The Newnan Times-Herald

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Artists find success, friendship in new children’s book


  • By Melanie Ruberti
  • |
  • Jun. 24, 2018 - 12:29 PM

Artists find success, friendship in new children’s book

Melanie Ruberti / The Newnan Times-Herald

Janet Burns, left and Susan Davis show off a fiberglass pig they painted near Court Square. The animal’s name is “Carnegie” and was placed in front of the Carnegie Library in downtown Newnan.

Janet Burns and Susan Davis, both of Newnan, were thrown together as coworkers under unique circumstances revolving around farm animals, history and a children’s book.

It sounds crazy, and both women said many folks have raised their eyebrows a little when they learn how the duo met.

But to Burns and Davis, the story behind their friendship seems normal – or comical, at the very least.  

“I checked her out on Facebook because I had no idea who she was. I wanted to see who I was dealing with,” Davis confessed with a smile as she nodded towards Burns.

Interestingly enough, the duo’s partnership began almost a year ago when both women separately spied a story on The Newnan Times-Herald website.

The ChildrenConnect Museum and the Newnan-Coweta Art Association,  along with representatives of the Carnegie Library, held a contest and commissioned local authors and artists to create a children’s book that would explain Newnan’s history in a fun and easy way.

The book would accompany the 2018 fiberglass installation project sponsored by the ChildrenConnect Museum and the Newnan-Coweta Art Association.

Every contestant, author and illustrator, had to present a true story or drawings about Coweta County’s historical past. The tale also had to be primarily narrated by farm animals.

Both Burns and Davis said at the time they were hesitant to enter the competition.

“I always wanted to illustrate a children’s book. I had never done anything like that. But there’s a lot of amazing artists in Coweta County. I knew it would be a challenge because they wanted child-like images, not oil paintings,” said Burns. “But I knew I would be mad at myself if I didn’t try.”

“I wrote some children’s books for my own children, but it never went anywhere,” Davis said. “The contest would be a challenge. I wanted to see if it would go anywhere for me.”

Both women submitted separate entries for the contest and waited.

A month later, Burns and Davis each received an email proclaiming them as the winners of the competition.  

Davis was named as the author of the book, while Burns would illustrate it.

The two women officially met one month later and took a first-hand look at each other’s skills and talents.

“I was amazed someone could write a story like that,” said Burns. “I was really surprised and impressed.”

“I believe the reason she was chosen was because of the animals’ expressions,” Davis said as she nodded towards Burns. “Who wouldn’t love that? It was right along with what I was thinking when I wrote the story.”

The book was titled “Lilly and Billy Visit the Farm: Newnan, A Storybook Town.”

The story centers around Coweta’s agricultural heritage and details Newnan’s humble beginnings.

The children’s storybook features local, prominent historical figures, some  depicted by farm animals.

While Burns’ and Davis’ artistic techniques seemed to match up, the children’s book wasn’t the only project on their plates.

The painted pig project

The women also had to paint a fiberglass pig depicting images and characters from their story.

In addition to celebrating the book, the animal had to honor the  Newnan-Coweta Art Association’s 50th anniversary.

The duo said they spent more time together painting the pig than working on the book. But the project gave them time to get to know each other.

Davis has a boisterous personality and uses dry, sarcastic wit, always with a smile on her face.

Burns tends to be quiet and shy – although she seems to come out of her shell when Davis is around.

Though the two women are as different as day and night, the collaboration on both projects formed a tight-knit friendship.

“We became comfortable around each other,” Davis said. “One day when we were painting, Janet came in with a bag that had the animals from the book printed on it. She gave me the bag as a gift. I realized at that point we were no longer strangers, we were actually friends.”

The pig, aptly named “Carnegie,” now sits in front of the historic Carnegie Library near Court Square.

Lilly and Billy

Before “Carnegie” was painted to life, the women worked for at least six months, adding finishing touches to the book and making changes to the storyline.

Davis said she made the book more “child-friendly” by adding animal noises to the manuscript. She also changed the character “General Dan” from a horse into a mule.

Burns said she researched farm animals, studied their movements and refined some of her illustrations. All of the artwork in the book was done with sketches and watercolors.

“I learned so much from this process,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about creating a children’s storybook. I had to think about it for awhile. What would the pig look like? How would he express himself? The animals were easy for me, but drawing the children was a challenge. Figure drawing is not my strength.”

The women finished the book at the end of March.

Burns and Davis had a hand in every detail of the children’s book from beginning to end, including sitting down with the printers to explain their vision for the finished product.

The women said they discussed every facet of the book, from the type of font and layout that would tell the story to the vibrance of colors that would bring Burns’ illustrations to life.

When “Lilly and Billy Visit the Farm” left the printing press, both women said they were happy with the completed project.

“It triggers an interest to know more about the community and what’s going on,” said Davis. “We tried to make the book fun and easy learning for children and shed light on interesting historical facts for adults. When I read it out loud to 20 children and their moms at the Carnegie Library, the parents enjoyed the book as much as the kids did. They commented afterwards, ‘I never knew that about Newnan.’”

“When you grow up in community, you want to know the history behind it and how things progressed,” Burns added. “I think it’s important for kids to know more about their community through books than what’s on TV, and I think they would be intrigued and proud of some of the rich history we have here.”

The women each donated all their time and talents to the children’s book and the painted fiberglass pig. Neither will receive a dime for their work.

Burns and Davis both say they’re okay with that because they gained a friendship more valuable than anything money could buy.

‘Lilly and Billy’s’ future adventures

The dynamic duo Burns and Davis met as strangers, but in the course of 10 months became fast friends and each others’ confidants.

The pair say they hope their new creative camaraderie will lead to more partnerships and potential projects in the future.

“Susan has some good ideas for follow up books, like ‘Lilly and Billy Visit the Square,’ said Burns. “We can share the history behind some of the buildings around Court Square. For instance, how Redneck Gourmet used to be a radio station and a law office on the corner of Jefferson and E. Washington Streets used to be the Virginia Hotel. I’m hoping Susan and I continue this project. I’m just imagining all the stories that could come from it.”

Davis agreed.

“I would love to do something more. If you notice in the title of ‘Lilly and Billy Visit the Farm,’ I slipped in the words ‘Book One’ on the cover,” she said with a laugh. “I definitely think there are more stories to tell about Coweta County.”

As Burns and Davis brainstorm future endeavors, they say their current hope is for “Lilly and Billy Visit the Farm” to be a success for the community, as it was for them and their newfound friendship.

All the proceeds from the book will benefit the ChildrenConnect Museum.