Mary Reaves Uhles: What Keeps Her Inspired.

DOT Drawing Challenge Feature Artist:

I am so excited to introduce Mary Reaves Uhles, a very talented children’s book writer and illustrator.  You can see there is a lot of work that went into her artwork, but there is a lot of play as well.  I asked Mary what inspired her…  And I know that you guys will be inspired too!

Mary Reaves Uhles

What inspires me?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question.  On the surface there are the easy answers: I’m inspired by other great illustrators.  Shaun Tan, David Shannon and Wesley Dennis are some of my favorites.  I’m inspired by my artist friends, often they have the ‘breakthrough’ ideas I need when I’m stuck on an image.  I’m inspired by pop culture – songs that make me think, books that make me laugh, movies that make me stop and try to figure out why a scene was so powerful.  I’m inspired by any number of interesting or beautiful scenes or ideas that play out around me every day from the sun setting behind our hill to my daughter dressing up in the most ridiculous costumes.  I believe it’s important to notice every little small thing and always think about where I can use it at some future point creatively.

But down below the surface, way down, I’m inspired by two things.

Love and fear.

Mary Uhles artwork2

When asked what my favorite thing in the world is my knee jerk reaction is to say drawing.  When life’s obligations keep me from drawing I miss it like a physical presence.  When I’m bothered by the darkness or selfishness of the world I try to fight against it by drawing.  Even when a drawing is going downright terribly I love the challenge of trying to fix it.  And there are few things that bring me as much pleasure as seeing an idea spring perfectly formed from my brain through my hand to the paper.   That’s love.

Mary Uhles Art 3
Mary Uhles Art 5

An equally powerful motivator is the fear that there is some level of creation I’ll never be able to do if I don’t keep working…. if I don’t keep trying to get better every day.  When I was a kid I loved to draw horses.  By the time I was in junior high I could draw them pretty well.  But I couldn’t draw people for squat.  Deep down I could feel a tiny little niggling voice telling me “you’ll never be a great artist if you can’t draw people.  Neverevernevereverneverever.”  So when I was 13 I made a conscious decision to stop drawing horses so much and start drawing people.  I loved horses and I LOVED drawing but I needed to listen to that fear to be a better artist.  Happily now years later I can draw them equally well although I still prefer horses;)

Mary Uhles artwork 7

Thinking of fear as an inspiration can be uncomfortable for some people but I think of it as my dangerous friend.  Listening to it too much can stop me from creating but listening to it just the right amount can push me out of my comfort zone.  I think a great place for artists to live is on the “edge of the nest.”  Near enough to the snuggly warmth of their love of creating but also staring out at the vast space they need to fly into to really grow.

Mary Reaves Uhles has created illustrations for clients such as Cricket Magazine Group, McGraw Hill, Magic Wagon Press, and Thomas Nelson.  In 2013 she illustrated BEYOND THE GRAVE, a chapter book in the Up2U Adventure series from ABDO Publishing.  That same year she was awarded the Grand Prize for Illustration from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference.  Her piece, Eat, was a finalist in the 2014 SCBWI Bologna Book Fair.  She is currently illustrating The Little Kid’s Table coming in 2015 from Sleeping Bear Press.  Prior to beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive.  To this day her work features a cinematic quality essential to bringing characters to life.  A PAL member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.  Since creating characters and stories is her favorite thing in the world (even more than mocha fudge ice cream) she feels mighty lucky to do it every day in her hilltop studio. Visit Mary and check out more of her illustrations at her website

Mary Uhles art4


  1. This is great… Very inspiring! Just what I needed today… since I know that FEAR is my personal demon. It’s that fear of NOT creating something great today that makes me procrastinate. However, the love of drawing should really overpower that every single time (it doesn’t always). Thank you for this!!

    • It’s so true Kim! Sometimes I am so afraid to mess things up. I have learned that when that happens, I need to do at least ten of whatever I am working on to push through that “fear.” Thank you Mary for sharing this with us.

  2. Great post and wonderful illustrations!

  3. I love it. Very inspiring and reassuring as well… There are others out there with the ” fear” element present in their lives!

    • Thanks Leila! I heard a great seminar that talked about stress. This speaker said she had been telling people for years that stress was bad, that it was killing them, until she read a study that showed it was the perception of stress that hurt people’s health. If they thought stress was bad, then they were affected badly. If they thought it was a positive thing (to push them to succeed) then it affected them positively. Fear can be a great tool if you view it like Mary does.

  4. Marilee

    This was a fantastic post, thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Mary is one talented artist! I think love and fear are good inspirations, both will drive us to aim higher. 🙂

  6. Thanks for all the great comments and i’m glad it came off as inspiring! I think you nailed it Telaina when you said its the “perception of fear/stress” that really matters. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. happy drawing ya’ll!

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