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Survivor Zachary Smith illustrates kids' book
Zachary Smith doesn't talk much about his feelings. But the 31-year-old Ceres native expresses himself quite well through his art.

He downplays the day he was sitting in the courtyard of Modesto Junior College a decade age when the shot rang out and a bullet grazed his arm. He missed a whole semester of college on account of the bizarre shooting - two weeks before the Columbine High School shooting took place - which added confusion to his already unsettled world.

Diane Smith of Ceres remembers that her son was already angry, probably over his parents' recent divorce, and having trouble with life. Today he views the shooting - he was shot in the upper left arm - as an inconsequential event in his long ago past and would rather talk about the good things happening in his life. Now living in Portand, Ore., Smith, is trekking into the often frustrating experience of making it in the art world. His enthusiasm has been given a big boost as his illustrations are out in a children's book, "Life in Pittsville."

The self-published book, authored by Fresno native Aaron Busch whom Smith met in art school, centers on the life of character Jim Seedley, a boy born with an apple for a heart. Through Busch's words and Smith's drawings, Seedley has to deal with a worm getting inside of his heart which makes him very sick. It's remedied the day that Jim finds a bird that goes down his throat to extract the foreign invader by gobbling up the worm.

"It's kind of cute," said Diane Smith, who is a Ceres resident.

Smith and Busch hit it off, in part, because they were both from the Valley. Busch showed Smith his script and asked if he wanted to illustrate the book.

"I was pretty interested in translating my artwork into that form," said Smith.

Because both were studying at the time and "didn't have a lot of time to tackle it head on," the project took about two years.

While some might discount self publishing, Smith feels "any way to get your name out there is a really good thing."

Having his work published has motivated him to "keep pushing it. The self publishing thing is good. If you have the right hustle, the right attitude, you can make things happen."

Smith is now seeking to promote his talents for free lance art and illustration. His interests include "story telling and the potency of sequential art." He also is interested in symbols, iconography and the "power of the single image."

The artist traces his interest in art back to age 11 or 12 in Ceres when he spent hours drawing comic book super heroes. While attending Argus High School Zach's talents were noticed by teacher Scott Mitchell.

"He inspired me to go on and explore art," explained Smith.

Diane appreciated her son's talents, but remembers being troubled by some of his work.

"It was on the dark side," she said. "A lot of stuff with blood."

But she also remembered that he "had a real hard time."

Zach left Argus in 1996 and while studying at MJC, art professor Dr. Richard Serros saw that Smith had great talent. He took a break from college and headed north to Portland. A year later he enrolled at Pacific Northwest College of Arts in Portland and graduated a year ago with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and a concentration on illustration.

"It's tough. It probably was not the best idea to graduate, especially from an art school. It was just as the economy was starting to wind down. Had I known that I might have pursued a master's degree and stayed in school."

To pay the bills, Zach works as a cook at a Portland restaurant. But he's not once regretted going into art.

"It's all I do. That's my deal. That's who I am. It's more than a vocation, more than a career. I identify myself with art."

The book is being promoted through a website ( which the pair of creators have set up, The site has an order form (it's $13.99 plus $4 for shipping).

Diane said she's very proud of her son and enjoys seeing him when he is able to come to Ceres for visits.