After Episcopal

David Opie '86

The career of freelance illustrator David Opie has led him from designing T-shirts for the Grateful Dead to illustrating children’s books.
David’s passion for storytelling and his characters’ life and emotion are the perfect combination when it comes to children’s illustration.

An artist at heart from a young age, David took his first art class at Episcopal with art teacher John Lisanick. After completing his bachelor’s in fine arts in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, David landed a job designing concert T-shirts for the Grateful Dead. During this time, David was also illustrating for a variety of magazines. He later earned his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he focused on illustration and writing and graduated with a portfolio geared toward book illustration. David then began doing book illustrations for educational publishers.
Over the course of his career, David has illustrated 35 books, most of them sold through schools as part of reading programs. He has just finished a series of 11 books about Morty the Mouse, the protagonist in a long-running series of reading primers. In addition, David has illustrated two consumer children’s books that are available for purchase online, from bookstores, and from the publishers.
David’s newest work, “There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth,” an adaptation of the old folk song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, was released February 1. The book tells the story of a hungry alligator who swallows a series of progressively larger animals until they all come back up. The ending is hilarious, and — spoiler alert — everyone survives the ordeal! “I love drawing alligators,” David said. “I don’t know why, but they are just a lot of fun. My focus is trying to give a lot of expression and life to the animals. That’s my niche — misbehaving animals and animals showing strong emotions.”
From the initial reading of a manuscript to the final artwork, it can take a year to publish a book.  David works with traditional media — pencil and paper — in the early stages of the illustrations. As the drawings develop, he incorporates Photoshop to shift elements and their sizes and adjust colors. He says that the technology used in illustration has grown very sophisticated and often allows him to incorporate publishers’ edits without having to redraw entire illustrations. After several exchanges with publishers, David uses watercolors to add details and shading and puts the drawings together with the text of the book. After proofs are approved, the printer creates the book.
David works chiefly from his studio in South Norwalk, Conn., where he lives with his wife, Miller, and two dogs. “I always wanted to be an illustrator, and I love telling stories through pictures,” he says. “My approach has always been more toward narrative, even when I was doing magazine illustrations. If I make myself laugh and amuse other people, that’s the best part for me. … Plus I get to paint and draw all day in my studio, hanging out with my dogs.”