Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #9

Photographed at the Wild Light exhibit. Images used by permission.

By Chris M. Barkley:

Rick Lieder: The Modern Master of Mother Nature (and Coincidently, Horror)

Just on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, off a semi-rural stretch of US 20, renowned artist Rick Lieder is the star of an exhibit of exquisite photographs at the National Center of Nature Photography at the Secor Metro Park. The exhibit, called Wild Light, will run through August 19.

Rick Lieder and Helen Frost at Wild Light exhibit.

Lieder produced several dozen framed photographs of birds, insects and other wildlife for display, in addition to nearly more 300 other images and videos projected throughout the center. He has been a working artist for quite some time. “I started working with mainstream newspapers and magazines in 1981,” he said. “I think my first book cover was for Berkley Books, a paperback edition of The Roswell Incident in 1987.” His fine art, photography and digital work has been featured in galleries in the Midwest and Canada.

Among the most well-known book covers he has produced are the award-winning YA novels Princess Academy (Shannon Hale), A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park), an X-Files novel, Ground Zero (Kevin J. Anderson), the reissued edition of Under Venus (Peter Straub)  and a number of vivid and compelling works for his wife Kathe Koja’s books, Kissing the Bees,  Skin, Going Under, Buddha Boy, The Blue Mirror and The Bastard’s Paradise.

As accomplished as these works are, he felt the need to stretch himself further as an artist. “I’ve always done some wildlife/nature photography since I picked up a camera, but most of the work I’m known for started about 2002.”

These interests led to a series of wildlife books, with prose and poetry written by Helen Frost, an eminent young adult author whose best known for the young-adult novel Keesha’s House, which was a Michael L. Printz Award honor book in 2004.

Rick Lieder and Helen Frost (Photo by Ryan Walsh, courtesy of Kid’s Ink Children’s Bookstore, 5 May 2017)

Lieder and Frost met by happenstance. “Helen was signing books here in Michigan at an event with Kathe Koja and Sarah Miller in 2007.” Both found they had a mutual admiration for nature and wildlife and their discussion soon turned towards collaborating on a project “It’s was a collaborative process right from the start,” said Frost.

“Rick and I are both deeply interested in the natural world—I keep my eyes open and try to find just the right words to share what I see, and Rick does the same with his camera. Sarah Ketchersid, our wonderful editor, is also a big part of the collaboration, and as a book progresses we work with a book designer and others at Candlewick to see it to fruition.”

”We put together our first book dummy soon after and started the long process of submitting it to publishers,” Lieder said. “Helen and I sold our first book together in 2010, which was published by Candlewick in 2012, Step Gently Out”.

That book was then followed by Sweep Up The Sun (2015), Among A Thousand Fireflies (2016) and their current book, Wake Up!, which was published in March.

When asked about how they work together, Frost said, “We talk together fairly frequently and, in addition to nailing down details of each current project, we often toss out ideas for new books. At first they might be vague: ‘Let’s do something with insects.’ Or ‘Everyone loves fireflies.’ Then as our work progresses, it becomes more focused—we might be looking at images of birds and realize that the smaller birds should go together in one book, and it could be mostly about birds in flight. As I write a poem, we start to match images to words. Sometimes Rick keeps working to get a better image to go with a line of a poem, and sometimes I revise my poem so that it will more naturally be paired with a particular image.”

For the most part, Lieder has found the subjects of his work relatively close to home. “The majority of my work is done in my backyard, but also in a few locations in Southeastern Michigan.”

His work was considered so detailed and remarkable that some of his photographic footage was featured in the PBS NOVA documentary \ Creatures of Light in 2016.

The event at the National Center of Nature Photography has been in the works for some time. “I showed my work to the Center’s director several years ago, and we began planning the exhibit. Summer is their busiest season, so the timing is nice.”

When asked whether or not he was still doing any genre related work, Lieder said, “I’m always doing new work, mostly paintings, some of which are SFF related. Many are fine art, so you won’t see them among my SFF images. I’m doing more work with my wife, Kathe Koja, and some of those are within the genre. I designed the dustjacket of her latest novel, Christopher Wild, which was published this month. I’m also working on some future book ideas, very much in the fantastic field.

“My wildlife work started as a fun sideline, and I’ve been surprised by its success. Working as an illustrator on someone else’s project can be frustrating, both financially and artistically. Regardless of genre, I always prefer to work on my own ideas. Being able to create my own books is wonderful, and has taken up much of my time. I’ve learned a lot collaborating with Helen Frost. I’m also hoping to combine my wildlife work with more fantastic story ideas.”

And of course, there is always the next book project, which is already under way. “Our next book will tell the story of a Sandhill crane family, and is scheduled for 2019,” Lieder said. “We’re just starting to design the book, and this spring I’ve been busy following newborn cranes.”


Photographed at the Wild Light exhibit. Images used by permission.