When Steve Swinburne, the author of Armadillo Trail, suggested I illustrate this book, I knew very little about armadillos, except
that they lived in the southern United States, had a hard shell, and were one of few animals, outside of humans, that can catch leprosy.
The locations of the book, the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles were also unfamiliar territory to me. The first job of a nature illustrator
is be accurate, and so I set off for Oklahoma hoping to see lots of armadillos in the landscape where they lived. In 10 days of travel
by car, I did see a number of armadillos, but they were all roadkill along the highways. Armadillos with crushed shells are not pretty
so I will not include any pictures here. I did study the land with both photos and sketches. It is primarily flat or gently rolling,
with big skies and lots of farms where corn and wheat are grown.
The land feels spacious,with small towns that have huge grain elevators where the grain is stored prior to shipping.
This is good country for growing crops, provided the rain is sufficient. The rivers which the armadillo in the book follows are primarily
dry when I was there in early September.
Searching for armadillos and admiring the landscape, I did run across places like this. These old barns look like they could be part
of the stage set for the famous musical Oklahoma.
I drove a lot of back roads every night hoping to see a real armadillo. But I had no luck. After a while it occurred to me that it
would be like looking for live porcupines in the Adirondacks where I live. Sure, you can see a lot of roadkilled animals, but to spot
a actual, walking porcupine is pretty rare.
I really wanted to see armadillos in the wild, so Steve suggested that I go to Cumberland Island, where he was once a ranger/naturalist.
This is an island just off the coast of Georgia, very close to the Florida border. I walked there for an hour or so, when I heard
something rummaging about in the dry leaves. It was indeed an armadillo. They are quite unconcerned with a human presence, so I could
get very close for pictures. It was perfectly happy to snoot in the leaves for insects and grubs while I handled the camera.
Photos are an immense help for an illustrator, so I took a lot of them. Here is a close up of the armadillo's head. They are indeed
unusual looking mammals.
Now, at last, after many days and miles of travel, I had enough information and pictures to begin the illustrations for the book.