Today we have a guest post from Loraine Kemp, illustrator of Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon.

How Could I Refuse?

Okay. I’ll admit it, when my friend Karen Autio first asked me to illustrate her historical picture book Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon, I was overwhelmed by the complexity and the amount of work involved. Plus I was already working on an illustration project. Lukewarm excuse, I know. I politely declined, even though Karen is a close friend.

What had I done? The book would spotlight the Okanagan Valley in B.C., my beloved home area, and I would be able to illustrate my favourite animals—horses. When Karen asked again after I had finished my other project, how could I refuse?

Karen Autio (left) and Loraine Kemp in Wild Horse Canyon.

I was sure, though, that the next couple of years would be entirely devoted to providing the illustrations for Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon. The very thought put my back into spasms (I’m not great sitting down for long periods). After scouring the internet, I found a perfect desk, and a stand-up chair, without which I would not have been able to tackle this project. I was set!


Of course, now we had to travel to the canyon to take pictures. After lengthy research, we found someone to take us by boat to Commando Bay, near the canyon. En route, we were torn to shreds by the underbrush and brambles (we did not find the well-used and much easier trail) but arrived to a stunning steep-walled canyon. For the next two trips, we hiked three hours in from the Kelowna side for more pictures (on real trails!).

In my quest to be inclusive and as accurate as possible, I went to Sensisyusten School in West Kelowna and found some wonderful models for the Indigenous part of the book. Xaydan Peterson and Kaylynn Sandy were excellent to work with, and they will be forever immortalized in our book!Two children in First Nations garb with a woman in western garb.

We also trekked part of the Okanagan Fur Brigade Trail on the opposite side of Okanagan Lake and were treated to more stunning scenery! (I love my home!)

A woman stands with arms spread before a vista of a lake

After all of the photo sessions, online research, and hiking, I had enough pictures and was ready to begin drawing. Karen had already sent me her incredible historical research files to keep me on track. The first phase was thumbnail sketches of my ideas for the thirty illustrations. After they were approved, I began to work on the second phase, the more detailed full-size drawings. The full-size paintings were the third phase.

Historical details pertaining to Indigenous lifestyle, pictographs, wild horse herding, the fur trade, packhorse equipment, covered wagons, Kettle Valley Railway, etc., were painstakingly studied and incorporated into my illustrations. (Often, a few coats of white acrylic paint were used as an “eraser.”)

Here is an example of how I used the photo above to the canyon to create the background for a scene on the Fur Brigade Trail. Mishaps had to happen, right?A painting of horses bolting near a lake.

Another challenge was that since the 2003 fire, the canyon was a completely different environment. Many of the trees had been burned and grasslands appeared. I used copious amounts of artistic license to illustrate what I imagined the canyon to look like before the fire.

The fourth and exciting final phase of this incredible journey is the publication of our book by Crwth Press. Then we will share our work with the public, our families, schools, libraries, and museums. We are very proud of our accomplishment and Karen and I will do this as we began—together!

To see more of Loraine Kemp’s beautiful paintings, and to read Karen’s thoughtful telling of the history of the Okanagan, check out Growing Up in Wild Horse Canyon.