Artist enjoys Village living and bringing children’s books to life
By Rob O'Connor '95
When Melanie Dorman Siegel '85
showed an interior designer for her previous home sketches from an art class she
was taking, the designer told her the drawings looked like they belonged in a
It was fortuitous feedback for Siegel.
"I was always
drawing something, and it had to tell a story and had to be funny," she said.
"It was something I've always done. I just didn't realize it."
"I think that
would be a great thing for me to be," she thought when the designer made that
Following her husband's suggestion, she joined the Society of
Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to learn the idiosyncrasies of the
publishing industry. She put together a portfolio of her work and showed it to
Marla Frazee, a professional illustrator, at a conference in Los Angeles, Calif.
Frazee looked at her work and said, "You're ready to do this!"
fortunate that I can draw almost anything," she said. "It was just a matter of
Fortified by Frazee's encouragement, Siegel was soon
mailing postcards of her work to art directors and, in 2001, landed her first
illustration job — a 48-page early reading book featuring funny little poems by
Joan Horton. The project was due in six weeks.
"I was too naïve to know you
can't do that. It's too little time," she said. "But it turned out OK."
her first illustration experience, Siegel's work has appeared in publications in
South America, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, as well as Highlights
"I just couldn't stop," she said. "I've tried several times to quit
but I just can't. It's what I do."
The Big Picture
Despite her innate
artistic ability, the picture of her future vocation wasn't always so clear for
A Magnolia native, she followed her sister Debbie Dorman Bernard '70
to Hendrix, where she majored in psychology.
"I took a lot of art, but I was
really terrible," she said. "I'm not a fine artist."
"I didn't have any
particular direction ... I loved psychology and I was good at it, but I think I
chose it more out of a sense of duty," said Siegel, whose siblings were going
into careers in medicine.
Among her memorable professors are the late Frank
Roland '68, from whom she took photography, art professor Don Marr, history
professor Dr. Garrett McAinsh, and Dr. Albert Raymond, whose human physiology
course remains Siegel's favorite class at Hendrix.
Uncertain about her
future, she left Hendrix for a year and enrolled at the University of Central
Arkansas, where she tried courses in accounting, business, computer science, and
thought about nursing.
Meanwhile, she worked as a graphic designer for Frank
Robins '49 at the Log Cabin Democrat newspaper.
"Frank was tough, but I
learned a lot," said Siegel. "But I decided I can't do this forever."
came back to Hendrix and met with Dean Raymond, who told her that all she needed
to finish was one psychology class and three electives. She opted for
physiological psychology with Dr. Chris Spatz '62 and, among her electives,
three independent studies with Don Marr.
One of Marr's assignments to her had
been to find an artist and copy his or her style.
"It didn't occur to me
until years later that I picked Mercer Mayer, an illustrator," she said.
Marr intended for her to choose a fine artist, not an illustrator, she said.
"It was very sweet of him to just let me be who I was," she said.
graduation, she married and started a family with Dr. Bill Siegel, an
administrator at Fort Roots, the veteran's hospital in North Little Rock and
former professor at Hendrix.
As a mother, Siegel was subconsciously studying
children's literature as she read to her children and future Hendrix students
Rachel Siegel '10 and Sam Siegel '14. Rachel, a sociology and anthropology
major, currently serves as a Presidential Fellow for the Crain Maling Center of
Jewish Culture. Sam is now a psychology major at Hendrix.
"I've had a long
and strong interest in children's illustration," said Siegel, who enjoyed
sharing the work of the late Maurice Sendak and the Poppleton series, written by
Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mark Teague, with her children.
in the Village
After 20 years of living in west Conway, the Siegels became
empty nesters and decided it was time for a change of scenery.
2011, after eating dinner at ZAZA Fine Pizza and Salad in The Village at
Hendrix, they walked through the residential area under construction and stood
on the porch steps of the sales office.
"We said, ‘Wow! It's so quiet' and we
just looked at each other and knew," she said.
"I work at home by myself,
which is very isolating," she said. "The thought of living closer to people
began to be really appealing."
The Siegels moved into their home in The
Village in November 2011.
"Now we have a nice social circle of neighbors, and
I see people every day," she said. "It's just the right medicine ... a perfect
From her home office, Siegel uses an electronic drawing pad or
monitor (Wacom Cintiq and Wacom Intuos 5) and Corel Painter for her
illustrations. Though she did advertising layouts manually when she worked as a
graphic designer, she has always used digital technology for her illustrations.
She is currently working on a children's book project for Red Robin Books in the
U.K. called The Best Present Ever and English-as-a-second-language books for
elementary students at Compass Publishing in South Korea.
She hopes to write
and illustrate a book on her own in the future. She's also exploring the
possibility of using new publishing technology to release e-books of her work.
"During my career, at first, the illustrators and writers were out in the field,
and the publishers had the key to the gate," she said.
New companies like
Book Tango will now take your book and format it for every kind of media, she
"It's changed radically, in a good way. Now everybody has a key."