Twin sisters Kelly and Kerry Jesberger have always enjoyed expressing their creativity. From a very early age, Kelly loved to draw, and Kerry loved to write. Their creativity inspired them to join forces after their graduation from St. Marys Area High School in 2006, and the result was their first published children's book, "A Thief in Sunnyside!"
The twins said they already knew they wanted to pursue creative arts after their high school graduation. Following their acceptance to Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Kelly studied the more traditional arts, while Kerry continued her studies in digital art and writing. They graduated with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in Graphic Design in May of 2010.
Kelly said the inspiration for their book stemmed from an illustration class they took during their freshman year at Clarion, when she drew a comic strip called "Sunnyside Up" for an assignment. The strip featured cats named Rocco, Mindy and Hallow. Upon seeing the comic strip, her sister Kerry suggested that it could be expanded on.
"Kerry commented that the characters were so sweet and endearing that they could easily be made into a larger comic strip, or stories for children," Kelly said.
"We started doing brainstorming one night, and came up with the initial concept for "A Thief in Sunnyside!" Two-and-a-half years later, here we are!" said Kerry.
She said the process included a back-and-forth collaboration between her and her sister. The writing for the story was completed first. Kerry would pass her draft on to Kelly, who would make revisions, and the process would continue. In the meantime, Kelly was hard at work on the illustrations, which are all drawn and colored by hand.
"This painstaking process (hand-drawn illustrations) took the longest, but was well worth it," Kerry said.
"We decided to make a children’s book because we feel that we both still have a very active inner child. We loved reading when we were kids, and especially loved it when our parents read to us before bed, and that’s something that every kid should experience. What is really rewarding is that someone is reading our book to their child, and the story will become a part of their childhood that they may cherish when they get older," Kelly said.
"A Thief in Sunnyside!" has a mystery/adventure theme and discusses the concepts of stealing, apologies and friendship. The twins plan to continue the series, which in addition to addressing themes geared to children ages three to nine, was also designed to help build vocabulary skills.
The Jesbergers noted that coming up with the concept and completing a draft with illustrations were only beginning steps in the often complex, time-consuming process of trying to get a book published.
"That was a real challenge for us," Kelly said. "Children’s book publishers are known to be quite cutthroat, and extremely selective, so it was tough finding places to send our work to. Most places won’t even open your manuscript without you having an agent, which just wasn’t an option available to us at the time."
Kelly said while they really wanted to send their draft to bigger, more well-known publishing houses like Harper Collins, they knew they had to start at a smaller level because of the nature of the industry.
"But even that was tough," Kelly said. "We received upwards of 20 rejection letters, which was a big blow to our morale. But the day we got that acceptance letter, it felt like a huge victory for us."
While getting their first book published was their biggest creative achievement to date, the girls have received several important acknowledgements of their work in the past. Both Kelly and Kerry have been awarded numerous first- and second-place ribbons for their art in the Elk and Clearfield County fairs. Kelly received the Golumbic award for Design Achievement and the Clarence and Janet Lesser scholarship in 2006. Kerry was the recipient of the Angie Bertolasio Scholarship and the Clarence and Janet Lesser Scholarship in 2006, and won top prize in the the Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE) Design Contest in 2008.
Kelly studied under Pete Winklbauer, a local art teacher and critically acclaimed watercolor artist, and said she was inspired by him and other instructors to pursue a career in the creative arts.
"All of the art teachers I’ve had over the years have encouraged me to continue working towards a degree in the arts. My elementary school art teacher, Mr. Jim Cheatle, my high school art teacher, Mrs. Patti Bierley, and my mentor, Mr. Peter Winklbauer, had the most resounding effect on my personal decisions. Without them I would not be who I am," Kelly said.
Kerry, the writing-focused half of the dynamic duo, said she also found inspiration in past instructors.
"I was really influenced by a lot of my teachers in high school. Mr. William Granche and Mr. George Neubert were two really positive influences in my life. They were always so understanding and encouraged me to keep doing what I loved to do, and now that I am older I realize just how important it was," Kerry said.
The twins said they could not have done without the support of their parents, Gordon and Sherry Bish Jesberger of St. Marys, and their older sister, Jaren Jesberger, who lives in Dallas, Tex.
"The tremendous support we’ve had from our family has been a big driving force for me. They gave us a lot of praise regarding the story and the illustrations and gave us the motivation to see this book to completion," Kelly said.
And the girls say they want this to be just the tip of the iceberg; they hope to find a way to mesh their dream of continuing to produce children's books together with the necessity of being able to support themselves.
"Being just out of college, we haven’t exactly broken into a 'career' just yet," Kerry said. "If 'Sunnyside' takes off, we’d really like to make that our full-time job. In the meantime, we definitely want to continue working together."
"We don’t have the means yet, but we’re thinking we want to start our own art/design business - selling fine art prints and paintings, designing posters and advertisements, doing photography sessions, maybe some freelance work here and there. We pretty much want to do everything - like a one-stop shop for art." she added.
Now residents of Kylertown, Pa., the Jesbergers say they have kept close ties to their hometown.
"Since we live in a much more secluded area now, you don’t really get that "close-knit community" feeling like you do in St. Marys. It’s also where most of our family is, so we come back all the time to visit. St. Marys is a place that’s always changing - we visit every month or so and something is different and new each time we come back," Kelly said.