Thursday, August 19, 2010

Local artist turns hobby into career

Cranston Herald
August 19, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

ON SHELVES NOW: Griffeth is now the illustrator of two published children’s books: “The Waterfire Duck,” and “Bubble Butt, the Challenged Sea Turtle.” Both books are written by Kiki Latimer of Hope Valley.

Bernice “Bunny” Griffeth spent most of her adult life working as a nurse who had a painting hobby on the side. These days, art has become more than a hobby.

Griffeth is a published children’s book illustrator and award-winning painter.

Since taking early retirement from nursing in 2006 in order to care for her grandchildren, Griffeth has been able to focus on her artwork and has unexpectedly found a new career path as an illustrator.

“I’d never stopped painting, but I never had a lot of time to devote to it when I was working as a nurse,” she said. “When I retired I started being able to spend a lot of time painting.”

Soon after her retirement, Griffeth wanted to draw some attention to her paintings, so she began researching and decided to create a daily painting blog ( through which she would showcase her talents. She began updating her blog every day.

She also uploaded six images to the Providence Journal<$> website, in the hopes that someone might see them and be interested in her work, although she didn’t have high hopes.

“I thought to myself, ‘Who is ever going to find me on here?’” said Griffeth.

Little did she know, local author Kiki Latimer had her next children’s book, “The Waterfire Duck,” all written and ready to go to publishing, she just needed a local artist to do the illustrations. Latimer began searching the Internet for someone who was familiar with Rhode Island’s Waterfire.

Latimer came across Griffeth’s paintings of local imagery on and knew she’d found her illustrator.

“We met once and we discussed a little bit about the book,” said Griffeth, who had recently won an award for one of her Waterfire paintings from the Watercolor Society. “After that we went back and forth over e-mail.”

Griffeth, who usually paints from the photographs that she takes, took about seven months to complete her paintings for “The Waterfire Duck.”

She is a fan of Waterfire herself, and had quite a collection of photographs of past Waterfires already, before she even knew she’d be illustrating the book.

Once the book was published in September 2009, local news outlets interviewed Griffeth and Latimer. They were asked to carry and light the Waterfire torches for one of the Waterfire nights that month.

“I had my grandson Joshua with me and he’d been with me at the first Waterfire I ever went to,” said Griffeth. “It was all very exciting.”

Soon Latimer was ready to publish another book based on local lore, “Bubble Butt: The Challenged Sea Turtle of Mystic Aquarium,” the true story of Charlotte the sea turtle, nicknamed “Bubble Butt” by the workers at the Connecticut aquarium due to an injury from a boat propeller that causes her to produce a large amount of gas bubbles in the water.

Latimer again contracted Griffeth to illustrate her book, which would be published in May 2010. Griffeth took several trips to Mystic Aquarium to visit Charlotte and take some photos of the soon-to-be-famous sea turtle.

“I wanted to make sure she was pictured in her real color,” she said. “She’s a green sea turtle, but she’s actually a golden color.”

Before she knew it, Griffeth had illustrated two books.

There’s been discussion between Griffeth and Latimer about collaborating on future children’s books, but nothing has been decided yet. Griffeth is also interested in illustrating for other authors, but ultimately as she sits in her home surrounded by her artwork, with her grandchildren nearby, she has just one immediate goal.

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