
    • Here’s the thing, and maybe I should devote a whole post to this issue.

      The paper version of the book is exactly what I wanted. When the publisher laid out the different electronic versions of the book, the illustrations didn’t go in seamlessly like with the paper one. Because people have devices of different ages with disparate operating systems installed, I’m not sure the book will format correctly on electronic devices. The publisher did the best he could, and what he submitted was technically correct, but we can’t control what the end user chooses to read it on.

      Where this becomes a problem is with the two issues readers have pointed out to me: 1. the text overwrites the words on some of the Kindle for iPad versions; and 2. (A HUGE PROBLEM) the chapters that are formatted in italics are erased in some Kindle for iPad versions. When the italics are removed, I can see how readers could become very confused by the three narrators and the shifting points of view.

      I’m not sure older Kindle models even support illustrations. The first drawing occurs about 30 pages in. I’d love to know what model of Kindle you have, because no other Kindle user has pointed out any issues with the book on their devices. It’s all been Kindle for iPad.

      February 25, 2014
      • Actually, I’m on the Kindle for iPhone app, and I haven’t had any issues as such, I was just thinking I’d love to have the illustrated version for the illustrations because I like the cover so much. They have the cover on the first page, but that’s all I’ve seen.

        February 25, 2014
      • I wonder if the phone version deletes the illustrations. Wouldn’t surprise me, because the screen is too small to really fit them.

        I love the paper version. I’ve already said that. 🙂 I makes less royalty when people buy it over an e-version, but I don’t care. The paper really looks old and the drawings jump off the page.

        February 25, 2014
      • Well that tears it, then.


        February 25, 2014
  9. Helen and Josh are kind of heroes of mine with what they’ve done with Fuzzco and their stellar design. You definitely hit the jackpot getting her to work with you!

    February 25, 2014
    • I think she saw it as an interesting diversion from what she does all the time. It was so great to just give her a few directions and let her run with it. I never had to worry about what she’d come up with. She’s a real pro.

      February 25, 2014
  10. A collaboration nation.

    February 25, 2014
    • Collaboration produces really good things so much of the time. Unlike creation by committee, which is something else entirely.

      February 25, 2014
  11. The illustrations work perfectly in the book and I like that they are little hidden gems along the path of your well written words. I am really enjoying your book so far!

    February 25, 2014
    • Thanks, Amber. The design of the book was really important to me. I’m glad it’s working for a designer. 🙂

      February 25, 2014
  12. Now your new blog header makes perfect sense! 🙂
    Terrific illustrations; can’t wait to crack the book (er…Kindle) open now that the kids are gone. I plan to use all of my travel time Thursday reading. With any luck I’ll be done by Friday night and can post reviews before the 1st! xoxo

    February 25, 2014
  13. As a natural historian / scientist, field journals were certainly part of the work of Lewis. Even today scientists at their bench, artists in their smocks, and creative types capture what they see in the margins as they work in real life. That’s what I have always loved about field journals. Not that I’ve ever kept any. Marginalia is a whole art form in sacred texts too. I love Samuel Barber’s song cycle “Hermit Songs” based on Irish Marginalia…and one that Michael Carnell would love is “The Monk and his Cat” and “The Heavenly Banquet” which is rowdy. You can listen to it Lyrics are
    The Heavenly Banquet

    I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house;
    with vats of good cheer laid out for them.
    I would like to have the three Mary’s,
    their fame is so great.
    I would like people from every corner of Heaven.
    I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking.
    I would like to have Jesus sitting here among them.
    I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
    I would like to be watching Heaven’s family
    Drinking it through all eternity.

    February 25, 2014
  14. tarakianwarrior #

    Well done. Very well done.

    February 25, 2014
  15. I love the artwork! I’m reading on a Nook….illustrations (at least some) are there. I’ll have to wait until I have the paper copy to make a comparison and know whether I’m getting them all. Also, for your info, I’m getting the italics. The only oddity I’ve spotted thus far is a couple of instances where a word is “split” without benefit of hyphenation. I’ve a suspicion that’s simply the result of some formatting oops, and it’s not been too distracting.

    Will be keeping you in mind as you start out tomorrow. Hugs.

    February 25, 2014
    • Glad to hear the Nook version is mostly working. They’re all slightly different processes, and they haven’t come out as submitted on any device except the Kindle.

      February 25, 2014
  16. I read it on a Nook and italics and illustrations came through fine.

    February 25, 2014
  17. Thank you, both, for this enlightening interview, and peek into the back story of the illustrations. I keep picking up my copy of “To Live Forever . . . ” to enjoy the cover illustrations, and those inside, anxious to start. Self control, you know, is not in my bones, but, I need to finish some things first, and then, I’m off on a journey . . .

    February 25, 2014
    • In a few days, you’ll be able to read along in the text. 🙂

      February 25, 2014
  18. Me, again. These illustrations would make great bookmarks and a way to advertise the book. Just saying . . .

    February 25, 2014
    • I’ve incorporated them into my business cards, my stationery and my book insert flyers. We’ll see what else we can do with them. 🙂

      February 25, 2014
  19. Yes! Now I understand your new header. The illustrations are marvelous; can’t wait to read the book.

    February 25, 2014
    • The cover will match the decor in your place. It would look great perched on your nesting tables. 🙂

      February 26, 2014
  20. What a great idea to illustrate your story. Enjoyed the interview too.

    February 25, 2014
    • I tried to mimic Lewis’s journals in the chapters he narrates. I’m really glad that turned out as well as I dreamed it.

      February 26, 2014
  21. I bought the Kindle version and the physical copy! I needed one for you to autograph for me! The Kindle illustrations were very nice, too, but obviously couldn’t be enjoyed in the same way as the physical copy. They really do complement the storyline and setting perfectly. What a treat to meet the artist!

    February 26, 2014
    • She’s already on board to illustrate the next book. 🙂

      February 26, 2014
  22. Holy hell, it’s ILLUSTRATED?????? OH MY FUCKING GOD THAT IS AWESOME. what a great idea! Now I seriously can’t wait for March 1.

    February 26, 2014
    • The draft you read wasn’t laid out like a book. While you were reading, I was working with Helen on the drawings. The publisher took everything from there after I addressed all your notes. It was still a long process, as I had to do several reviews of the book, but I’m very pleased with the result.

      February 26, 2014
      • SOSOSOSOSO excited to see it. Love how it will complete that “diary” effect. SQUEE

        February 26, 2014
  23. I will have to get the print version of your book. Even if the book looks perfect in ebook format, with illustrations like what you’ve shown here, I want to hold paper.

    February 26, 2014
  24. It’s a beautiful cover, so beautifully designed and creative. I love it!

    March 14, 2014

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