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If You Can See The Dark

Small Things interviews Mattie Rose Templeton about her work on the new book from the Appalachian Mountain Club

The Appalachian Mountain Club has just published If You Can See The Dark, a new children’s book by Timothy Mudie and Jenny Ward and illustrated by Mattie Rose Templeton. The book is done at a time when AMC Maine Woods has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park. AMC is working to raise awareness for how the loss of dark nights impacts a wide range of plants, insects, and animals including humans.

Mattie Rose Templeton, with her ability to capture nature, light, shadows, and movement in a mosaic, or what some have described as a stained-glass effect, makes her the perfect artist to illustrate this book. Though written for children, adults will find it mesmerizing as well.


Small Things: Tell me how you got involved in this book project?

Mattie Rose: The project hatched because Jenny Ward who heads up the Dark Skys project for AMC (and co-author of the book) happened across my art work and wanted to bring it to AMC somehow. She had really wanted to write a children’s book for a long time and thought it was something that we could do together. It would be educational for kids and it was something that AMC had not done at that time.

Small Things: What did you find to be the most exciting aspects of this project?

Mattie Rose: When Jenny pitched me, I had stopped taking commissions. It is hard to create what’s in someone else’s mind. It has to be something appealing to me to take on a commission like this. I have hiked most of the trails in the White Mountains and I’m very familiar with the AMC hut system. It has a warm space in my heart...and Jenny gave me the freedom to create whatever came to me with very few boundaries or shackles.

Small Things: This seems like an impossible task for a visual artist. As humans, we don’t see in the dark. So, how did you have to approach illustrating something that for the most part is invisible to us?

Mattie Rose: This is another thing about the book. Trying to get that perspective - you can draw a pond or fish, but what does a fish see at night time under the lily pads? I guess it helps that I’m not necessarily an entirely “realistic” artist. What I love about art is that it doesn’t have to be totally realistic. It can be a representation of something. That gives me a lot of wiggle room. Jenny Ward and Timothy Mudie wrote the story first. Then I made simple sketches (a story board) for the entire book. From there, we discussed and made revisions.

Small Things: What did you learn by approaching the forest and its inhabitants through the filter of darkness?

Mattie Rose: We had to make sure we were sticking to the animals who live here. Before doing this book, I actually didn’t think of bats as pollinators. I had to learn what flowers are blooming at night that bats are pollinating - that flower is called datura.

Also, I didn’t know that monarchs land on trees in large numbers when they sleep during migration. So you can have these forests with monarchs just covering the trees. I thought, “What a beautiful image.” So, that was one of my initial sketches. Jenny said, “You know that is great, but that doesn’t really happen with monarchs when they are here in Maine.” So we really tried to stick with the rhythms of where we are in the world.

Small Things: For many the dark is scary. Did you spend time in the dark in preparing for this project?

Mattie Rose: I have always been somebody who really loves the darkness. I grew up in Palermo, Maine, off grid, in a cabin on a lake. We had no electricity. We burned oil lamps. We were very much living with the rhythm of the light. Working on this had me thinking about my upbringing. We also live off grid now, so it is very much like going back to my childhood.

To learn more about Mattie Rose’s art, visit her website at You can often find her prints, cards, and stickers in many shops in the Bethel area. To get a copy of If You Can See The Dark, click here to visit the AMC online store. It is a limited printing, so act fast.

Click here to learn more about the AMC Maine Woods International Dark Sky Park. And most important, get out and enjoy the night sky. We are fortunate in Maine to be able to “see the dark.”

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