Most kids like to touch the images in picture books. Jessica Lanan preferred to draw her own. At age 10 or so, she began copying fantastical creatures out of classics such as Saint George and the Dragon and Where the Wild Things Are. Now the 32-year-old Longmont native has turned her childhood hobby into a career. Lanan’s watercolors have been featured in two children’s books, and a third, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, is due to be released in mid-March. Her training as an artist started with a degree in studio art (emphasizing sculpture) from California’s Scripps College. Then, from 2006 to 2007, Lanan traveled between India, Laos, Thailand, and Japan, toting a portable set of paints and studying the art traditions of Asian fairy tales. Although now based in Boulder, Lanan is still on the move. She often takes her mountain bike to Golden Gate Canyon State Park or Fruita’s Kokopelli Trail and sets up her easel for plein air—or, as she says, “free range”—sketching. As such, she was thrilled to take on the illustrations for Out of School, a biography of a little-known female biologist and naturalist who pioneered outdoor science classes for kids in New York. “Publishing houses in Manhattan tend to want cityscapes,” Lanan says. “It’s refreshing to do a book about nature.” Her projects usually take six to 12 months to complete and involve hundreds of thumbnail drawings—similar to a movie’s storyboard process—before she ever puts paintbrush to paper. When she does, Lanan tries to convey the same beauty and wonder that captured her budding imagination more than 20 years ago.

Glimpse Jessica Lanan’s illustrations in the upcoming children’s book Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story.