Civil Engineer Swaps Hard Hat for Wild Red Wig, Cupcakes and Glittered Butterflies for Kids Event

Q: Lee, I’m happy for this opportunity to introduce you to A News Cafe.com readers, and to tell about your event Sunday at O Street Gallery.

First, for a little background, you and I first met a few months ago as artists at O Street Gallery’s Wednesday-night figure sessions.  I was impressed by your range of creative interests, both as an artist and engineer.

What brought you to Redding?

I am a civil engineering consultant working on the Antler’s Bridge project.  I have been delighted at how beautiful the Redding area is and proud to be working on such a unique bridge.

Q: What a small world, that you are the civil engineer of the Antler’s Bridge; one of my favorite local artistic projects.  Last year, I had the honor to write about that Antler’s Bridge project. It was during one of O Street Gallery’s figure sessions that you brought a children’s book, “Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza” – illustrated by you.  I was so impressed by the story and illustrations that I bought a book for my granddaughters that night.  I’m extremely particular about content of books I give my granddaughters, and I value books that are wholesome and edifying.

Would you share how “Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza” came to be?


One of my dearest friends, Usma Khan, wrote the book.  We met over 20 years ago on a one-year long exchange program in Indonesia where we were both UC undergraduates.  Usma’s nickname when she was young was Madame “U”.  She wrote the book as a way to balance creatively the experience of working in a career in public health.  When I read the story I fell in love with the main character. We both identify with the main character, a quirky painter (we are both painters) who seeks to find the right “fit” in the world. I paint from photographs so all my illustrations are preceded by a dressed-up photo shoot.

Illustrator Less Davis worked from drawings taken from photo shoots in which she posed for the Madam Yoo character.

Illustrator (and civil engineer) Lees Davis worked from drawings taken from photo shoots, like this one, during which she posed as the Madam Yoo character.

When I asked Usma what she visualized for the character, she said, “quirky and a little chubby”… and I thought PERFECT … I can take this one.

From left, illustrator Lee Davis and her author friend Usam, created "Madame Yoo and the

Illustrator Lee Davis (left) and her author friend Usma Khan created “Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza” – and enjoy dressing in character during their reading events and book signings.

So I became the face of the main character.  The rest of the characters are all friends who agreed to play dress-up with me, and a marmot stuffed animal that I took major artistic liberties with.

Q:  How does being and engineer and artist correlate?

I like using my mind in different ways.  I enjoy a good puzzle (in the math and science realm) and have always enjoyed a wide variety of creative pursuits.  Also, I have found technical skills to be a more reliable source of income.

Q:  Will there be other Madame Yoo books?

I sure hope so.  It has been such a gift that keeps on giving to have this wonderful project with an incredible friend.  We have managed to create a book, run a successful kickstarter campaign and do a bunch of fun and unique events without any serious conflict.  It is astonishing how compatible we have turned out to be as project partners. I also love that Usma has the mind to create the combination of quirky and vibrant to illustrate words with messages that I feel proud to share with young people in particular.  The messages include finding your own individuality, persistence, and having friendships over time.  The book seems to speak to all ages.

Q: O Street Gallery is hosting a book signing on Sun., Oct. 30, but it’s no ordinary book signing. Would you share what you’ve planned?


We will be decorating cupcakes, making glitter butterflies, coloring images for the book and doing a story time of Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza.  Coming in costume is encouraged! I will be.

Q: Lee, I’ll be there as your assistant for the book signing, and I’ll be in costume, too!

How may people obtain “Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza?”

Madame Yoo and Horatio’s Extravaganza” can be purchased and signed at the event or purchased online at www.madameyoo.com.

Thank you, Lee, for taking the time to talk with me. I’ll see you Sunday.

Shelly Shively

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com

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