Nettleton STEAM students officially illustrators

Caden Cochran designs illustrations for the book “Words that Matter: Family,” which will be released on Kindle Feb. 17.

JONESBORO — Nettleton STEAM Elementary School can now add teaching students how to be book illustrators to its list of project-based learning assignments.

“Words that Matter: Family,” written by Jacob Paul Patchen and illustrated by Cody Willoughby, will be available Feb. 16, said Sheri Williams, a publisher for TouchPoint Press.

Patchen, the author of the book, said the Kindle version will be available on Feb 16.

“We are still waiting on the final date for the hardcover and the paperback,” he said.

Cody Willoughby, Nettleton STEAM art teacher, said Williams contacted the school with the idea to have students at STEAM do the illustrations for a series of books.

“They were having trouble getting the illustrations done,” Willoughby said. “Her grandson goes here and she thought the students could do the illustrations.”

Patchen said he completed the 10-book series, and it had been sitting at the publisher for four years.

“We went through some illustrations. I didn’t like, then Sheri suggested the students (at Nettleton STEAM). “I am the opposite of an artist, so I put it in their hands; however, they envisioned it.”

Willoughby said he brainstormed on how he could have students do the illustrations and decided to create an after-school club called The ArtSquad.

“It’s like an art club, except that instead of them working on random projects, I had a specific project in mind,” he said, noting the project was the 10 books TouchPoint Press contracted with Nettleton STEAM to do have students design the illustrations.

Willoughby said students who were interested in being in the STEAM’s ArtSquad, had to submit a sample packet and follow specific directions.

Willoughby said he looked through the packets and selected 12 students.

Caden Cochran, one of those students, said it was a challenging project.

“Getting the outline right and getting it to look good,” was the biggest challenge, Cochran said.

Kaitelyn Russell, a 6th-grader at STEAM who worked on the project last year, said she learned some valuable lessons from the project.

“I learned how to draw better,” she said.

“There were a total of 28 total illustrations,” Willoughby said. “It was a long process because I wanted it to be professional.”

Willoughby said some students were assigned to character designs, some to backgrounds, and some worked on the storyboard.

Although the process took a little longer due to the pandemic, Williams said the first book turned out really well.

“The kids had to go virtual basically overnight,” Williams added.

Although he had students originally using pen and paper to design the illustrations, Willoughby said they quickly converted to digital designs using iPads.

“We do a lot of digital art and found it was easier to (use) digital tools,” said Willoughby.

Patchen said the students did an amazing job.

“They blew me away; Cody is amazing,” he said.

In addition to learning how to do book illustrations to the long list of Nettleton STEAM project-based learning plans, the school will also receive a percentage of all proceeds from the book sales as part of the contract with TouchPoint Press.

“We are giving the schools copies of the book and will donate 10 percent of the net proceeds to use for whatever they need,” Williams said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for the book release have been postponed, but Williams said she intends to arrange for students to meet the author.

“We want them to be able to participate and meet the author,” she said.

Cochran said there is one question he would ask if he had the chance to meet the author of the book.

“I would ask him how he came up with the idea, how did he create it, what gave him the ideas and the inspiration,” he said.

The school’s ArtSquad is under contract to illustrate nine more books.

“We don’t want the children to feel pressured at all. We want the second book to be released sometime in 2022,” Williams said. “We don’t like to push books out quickly, so we put about a year in between them. The next book in the ‘Words That Matter’ series will be ‘Love.’”