As long as I can remember, I loved to draw. In school, I would doodle in the margins of notebooks. Later, it would be on work agendas or bill envelopes at home. I would create elaborate scenes and silly characters. Sometimes, I would obsess over one thing, like high-heeled shoes, and draw them to perfection. I really enjoyed bringing my ideas to life.
School offered the perfect opportunity to explore this creative side. In high school, I pursued electives in literature and creative writing. At Montclair State University, I majored in English. I was preparing myself for a career in the arts, although I wasn’t quite sure where my journey would take me!
Straight from college, I got a job as a creative assistant at a New York City advertising agency. I was surrounded by some of the best talent in the industry. I was wooed by the bright lights and the big city, but not yet ready to make my mark. I became an executive assistant, and after years of working in the corporate world, I decided it was time for a change.
In 2001, I sold everything I owned and went on a whirlwind adventure. I traveled to London and Paris with a friend, came home for a day, and then flew out to Thailand for 3 weeks alone. When that journey ended, I landed in San Francisco on another friend’s couch, and began my new life.
It was quite an adventure, but one that didn’t last long. Three months later, 9/11 happened. My whole world was turned upside down, and then I met my husband-to-be. We were paired up at my brother’s wedding, and it was at that time that I realized, everything I loved was on the east coast. It was time to come home.
And so I began a new life, again! I started up a greeting card business, married my husband and eventually, found my way back to the advertising world. I became a copywriter at Movado Group and was finally putting my creative ideas to good use. I was honing my writing skills and flexing my creative muscle. It was a great learning opportunity and confidence builder, but after my son was born, in 2009, I was laid off.
Never a dull moment on this path of mine! It was at this time that I started to draw/write my first children’s book, but with a newborn at home and other pressing family obligations, my unfinished book was set aside.
In 2013, I went back to Movado Group as a part-time copywriter. As history would repeat itself, I had my second son, and a few years later, I was laid off again. That was in March, 2017.
What a blessing in disguise! I knew that it was either now or never to pursue my dreams. The story of the little ant was inspired by my children and is the perfect expression of what my family life has come to be. We are always on the go and looking for the next big adventure!
It took me only a few short months to hand draw the pictures, write the copy, and self-publish the book. I couldn't wait to get it out there. In June 2017, Little Ant on the Go was released.
Since then, I have written and illustrated six books in my Little Ant children's series. All six books have been featured in the 2020-2021 art program at Lovlee Art Studios in Bloomfield, NJ. In addition, my new book Little Ant & the Epic Battle received the 2020 Royal Dragonfly Book Award—earning honorable mention in the Picture Books 6 & Older category. It was also recognized by the state of Illinois as a valuable COVID-19 resource for families with young children. It sits alongside recommendations from the CDC and UNICEF as a resource for understanding the pandemic. I have participated in over 50 author events, including a book signing at Barnes & Noble, and have been featured on "Spotlight New Jersey" - News 12 New Jersey and Jersey's Best magazine. I was the guest speaker at a 2020 Nutley Rotary networking event and on a podcast titled 16W with Norman. I am now in the process of publishing an adult fiction novel.
I can finally say I am exactly where I need to be. I am drawing, writing, and sharing my childhood dreams. Every day I wake up to a new journey, a new story that takes me on the adventure of a lifetime.
Ilene Dudek is an award-winning author & illustrator from Nutley, NJ.