Chickasaw citizen uses his artistic talent to illustrate children’s books



OKLAHOMA CITY – Madelyn Goodnight fondly identifies an idyllic childhood as the source of her creativity and desire to illustrate children’s books.

“My mom says I’ve been drawing ever since I learned how to hold a pencil. I think she’s kept all the doodles and drawings I’ve ever done,” Goodnight observed, laughing. “I think I started drawing as an emotional and creative outlet. As I got a little older I realized that art was something I wanted to pursue and I dedicated myself to improving and growing. “

His maternal grandfather, Harrel McManus, was a sign painter and engaged in artistic pursuits. Her mother, Karen Goodnight, Chickasaw Nation lawmaker, business executive and 2014 Chickasaw Nation dynamic Woman of the Year, studied art in college before devoting herself to education.

“I love my family. I grew up in Konawa, then we moved to Goldsby and I graduated from high school in Norman,” she said. “Art has always been an integral part of my life from a young age. My parents encouraged it and art is a big part of my family, especially on my mother’s side.”

Her twin sister, Katie, and brother, Kyle “are just as artistic as I am, but have chosen other professional career paths,” Goodnight proclaimed.

His parents’ house in Norman even has a painting hanging on the wall by his father, Stan, an oilfield ruler, avid cyclist, and entrepreneur.

Goodnight is currently working on two books while celebrating the completion of two more: “Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi” (author Art Coulson, publisher Charlesbridge 2021) and “The Pear Tree” (author Luli Gray, publisher Penny Candy Books 2019). ). Both are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

“‘The Pear Tree’ was the happiest coincidence because Penny Candy Books asked me if I wanted to illustrate it. Unbeknownst to my studio, the publisher was based in Oklahoma City,” Goodnight noted enthusiastically. .

At the time, Goodnight was working in New York after completing his graduate studies at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

“I loved doing ‘The Pear Tree’ because it’s just a beautiful story that resonated with me. I think Esperanza is such a great character, a metaphor for hope and humanity. J was so excited to do it. “

These were the first illustrations of Goodnight for a book publishing company. Forays from New York to Oklahoma gave him the opportunity to collaborate with leaders and, more importantly, to visit his family.

The author of the book, Luli Gray, died in 2017, and the OKC company acquired the publishing rights to “The Pear Tree”, a popular tale that introduces young readers to themes such as life and death, sorrow, joy and hope.

“Usually you work with the author to find out what they envision regarding the illustrations. It was not possible, but Penny Candy Books was loyal to the author. They gave me a lot of freedom as well as suggestions. insightful, ”Goodnight said. .

The experience of completing “The Pear Tree” enriched Goodnight so much that it strengthened her desire to make illustration of children’s books her primary career goal.

“Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi” is Goodnight’s latest achievement. It has received the highest possible praise from readers and customers of Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. In addition to telling a story, it teaches math, introduces early American characters, and contains a glossary of Cherokee words.

Go home

From her Oklahoma City studio / home – she and Katie decided to return home from New York at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020 – Goodnight’s schedule is dizzying.

She is a freelance illustrator. Goodnight’s “day job” is with Dotdash, a large online media company with endless opportunities for her to contribute to art. In addition, she is associated with Studio Goodwin-Sturges to promote her expertise as an illustrator.

Judy Goodwin-Sturges owns the studio. She was one of Goodnight’s art instructors at RISD.

Goodnight’s acceptance into RISD, from his perspective, was a mixture of fortune and fate.

“I knew I wanted to study art after high school, but I really didn’t have a particular school in mind. My parents suggested RISD. My application was almost too late. “Had no idea how good the contest I was up against either. I just filled out the application and sent it in,” Goodnight recalls.

A few weeks passed before a letter arrived from RISD. “My parents weren’t in town and I didn’t want to open it,” she said. “My sister and I went to dinner. Katie berated me, saying, ‘Open it! Open it!’ I finally pulled myself together, opened the letter and was accepted. We were screaming! ” Good night is remembered with joy.

RISD is a private school founded in 1877. The university has consolidated itself as one of the top arts institutions in the United States and continues to top lists of best art and design programs nationally and internationally. .

Some of the most notable and recognizable RISD students have been Seth MacFarlane (actor, writer and creator of “Family Guy”), Brian Chesky (co-founder of Airbnb) and Chris Frantz (drummer for “Talking Heads” ).

If RISD hadn’t approved Goodnight’s candidacy, she wouldn’t have met Goodwin-Sturges to whom she credits “cultivating my style, my artistic presence and being my advocate.” A second RISD instructor associated with the studio is April Jones Prince who has also taught Goodnight.

“I love them so much. It’s really a small family. We’ve known each other for so long. They know my personality, what I find interesting, how I like to approach art, and they give me projects that I am. confident to approach. “

Onsi and the Cornstalk

On her website,, one can appreciate the art of a RISD project where she took “Jack and the Beanstalk” and turned it into “Onsi and the Cornstalk” as a tribute to her Chickasaw heritage and to his first American identity.

“I did a lot of research on Chickasaw heritage, imagery and symbolism. I was so proud and happy about this one because it was an ode to my Chickasaw roots,” she said. declared.

The illustrations are rich in Chickasaw imagery, with thatched-roof dwellings, white buffaloes, corn stalks, Chickasaw symbolism, and traditional badges. In addition, art and prose written for “When the Apples Sweeten” is available to enjoy.

Living in Providence, Rhode Island, away from his close-knit family, was a challenge for Goodnight.

However, a lasting memory was visiting an apple orchard on the east coast where the sights, changing colors and aroma of ripening apples permeated his senses.

“It reminded me of visiting Oklahoma’s peach orchards,” Goodnight explained. “It triggered different sensory triggers, but there was a feeling of being at home. It was a beautiful excursion. It inspired me emotionally and artistically.”

Beauty in the details

The art of Goodnight is detailed. In the past, she has drawn on paper, painted on canvas, used pen and ink, and filled many art tablets.

Today, his job requires the art of computers.

“Digital work is what I do for my 9 to 5 job, book deals and commissions. Digital art was born out of convenience. I have grown to love it. I love traditional art. but I mainly work with an iPad.

“Digital art is a very steep slope. I think that’s why artists have mixed feelings about it. Some artists have the golden touch. They can take a tablet and run it. The vast majority of artists have a learning curve and have to take hours and hours to perfect it, “she said.” It took me 10 years to feel more confident that I know what I’m doing. “

An illustration of Goodnight made using digital technology.

Detail is important to her. His illustrations have a sharp focus from the main image to the most obscure details away from the central theme.

“My attention to detail in my own artwork stems from my love for the idea of ​​being able to discover something new in a room every time you look at it. I want others to find new elements,” he said. she declared. “As I go through my art, or even in a book, I add little stories or details that I hope other people will understand.”

She credits her mother’s extensive collection of children’s books as the inspiration for her appreciation for detail.

“Of the many books my mom read to me, my favorites were the ones that were filled with works of art that you could come back to over and over again and see something new. These are the illustrations that I love the most. can go back and be just as tickled looking at them at 25 as I can be at 7 when seeing them for the first time. “



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