Young teen illustrates children's book

Her artwork inspired Packrat Bob

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  • Olivia Gallagher at work

  • Olivia Gallagher's work

By Meghan Byers

— Byram resident Olivia Gallagher, fourteen, faced all the usual challenges of life as an eighth grade student; tests, homework, and the anticipation of beginning her first year at high school. However, in between all of that, Gallagher had one unusual extra task to complete – illustrating a children’s book.

The book, “Packrat Bob,” is based on the true adventures of a packrat who lives in the Rocky Mountains with naturalist Sally Roth, Gallagher’s great aunt. Although she is the author of over twenty birding, gardening, and nature-focused books, “Packrat Bob” is Roth’s first children’s book, and it was a painting of the packrat gifted to her by Gallagher that helped to inspire it.

After sharing the artwork online, Roth was surprised at the amount of interest her readers showed in “Bob” and his daily exploits. The idea took off from there, and Gallagher, then thirteen, found herself with her first artistic commission.

“It was the first time I’ve really had a commission,” Gallagher said. “It was nice to have a goal.”

It was also the first time she had a deadline – just three weeks to complete over twenty illustrations. “She would come home from school and go straight down to her art room,” said Robyn Gallagher, Olivia’s mother. “She would finish about an illustration a day.”

However challenging it was to balance schoolwork with artwork, Gallagher said that ultimately she enjoyed the process.

“Those are my two favorite things: art and nature,” she said.

Although she has tried her hand at both digital art and photography classes, a simple pencil remains Gallagher’s preferred artistic tool. "I really do like traditional art,” she said. “It's easier for me because I've been doing it much longer.”

In fact, Gallagher has been sketching animals for as long as she can remember, from an early interest in dragons and pegasi, to a current focus on winged creatures of the more realistic variety. A trip to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology left her inspired by the scientific illustrations, and she has turned her attention to birds. She’s even taking an online class in bird biology offered by Cornell.

Of course, simply living in Sussex County is enough to provide Gallagher with plenty of artistic inspiration when it comes to wildlife.

“I used to live in a house that was in the woods,” said Gallagher. “I would go hiking every day in our backyard. I really got to love nature that way...Now we live on a lake, and there are kingfishers, ducklings, and so many baby birds here. Once we even saw a bald eagle.”

As for Gallagher’s future plans, she’s hoping to use her talents to help others gain insight into the natural world that she loves.

"I really want to be a wildlife biologist,” she said. “I want to focus on preservation of wildlife, and incorporate art into that somehow. I really love showing other people nature."

“Packrat Bob” is available for purchase through online booksellers such as Amazon, as well as through Sally Roth’s website, at <URL destination=" ">
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