The Art Journey of Twins

How to be Individuals, Artists, and Twins

By Robin Dewitt & Patricia Dewitt-Grush

If I write about being a twin (identical), I have to mention it was not my choice, and I know nothing else. Still, people ask all the time, “What’s it like to be a twin?” And I have to reply that for the first three or four years I didn’t know I was a twin. Mom dressed us alike, (and we look alike) but I just gave it little thought except to think it was some magical reason people stared at me. I thought it was because I had wings or was an incredibly beautiful girl. When I finally understood it was because this girl who was always with me looked like me, I was extremely disappointed. Still, the bond of twinship has, like most things in life, advantages and disadvantages. Mom dressed us alike until we went to junior high and there were some confusing moments, mostly when we were not trying.

Both my sister and I remember the moment when we both decided to be artists. My father worked as a steel worker but loved doing art, and my mother encouraged his love. So, we grew up with an easel in the dining room. He loved showing his two little girls everything from the color wheel to how to draw.

I still remember seeing a clear cellophane triangle of yellow being placed over a blue triangle and seeing green. I screamed, “Magic!” and said, “I’m going where the magic is. I’m going to be an artist.”

Being an artist and a twin adds additional interest to the mix. Coming from a family of artists, I fit right in. Everyone in my family made some form of art. Creating was normal in my household, like breathing, so my sister and I were two among many. The main problem was in trying to make the world know me from my sister and in this art was a bridge. There was competition, there always is, but my mom, a wise woman, said to look to only compete with myself, to try to be better tomorrow than you are today. And that the most important thing was to love doing it—if you love it, you do it, and you get better while having a good time.

My best advice to you mothers of twins is to know that there will be fights. It comes with the territory of close siblings. Add the look-alike factor and you have a recipe for conflict that needs managing. My mother’s way of dealing was to do the ultimate punishment of separating us. She was a night nurse, and I still don’t know how she did all she did. My whole family knew that when my mother was really mad, ready to blow, she would start reciting a poem, specifically John Leaf Whitter’s poem “Snowbound.” From the first lines of “The sun that brief December day,” we were in trouble and knew it. That poem I can still recite, with the emphasis my mother placed on certain words. I have to say that though fights happened, they rarely escalated past the poem stage. The teenage years were rough, and there were days I didn’t like my sister much, but I always loved her. Mom always knew which girl was which, my father got confused a little but he was a very rare man, a kind man who loved us both dearly.

With both of us interested in art, the house was full of art supplies, but space was limited. I worked down the basement on my dad’s old drafting table. The only space available was in the curve of the grand piano that my brother played. When he left for the navy, I started taking over the top of the piano with art supplies, when it was covered my mother said, “I guess you’re going to be an artist.”

“Yea, mom,” I replied.

With the help of my high school teachers, Pat and I learned portraits and went down to the boardwalk in Ocean City Maryland to earn money for college. We were some of the first women to work on the boardwalk in 1977. Putting yourself out to the public for art critique was the trial by fire we needed to really wake us up to being a “working artist.” I met some wonderful artists who are my friends to this day (some not-so-great ones), and grew in leaps and bounds. Drawing every day became the workout we needed. Pat and I backed each other up, worked together for a shared goal, and had a lot of fun.

With the help of my high school teachers, Pat and I learned portraits and went down to the boardwalk in Ocean City Maryland to earn money for college. We were some of the first women to work on the boardwalk in 1977. Putting yourself out to the public for art critique was the trial by fire we needed to really wake us up to being a “working artist.” I met some wonderful artists who are my friends to this day (some not-so-great ones), and grew in leaps and bounds. Drawing every day became the workout we needed. Pat and I backed each other up, worked together for a shared goal, and had a lot of fun.

Pat (my sister) and I always worked together well. Being created together in my mother’s womb gave us a sort of sixth sense of each other’s thoughts. When we both graduated college (way back in 1980), we each looked around for jobs and ended up confusing every art director in Baltimore. “Didn’t I just see you?” was heard a lot. Then we got a chance for an interview with a small publishing company (Stemmer House) and couldn’t decide who went, so we combined our work and went as a team. Little did we know the owner of Stemmer House, Barbara Holdridge, had twin daughters and loved the idea of working with twins. We signed two contracts that day, for The Peach Tree by Norman Pike and Under the Greenwood Tree (excerpts from Shakespeare).

For a timeline of some value, the great new thing was Fed Ex and next-day delivery. This meant an artist could live in Baltimore and work in New York. Once we had done some work for Stemmer House, we had published work and could head to New York. Pat became an expert at cold calling publishers and setting up interviews. So up to New York we went, portfolio in hand, hope in our hearts. When we ran out of publishers, we decided to look at artist agents. The first agent we saw accepted us as artists, and Craven Design became our voice in the New York wilderness. We have since moved on to represent ourselves in the web world.

How does our work allow for my style? We both have a style together (and argue about some things). I have a style that looks different from Pat’s and she has a style that looks different from mine. So, altogether we have three styles. (Sometimes four as I love doing digital work as well.) The choice of which to use is made by the story which is always the guiding light. Telling a story visually is a joyous job.

Doing it with the right art for the right story is magical.

Working with Lawley Publishing has been wonderful. The manuscripts offered have so much diversity, magic, and fun. Every one has been fabulously written and so easy to visually bring to life. Pigs Dancing Jigs is a fun ABC book that overflows with imagination. Punk Wig is a fresh heartfelt look at dealing with a family cancer crisis.  The Marvelous Maze is a reissue, and we were working on this when Pat dated her husband. The prince in the story is her husband (boyfriend back then) who dressed up in tights and a cape to pose for us. I told my sister, “Any guy willing to dress in tights and a cape you should marry!” And when we illustrated The Children in the Box, Pat got her son’s girlfriend to pose for our “nice lady.” She is now her daughter-in-law! So, these books are family affairs.

The First Jambalaya is my sister Pat’s first in her fairytale cookbook series. Written and illustrated by Pat, it is the marriage of cooking and cute animal stories to help kids learn to create wonderful food to share with their family. All of these books will add so much to your reading experience, and both Pat and I have had a wonderful time creating them.

Robin Dewitt & Patricia Dewitt-Grush are the illustrators for many books, including Pigs Dancing Jigs and The Marvelous Maze by Maxine Rose Schur, Punk Wig by Lori Ries, The Children in The Box by Steppie Morris, and The First Jambalaya: A Fairytale Cookbook by Patricia.

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