2014-11-19 / Family

IllustriousFamily start

Teen artist gets book deal, bringsFamily Owned and Trusted! ‘Zombie Zoe’ to life
By Jim McConnell

Fifteen-year-old Chesterfield resident Ashley Burton illustrated "Zombie Zoe," a children's book written by local author Baine Kelly. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Fifteen-year-old Chesterfield resident Ashley Burton illustrated "Zombie Zoe," a children's book written by local author Baine Kelly. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer The serendipitous intersection of talent and small talk has created a potentially enormous career opportunity for a Chesterfield teen.

Ashley Burton, a 15-year-old Monacan High sophomore, was assisting local author Baine Kelly at August’s Hanover Book Festival when Kelly offhandedly mentioned her desire to publish a children’s book.

Kelly noted that she had a promising idea for a book and some interesting characters, but couldn’t proceed until she found an illustrator.

Burton replied, innocently enough, that she had been an avid artist throughout elementary and middle school.

Kelly, who hadn’t seen any of Burton’s work, decided nonetheless to give the girl a chance. Kelly briefly described her vision for the book’s two main characters and invited Burton to submit sample sketches. What Kelly got back a few days later left her speechless.

“It was exactly what I had in mind,” Kelly recalled during an interview last week. “She not only has talent for drawing, but the ability to listen to somebody talk about characters and develop a vision for how they should look. Not many 15-year-olds can do that.”

Not many are able to put “published illustrator” on their résumés, either.

Kelly and Burton began work on their first joint project, about a little girl who tries to fit in and make friends despite being a zombie, in late August.

The book, titled “Zombie Zoe: Moving in with Grandma,” was released last month and is available for purchase on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

“Once I saw it, I was pretty excited – it’s a real book and it has my name on it!” Burton said. “I never imagined this could happen.”

Not so for her parents, Todd and Stephanie, who began to recognize exceptional detail in her drawings as early as third grade.

“It just always seemed to come second nature to her,” Stephanie said. “We knew she was very capable of doing this. We’re just thankful she had the opportunity.”

Burton dedicated the book in honor of Meeshell von Ofenheim, her art teacher for three years at Providence Middle School and one of the first people who inspired Burton to pursue her artistic talent.

“It was obvious that Ashley loved art,” von Ofenheim said. “She was always focused and thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing. She took pride in her work. She had an open mind and was willing to take my suggestions for improvement.

“I believe that she had a strong desire to learn and it was important for Ashley to channel her self-expression and individuality through creating art.”

Throughout her middle school years, Burton was certain that she’d pursue a career as an artist, but that changed when she got to Monacan. She didn’t have a positive relationship with her new art teacher and her passion for drawing, once a part of her regular daily routine, was all but extinguished.

That’s all in the past now. Since forging a partnership with Kelly, Burton’s love for art has been rekindled, and she’s thinking about going to college to become a fashion illustrator.

Between now and then, who knows how many more installments of the “Zombie Zoe” series Kelly and Burton can crank out?

They’re already working on a second book, and hope to have it published in time for their book signing Dec. 13 at the LaPrade library off Hull Street Road.

“With the first book, I was scared that she wasn’t going to like any of my drawings and I’d have to do them over and over again,” Burton said. “I have a lot more confidence now.”

Kelly said that because they work separately, authors and illustrators typically require “a lot of going back and forth” to achieve a finished product that satisfies both of their visions.

But for whatever reason, she and Burton seem to see the characters in the “Zombie Zoe” series the same way.

“It’s amazing we had that one moment – a random 10-minute conversation – and everything just clicked,” Kelly said. “She’s a remarkable girl and it’s been a blessing for us to work together.”

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