Bringing Books to Life

Two book covers jumped off the laptop screen in delightful contrast. One, a dark, eerie illustration, brought teenaged readers into a World War II action adventure. The other splashed bright colors and anthropomorphized versions of Mike the Mouse, Fedora Fox and Betsy Bird as it invited children into a lighthearted fantasy tale. 

Keelan Rodgers ’22 beamed when he saw the reward for a year of labor: two professional illustration credits before his sophomore year of college. After all, in the digital age, you know you’ve made it when your work graces pages on

“I always wanted to get a book published, but didn’t expect to do it so soon,” he said. “I’m really excited to get exposure to what I want to do.”

Rodgers, an animation major from Chicago, landed the projects through Bradley communication instructor Jan Frazier, who had seen some of his artwork in class. Conversations led to Rodgers being tabbed to illustrate the cover of her latest novel, “Danger in Disguise.” From there, Frazier referred the student to children’s author Dee Delmastro Shaub, who needed an illustrator for her “Shop-Town Tales” series.

Two challenges tested Rodgers’ skills from the start. First was the creative process. Coming into the publishing process at the end, he had to read each book and catch authors’ vision for their pieces. For covers, he dialogued with the writers on which scenes to illustrate. To bring each setting to life, he then envisioned himself in it like a photographer finding the perfect shot. Once solid in his mind, artistic abilities took over and gave his ideas life. 

Then, there was the subject matter of Shaub’s tale. As a cartoonist comfortable with humans and detailed landscape backgrounds, Rodgers had limited experience drawing animals, much less humanized creatures with exaggerated features. To master this, he researched real-life barnyard creatures in the story, watched Youtube tutorials on drawing and practiced until he felt comfortable in the new setting.

“These were refreshing to me,” he said. “I’ve been drawing different styles of comics since I was eight, and working on these books together made me think through things in new ways.” 

Despite the adrenaline rush of seeing the finished products on Amazon, the real satisfaction for the aspiring animator came from watching clients approve his art for publication. It’s a feeling he hopes becomes familiar while continuing work on Delmastro Shaub’s series.

“It makes my day when I see art having a positive effect on people,” Rodgers said. “I’ve always loved it when people smile when looking at my artwork.”

— Matt Hawkins

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.