One of the first things Katherine Roy did after moving to Corvallis last year was go to the library.
“My husband said, ‘Let’s see if they have your shark book. If they have your shark book we can live here,’” she said last week.
A librarian helped her find the book, sealing the deal.
You might recognize Roy if you’ve seen her at the library or somewhere else in town. Or perhaps you’ve seen a Windows 10 commercial that debuted this fall and features Roy using Paint 3D in her work.
Roy is an author and illustrator. Her first book, "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands," was released in 2014 and is featured in the commercial. The picture book is about the sharks that hunt in the islands off the coast of San Francisco.
“I want to draw kids in and get them excited about a topic but then share authentically and accurately as much as I can the science behind that creature and the natural world,” Roy said.
The 35-year-old has released two of her own books and has illustrated several more. Roy and her husband, Tim, and their 2-year-old son, Jackson, moved to Corvallis from New York City to be closer to family in California.
Roy grew up in the Bay Area. After high school she studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 2004 with a degree in English and illustration.
“I’ve been wanting to do picture books since I was very young,” Roy said.
She then attended the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, graduating with a master’s degree in cartooning.
During undergrad, Roy met David Macaulay, author and illustrator of "The Way Things Work." Macaulay later put Roy in contact with an editor, who asked if she wanted to do a book about great white sharks.
Thus began months of researching, some of it hands on. In 2012, a group of scientists who tag and study the sharks in the Farallon Islands invited Roy to join them on a skiff during the animal’s hunting season.
“I like to say if you are going to write a book about Paris I think you need to go to Paris, and if you want to write a book about great white sharks, I think you need to go see great white sharks,” Roy said.
She spent several days with the scientists, who used a piece of a dead marine mammal to attract the sharks and a carpet cutout in the shape of a seal to lure them in and put tags on them. On the last day, Roy saw a 14-foot shark come up next to the boat.
“You’re so full of wonder and awe,” she said. “It’s this incredibly huge creature. It’s like a submarine going by.”
Roy said there are so many misconceptions about sharks, which is unfair. She wanted to engage kids with an intense subject like hunting while sharing true information. She said she acts as a translator between the scientists and kids by sharing their work in a medium children have access to.
“The scientists were endlessly gracious with answering my questions and trying to help me learn,” she said. “They feel proud of (the book), too. They feel like it tells their story and is accurate to their work.”
In 2014, Roy traveled to Kenya to do research for her second book, "How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild." Roy accompanied two separate research teams to the savanna to see elephants in their natural habitat. She learned about the family structure of elephants and how to identify the approximate age of an elephant using the cuts in their ears and the condition of their tusks.
“I got to have these really close encounter experiences thanks to the scientists,” Roy said.
The book is about a baby elephant and what it needs to learn to grow up and survive in the wild. On one page, Roy explains why young elephants eat poop, a favorite among children. She said the book illustrates how elephants are social learners like humans.
“The shark book is about the physical proximity of humans to sharks, and this is supposed to be about the social proximity of humans to elephants,” Roy said. “We’re very much like them but we’re in direct competition for space.”
The elephant book was released in September.
Many schools have invited Roy to speak with students about her books and the research behind them. She also shows kids how she creates her books. This begins by sketching images, sometimes using photos and videos she’s taken during her field research. She then scans the sketches into a computer in different layers to build spreads. After perfecting the images, she’ll print them out and paint them with watercolors.
One tool that has proven effective in both her work and her presentations is Paint 3D, Roy said. Earlier this year, Roy heard about a casting agency that was searching for 2-D artists interested in 3-D art. She interviewed with the agency and was selected to learn how to use the technology and then appear in a commercial showing how she uses it in her work.
“Any tool that helps me engage kids in a school presentation is a good tool,” she said.
Roy hopes the commercial will lead to more educator opportunities, whether being considered for book ideas or being invited to schools.
She recently finished illustrating a book about the bathysphere and is now working on illustrations for a book about the Mars Curiosity rover. The next book she’s planning to write and illustrate will be about reproductive biology in the natural world, Roy said.