Behind the Book: The Snake and the Salamander

I have always been fascinated with nature, and at the same time, I have always loved art.  The two for me have gone hand in hand as far back as I can remember.  Growing up I was constantly out looking for turtles and snakes, or I was fishing.  If I wasn’t out doing that I was painting or drawing.   A day painting turtles or salamanders in my view….is a day well spent!  For me, painting and carving give me the opportunity to share my interests, observations, and passion with others.  My work is my interpretation of what I observe in the natural world.  I try to capture colors I see and highlight the particular aspects of an animal that stands out to me. Often times a camera can’t quite capture what you are seeing, but painting can allow an artist to express his or her own experience.

The process in which I work on an illustration has several stages.  Artists typically tend to have their own process, this is just what works for me.  The first step I take is to research the species.  I will read about the appearance, anatomy, habits, and habitat.  I like to have at

least a general understanding of the animal before I start a painting.  From that point I start to gather references.  I love this part of the process.  Whenever possible I will go in search of references wandering through the woods or kayaking through swamps.  Experiencing nature and seeing wildlife in person is half the fun!  I will create sketches and take different reference photos of a habitat and of the animals.  Once I have gathered a sufficient amount of reference I then do a pencil drawing.  The drawing is somewhat detailed, but is more for me to map out the composition of the illustration.  I usually work on illustration board that is toned with coffee…. I love the old natural history feel the toned background gives an illustration. Once the drawing is complete I start painting using acrylics and acrylic gouache. I build the painting up with washes and many layers. 

I was thrilled to be able to work with Alvin Breisch on The Snake and the Salamander.  I have always been particularly fond of herps….. especially turtles. Illustrating this book was such an exciting project to work on.  Working on this book together, I learned a lot about the different species we feature.  As Alvin describes in his blog post, we made the decision to organize the book by habitats.  His writing is very informative and engaging without being overly technical.  He uses personal experiences, which gives the writing a very authentic feel.  We hope this book appeals to naturalists and nature lovers of all ages. We also hope that it might spark a new interest for some that are not as familiar with the subject.  The Northeast is full of beautiful and amazing species. When you take a closer look at some you will discover just how incredible they are!


Matt Patterson is the illustrator of Freshwater Fish of the Northeast, which won the 2010 National Outdoor Book Award in the category of Design and Artistic Merit. Find his latest work in The Snake and the Salamander: Reptiles and Amphibians from Maine to Virginia

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