Baseball, not illustration critiques, has been in the air all week. So we’re repurposing a video post that ran here a few years ago about illustrator Terry Widener, who is known for his masterful acrylic illustrations for children’s picture books  about famous athletes, especially baseball legends. Terry will be guest-instructing in November’s online group critique, this Wednesday, November 9. (That’s another reason we’re featuring him again here!)

The interview videos below focus on the work he did on a PB biography of the greatest baseball player of all time, You Never Heard of Willie Mays!? by Jonah Winter (Schwartz & Wade/Random House.)

Terry brings a background of high-level advertising and editorial illustration and something else to creating his pictures: The sensibility of a gifted athlete. Too small to play football or even much baseball on school teams, he focused on golf. Eventually, he attended art school at the University of Tulsa on a golf scholarship.

After graduating he had to choose between two job offers — one as the golf pro at a country club, the other as an ad agency art director. Opting for the advertising art route because it paid just a little more per week, Terry went on to design and illustrate for major publications and ad agencies. His national and international clients included Coca-Cola, Burger King, The Franklin Mint and Aesculap (a German orthopedic implant manufacturer.)

His first kids’ book illustrations were for Lou Gehrig — The Luckiest Man by David Adler (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace) named a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor book, a Texas Bluebonnet Reading List selection, an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year and an SCBWI Golden Kite Finalist, and received the International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award.

Since then his books have attracted more honors and recognition,  including Smithsonian Notable Book of the Year, School Library Journal  Best Book of the Year, the Junior Library Guild List, the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show, the Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and other awards.



You Never Heard of Willie Mays!? features an in-motion cover image (watch above) – you know those “wiggle pictures” that appear to move when you view them from different angles? You’d find them sometimes as surprises inside Cracker Jacks boxes. Schwartz & Wade used lenticular printing for the covers for this series of PB sports bios.

The eye-catching process required Widener to come up with three paintings animating Mays knocking the ball out of the park, in one of those 50 home run hits of his career.

Illustration Art (Hemings book) by Terry Widener

Terry had to model himself swinging a bat to avoid relying solely too much on the photos and videos he’d pulled together in research – lest he and the publisher end up in a battle with The New York Times and Sports Illustrated over the intellectual property!

When dealing with images of sports icons and other stars, Terry cautions, be careful to not copy your source material. Your references are probably copyrighted!  He couldn’t even render newspaper sports pages of the day as they were, he says.


Read about Terry’s latest collaboration with author Winter, a picture book on the early life of James Madison Hemings, the son of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. 

My Names is James Madison Hemings was published just last month (October) by Schwartz & Wade, the (Random House imprint that also did the Willie Mays book.)

It’s already generating a lot of discussion among school librarians and educators.

Terry’s work has appeared in the Society of Illustrators #’s 26,27,29,30,31,33 annual exhibitions and The Society of Illustrators Original Art exhibitions in 1997, 1999 and 2005. His work was also selected for the Communication Arts Illustration Annuals in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1991. His artwork is also a part of the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books at the University of Findlay (Findlay, Ohio) and in collections of national and international corporations.

That he’s done so many children’s biographies of sports heroes is purely coincidence, he says. What’s no coincidence is the sophisticated design and painting mastery that he brings to these pictures of action and excitement in the ball field, boxing ring and competitive swim lanes — and the comfy authority with which he treats historical settings and scenes.

Discover how to join next week’s live online ‘process talk’ critiques with Terry.

With his art director wife, Leslie Stall Widener (also an award-winning children’s book author-illustrator) Terry lives in a 100-year-old house in historic McKinney Texas, a few miles north of Dallas, Texas. They’re members of the North Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Terry enjoys doing school visits and receives many invitations for them each year. He can often be coaxed to draw for students in a collaboration where they “art direct” his improvised sketches.




Terry doesn’t illustrate only books on sports heroes. He takes on a variety of projects, like the Hemings book and this PB series on folks songs with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary. Discover how to join next week’s live online ‘process talk’ critiques with Terry.

IMAGMark and Terry (Laura photo)

Mark Mitchell and Terry Widener share a chuckle at Texas Educational Service Center Region One school librarian’s conference in Harlingen, Texas in September 2012. (Photo by children’s author-poet Laura Purdie Salas)