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Hillsborough textile artist, Chapel Hill writer team up for ‘Road Trip’ - News of Orange: Arts & Entertainment

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ART ILLUSTRATION Hillsborough textile artist, Chapel Hill writer team up for ‘Road Trip’

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Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2015 4:00 am

It’s not a traditional portrayal of North Carolina.

In flowy prose and vibrant scraps of fabric, “Road Trip Carolina, A Ride Across the Old North State” brings to life the scenes and landmarks from across North Carolina for the enjoyment of children and adults alike.

The children’s book—penned by Missy Julian Fox of Chapel Hill and illustrated by textile artist Elaine O’Neil of Hillsborough—celebrates all that is North Carolina.

“I am a born and bred Tar Heel,” Julian Fox said via email. “I love this state, the people, the extraordinary places and vistas. From our bookends—the mountains and the coast—and all in between—‘Road Trip Carolina’ takes the reader through our four glorious and distinct seasons on a drive across the state, stopping at important landmarks and points of pride. And the end, hopefully, leaves you with not only a sense of adventure but also a sense of connection and belonging. A feeling of home.”

Julian Fox is a lifelong writer with a degree in English from UNC-Chapel Hill and a Master’s in Education from Boston University; as a teacher, she was always drawn to children’s literature.

“I am completely inspired by kids of all ages,” she said via email. “Their possibility. Their wondrous capacity to be open to new things, ideas, ways to be. Their heart and natural curiosity. Beautiful, great children’s books have always inspired me. … The best children’s books have something to say to children—and to adults.”

When gearing up to write “Road Trip Carolina,” Julian Fox called on O’Neil, who she had worked with before along with Maria Lloyd on “Good Night Carolina,” another children’s book published in 2012.

The two women met years before while serving on the board of FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill.

“We have so many similar friends, kind of all of these dots that connect,” O’Neil said. “But it took us a while before we met.”

For Julian Fox it was natural to pair O’Neil’s colorful creations with her words.

“Elaine is so talented and great to work with,” Julian Fox said. “We do work together very well. We respect each other and the different mediums of expression—hers in fabric and textile collage and mine, trying to paint a picture with words or express or provoke emotions and feelings in words. … Elaine’s art is engaging, so creative and appealing ... making you look at places with fresh eyes. Her tapestries are rich with so much depth and texture to draw in the reader.”

For more than 20 years, O’Neil has made textile art her passion. In addition to working with Julian Fox, O’Neil has created covers and illustrations for other books and magazines. She also makes commissioned pieces.

“I call what I do textile collage because it’s a layering of fabric,” she said. “It’s not a quilt—there’s no batting in between or anything to make it functional. I actually want it as flat as it can be. I am really an artist and do a lot of original artworks.”

After developing a rough draft of the scene she wants o create, O’Neil begins to pull colorful fabrics to find the color palette she wants to work with. From there, she begins layering fabrics to form the creation.

“A lot of people don’t realize it’s fabric until they really look,” she said. “They think it’s a painting or something, especially when it’s in a print form.”

She first delved into the medium while living in her home state of Maine following graduation from Philadelphia University.

“A friend of mine who had a gallery in Maine, where I lived at the time, said ‘Do something for the next show,’ ” she said.

O’Neil created five scenes of Maine, and they all sold on the opening night of the exhibit. She had found her calling.

Since moving to Orange County, O’Neil’s notoriety has grown through her work with Julian Fox and other local projects, including one that had her design a Christmas ornament for the Carolina Inn.

“About six years ago, I started doing a calendar of North Carolina, Incredible Places, Creating a calendar and sharing proceeds with the North Carolina Cancer Hospital [in Chapel Hill],” she said. “So when Missy and I talked about doing another book about North Carolina, I already at that point had 60 pieces of artwork done of North Carolina. That’s how she kind of got started was using those, from the mountains to the coast.”

O’Neil said her work pairs perfectly with Julian Fox’s writing, and the two have a good working relationship.

“I’m happy to make other people smile because my work is lively and quirky and kind of a little bit off, you know,” she said. “To illustrate a children’s book, how great is that? It’s sitting in laps of people who love them and them learning to read and looking at the pictures and try to find what was mentioned in the words. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

Julian Fox said she hopes “Road Trip Carolina” will stand as a testament to her love of her home state and the sense of exploration when journeying to other places.

“I hope the book sparks a sharing of ideas and memories, connections, conversations, new adventures, things to see and, most of all, the sheer joy of discovery and the warmth and happiness and sense of place we hold in our hearts,” she said. “Wherever we travel, wherever we go.”

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