People who knew Jesse Graber when he was growing up say he was always drawing.


People who knew Jesse Graber when he was growing up say he was always drawing.

“I always really liked to draw,” the 1995 Newton High School graduate said. “It came somewhat naturally to me. I just drew all the time growing up.”

That doesn’t seem to have changed.

His artistic abilities were nurtured at NHS with teachers Patrice and Raymond Olais. He later studied art in college, first earning an art degree at Bethel College in North Newton and then a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration from the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 2006.

Now, the North Newton resident is working as a freelance illustrator for a variety of media, such as children’s magazines, advertisements and now children’s books. He’s even had pieces in Highlights magazine.

Three children’s books he illustrated as part of Project Play were released several weeks ago.

Graber will have a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Faith & Life Bookstore, 724 N. Main St. in Newton, where the books are being sold.

How does Graber feel about how the books turned out?

“Great,” he said, sitting at Faith & Life. “After working on them for two and a half years and not getting anything out of it except what I completed ... but when I saw them, I was just ecstatic. There’s something about putting something in a frame or getting something in a book that makes it great. They’re just kinda fun books. I was terribly happy to see how they turned out.”

The books are geared toward 5- to 8-year-olds and are part of a series of books called Project Play. In each book, children learn a new “outside” game, Graber said. Some of the games are Treasure Hunt, Follow the Leader, neighborhood baseball and Ghosts in the Graveyard.

Graber said the author, Marlene Byrne of Chicago, was inspired to do the book series after finding out her own children and their friends didn’t know the same “outside” games she did growing up.

“I was inspired to create Project Play as I watched my own children’s lives begin to get swallowed up in scheduled activities,” Byrne said on the Project Play Web site.

“Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, my childhood was filled with neighborhood kids and backyard games. After working in advertising, I believe creativity is an important life skill that is learned over time. I wanted to publish something that inspired families to value this creativity and feel good, not guilty, about their kids just playing in the back yard.”

Books just released are “Treasure Hunt,” “Follow the Leader” and “Just a Baseball Game.” Those who wish to preview a few pages of the books can visit www.projectplaybooks.com. Books can be purchased from that Web site. To see more of Graber’s art, visit www.jessegraber.com.

In the recently published books, children living in Edgebrook are led by the character Sam in games that require creative play and physical activity, according to the Project Play Web site. The books are meant to inspire parents to just let their children play.

Graber is illustrating more books in the series, such as “Kick the Can” and “Hand Jive.” He and Byrne hope to have a couple more of the books out by the fall, according to Nicole DiVito, public relations account coordinator with Celtic Marketing Inc. in Niles, Ill.

Graber works in digital illustration, drawing directly onto a special computer screen. There are advantages to that, he said. It’s easier to undo things on a computer, and there’s no paper to tear. However, out of habit, he said he still brushes away “eraser dust” on the screen.

Also, working on a computer requires less equipment — he doesn’t run out of paints and his brushes don’t wear out, he said, smiling. He draws and colors on the computer. Working on computers has been a more recent development in his artistic life.

“... Even 10 years ago, I didn’t do anything on computer because it looked like you did it on computer,” Graber said.

Just in the last few years, he’s been working on the computer because he said his work doesn’t look like he did it on the computer.

Although illustrating the children’s books has been rewarding, it’s also been a challenge — a learning experience for Graber. The first book he did was his first “big book,” he said.

“I learned a lot doing that,” Graber said. “The second and third were much easier.”

Things he learned were drawing the same characters over and over, making it look the same consistently and how to draw children. He said it took him a while to figure out how to draw kids.

While growing up, Graber drew such subjects as Spider-Man and said he’s always liked drawings as opposed to paintings. Two of his favorite artists are Charles M. Schulz, the Peanuts cartoonist; and Andrew Wyeth. Graber said he was inspired by Schulz.

“Just the way he could simply use lines to express about anything,” Graber said of Schulz