Dale Colbert calls himself an “art author.” Talking with him, it’s evident that he’s drawn just as much to the characters he creates and the stories he can tell with them as he is to the process of creating them. He’s accompanied at an interview by Lise Barus. Colbert has special needs, and after he graduated from high school, Barus began spending three days a week with him. She refers to herself as his friend, but she’s also playing the role of mentor. Barus has 15 years of experience in education and 30 years of experience in publishing, and she helps Colbert discover his art and decide how to produce and share it, which she says is a natural fit for her.
Barus is a facilitator once the art is made, but she doesn’t steer it during creation. “It’s all Dale’s work,” she says. “And Dale’s imagination, and Dale’s incredible wit.”
Colbert’s sense of humor, both on the page and in person, is captivating. In conversation, he sometimes embodies the characters he’s created. When showing off the “ferocious King Roar,” a tiger, he growls with a laugh to amuse. In addition to his calendar and coloring book, which is a book of illustrations that meld homonyms to create characters — Colbert says his favorite is a bat that’s both the flying creature and a baseball bat — Colbert has created a series of Halloween masks and written and illustrated the tale of Super Kong, a gorilla superhero. “When I see a gorilla pounding his chest, it looks like a superhero to me,” says Colbert. “So I created Super Kong.”
Colbert says in addition to creating his art, his favorite pastimes include helping his uncle paint his car for the annual demolition derby in Wilmington (Colbert’s favorite event of the year), sharing his work with local students, and spending time with his family, including his “footstep-following nephew.” Asked about his nephew, Colbert beams with pride. “He’s growing up to be an art author like me.”
Along with his wit and color choices, Barus says she’s impressed by the speed and technique with which Colbert creates images. At one point in the conversation, Barus makes Colbert laugh by talking about her dog, Emmie, and a few minutes later, she suggests Colbert draw Emmie, which he’s enthusiastic to do. On a piece of scrap paper, Colbert starts by drawing a few lines, which he says are the wrinkles on Emmie’s forehead. More lines are added with a surprising swiftness and within minutes, a full image of Emmie has been produced. He holds it up with a smile.
Colbert sells his art through his Facebook page, Creations by Dale Colbert.
In addition to his calendar and coloring book of homonyms, with the help of his mother, Laural Colbert, his art has been added to canvas bags and T-shirts. He uses the money he earns for his art to further it, paying for printing and art materials. He also donated some of his earnings to the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum last year, to help the museum fund a new habitat for Basil the snapping turtle.
Colbert anticipates he’ll be finished with his calendar for the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum in the early summer, when it will be available for purchase.