Llamas and rhinos and pandas

I'm thrilled to announce the publication of a new book by the supremely talented, award-winning Kayla Harren, an in-demand illustrator who lives near St. Paul. 

Released today by B&H Publishing and written by Christian recording artist Ellie Holcomb, "Don't Forget To Remember" illuminates the many signs of God's love in a child's life.

Kayla's sweeping illustrations are absolutely breathtaking.

She fielded my questions about the book and her many local inspirations. 

What excites you about this new book?  
This book was so fun to illustrate because every page is filled with kids and animals being whimsical together. That is my favorite! 
Ellie Holcomb released an album "Sing: Remembering Songs" to go along with the book. Kids can sing along to the song "Don't Forget to Remember" as they look through the pages. I think that is so fun.
I saw the different sketches you made of your girl with duck and tambourine via a recent Instagram post. Fascinating! How did you know you had it right? 
I work with an art director on each book. There is usually a team of people at the publishing house looking closely at my work through every step of the book-making process. Ellie Holcomb and the wonderful art director for this book, Michelle Freeman, gave great feedback that helped me get to the final illustrations. Once they approved the images, I knew they were ready.
I love the book's dancing llama. Did you have any Minnesota inspiration?
For this book, the author wanted to see a lot of unexpected animal combinations. I go to the Como Zoo and Conservatory with friends every once in a while to draw. When I need to think of a cute or exotic animal, sometimes I will look through my zoo sketchbook for ideas. 
Were there other close-to-home influences? 
I am outside adventuring with my dogs every day. They search for great things to sniff and I look for pretty little details in nature.
I do a lot of thinking and observing at Lebanon Hills Regional Park, Minnehaha Falls Dog Park and Battle Creek Dog Park. 
I love seeing animals in person at zoos. It really helps with understanding the shapes and structure of an animal when I can see it move in real life.
I love that the Minnesota Zoo has a red panda. They are one of my favorites, and I love to sneak them into books whenever I can. But the red panda is usually asleep when I visit during the day.
Recently, a friend of mine had their wedding at the Minnesota Zoo in the evening, and that was the first time I got to see the red panda really active. It was amazing.
Tell me about your process on the panda bear tea-party scene. It is stunning!  
For many of the illustrations in this book, Ellie had a bunch of ideas for what she wanted to include. The sunrise spread was one of the pages where I had some freedom to come up with my own idea.
I loved the visual of a large, round shape doing something very delicate and dainty. I make sketches for the entire book then revisions to those sketches based on publisher feedback, then I color the pages.
Because I work on all of the illustrations together like this, it's hard for me to really know how long each individual illustration takes. But if I had to guess, from rough sketch to final color, this panda page maybe took 15 hours.
Did you study flowers in your backyard or nearby for the amazing rhino spread? Have you always been a flower lover or did drawing these enchant you in a new way? 
I think my flower love comes from my dad and the giant wildflower garden he planted in his yard. He tilled the soil, and I helped him walk around spreading the seeds.
From my experience gardening with my dad, I knew to include a bunch of poppies and zinnias and cone flowers in this illustration. I don't know the name of my favorite one, but it looks like little bells in the shape of lupine.
It was winter in Minnesota when I was working on this book, so I had to resort to memory and photo reference to draw these flowers!
Related reading
Learn more about Kayla Karren through this interview.  

Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and four children in Inver Grove Heights. Read all her posts at mnparent.com/charmed