Katie Feild ’05, visual arts, has always loved stories: creating them, illustrating them, binding them in books. She went to graduate school to get better at writing them. In her current job at the Maryland Science Center, she looks for stories to tell in the stars and planets. And now, with the release of the new book Land Beast, written by Feild’s grad school colleague Kate Wyer, she has had the opportunity to completely illustrate one.
“This was the first time I had done something that was so heavily illustrated,” she says, ruffling through a black leather case filled with drawings, storyboards, concepts. Some of the papers are covered on both sides with sketches, dabs of paint. Feild says she’s “not very precious” with this sort of thing.
The pictures are done entirely in grayscale gouache, pen and ink. They’re meant to be seen through the eyes of Land Beast’s narrator, a female rhinoceros who’s been poached for her horn and taken from her home.
Feild was initially inspired by the atmospheric illustrations Yoshitaka Amano did for Neil Gaiman’s The Dream Hunters, but her creative process took her in a different direction. Rhinoceri don’t see very well, she explains, so the images are specific sensory details rather than lush scenescapes: a close-up of another rhino’s ear, a dark moon radiating shades of gray onto the white page.
“I do very small work,” she says.
That work tends to get done in between jobs that have little to do with art, and it’s the way Feild has operated ever since she graduated. After finishing her undergraduate degree at UMBC, she stayed on to work in the Office of the Registrar for a number of years, picking up an M.F.A. in creative writing and publishing arts from the University of Baltimore during that time. She chose that program for its focus on book arts, and to understand writing so that she could better house a story in pages.
After graduation, she went through what she calls a “hibernation” artistically, picking up small projects like album cover designs here and there. After leaving UMBC, she went on to work in such diverse places as the Maryland Science Center planetarium – “the most ideal and incredible work,” she says, because she has a chance to “[connect] people to the visible” – and a garden in the Western Maryland mountains.
“I like different experiences,” she says, “and they don’t have to be art-oriented…the art stuff just happens.”
When Wyer approached Feild to collaborate on Land Beast, Feild says she was ready to do art again. She had worked with Wyer before, most recently on the novel Black Krim, which she illustrated. What initially began as a proposal for a cover design ended in about 40 illustrations interspersed with the text.
Feild and Wyer published Land Beast themselves under the Ceros Press imprint (something UB’s M.F.A. program encourages its students and graduates to do, in an entrepreneurial sense). “Ceros” is Greek for “horn,” and the book was released on International Rhino Day in September. While the text never explicitly reveals that its protagonist is a rhino, key details like these provide context along with Feild’s artwork.
Feild was not initially going to be credited as the book’s illustrator. “[It] was in essence going to be a book by Kate Wyer that happened to be illustrated,” she says, “…so [when Kate asked me if I wanted to be credited] I was very flattered and felt very honored about that.” She was glad to collaborate with Wyer again, and while Ceros Press was originally meant to be a one-off, they’ve saved the name just in case.
“[It] takes encouragement, openness, trust, and recognition to do meaningful work a lot of the time,” she says. “Kate has definitely always given me this kind of support, as both a good friend and a fellow creative.”