How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
I wanted from an early age to have the ability to create and share the joy that creative arts gave to me. I was inspired by artists (animators, cartoonists, painters, illustrators, designers, etc) musicians, authors and comedians. Storytelling and image making were activities that I did for enjoyment although–I will admit–I did them with an intent to improve. There wasn’t a specific moment that I decided to pursue illustration, it is the culmination of a desire to do it since I was young.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
Yes, I attended art school and studied communication art and design. I was very interested in animation (still am) but it was not offered at the school. There is a local art association that offers life drawing classes and I have taken courses from them as well. Additionally I worked at an amusement park because I wanted to learn how to use an airbrush. I had some experience with one prior but got very proficient with it airbrushing fifty custom garments a day.
Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?
My artistic influences are a mix of Charles Schulz, Chuck Jones, Margaret Bloy Graham, Dr. Seuss, and modern folks like Ryan T. Higgins, Ross Burach, Mo Willems, I could go on and on. I enjoy the sense of humor that’s infused into their stories and art.
Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?
A few that I have specific memories of growing up were Cat in a Hat (Seuss), Danny and the Dinosaur (Syd Hoff) which I adored, and The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein).
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
Line work done with ink holds something magical for me. I love looking at it and throughly enjoy creating it. Perhaps I feel a connection to my heroes through it, as most of my influences worked in this medium. I have several sketchbooks that I doodle and draw in, coming up with characters or story ideas or maybe just something fun. These doodles or drawing may be small and very rough so they’ll be cleaned up and scanned in a computer or placed on a lightbox to ink. I will sometimes go from paper to digital to paper back to digital or stay traditional or stay digital. It just depends on what parameters of the project and timeline demand. The only way to get better at something is to do it over and over. My technique is from years of experimenting and doing it over and over.
How many times do you tend to draw a character until you are happy with it?
There’s no set number. The answer is “as many times as it takes.” And, even if I get to a drawing that I am happy with, quite often I will continue to make drawings to see if I can improve the expression or the pose to best fit the emotion or for humorous effect. I’ll fill pages and pages of a sketchbook with drawings of a character.
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
What I hope most is that they’re found funny and entertaining! Deep down I hope they feel inspired to jump into their own imaginative and creative enterprises. Unfortunately it seems that art and music programs at schools are the first on the chopping blocks. There aren’t classes that engage creativity like the arts and music do, although we know creativity is important. The world needs creative people no matter what profession. I hope the books I help create foster kids creativity and imaginations (amid lots of giggles).
What do you do in your spare time?
My wife and I are parents to three lovely children, so “spare” time is something of a novel idea to me. However, I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, reading, and doing home improvement projects. I also play drums in a band. I’ve been playing in bands since I was a kid and it’s something that brings me an abundance of happiness.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
After getting my kids up, fed and off to school, I’m in the studio. I have two desks, one with a computer and digital tablet on it and a drawing desk with a lightbox. There’s a book case with my collection of children’s books and artwork from fellow illustrators adorning the walls. Additionally, there are rolling sets of drawers with sketchbooks, art supplies, paper, and things you’d expect to find in an art studio. And others maybe you wouldn’t. I still have my set of Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedias from when I was a kid.
Where do you get the ideas for your characters?
The ideas come from a variety of sources most likely, but they tend to come from doodles in my sketchbook. For example, I’ll randomly draw something and think “Hello, there! Who are you?” And begin to think about who this character is and what they want. They may remind me of someone I know and I may exaggerate an aspect of the real person’s personality for the character. I enjoy working with characters very much and getting to know them throughout my project.
Which 4 words would you use to describe your illustration portfolio?
Funny. Mischievous. Joyful. Irreverent.
Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?
I find all of children’s publishing exciting. The idea that artwork I’ve made could be some of the very first artwork a child lays their eyes on I find both exciting and humbling. That these books they read or that is read to them becomes part of their childhood, that they laugh and smile, relate to the books, play with them, draw the characters themselves and read them over and over again is all terribly exciting!
Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?
Yes, it is one of my favorite parts of being a children’s book illustrator. Ultimately, school aged kids are for whom my work is made. Being in person and seeing their reactions to the work is invaluable (and a great amount of fun). I have presented to small groups and groups with over a 1000 in attendance. Growing up, there wasn’t an opportunity to see an artist/illustrator/author which would have meant the world to me. I try to remember there very well may be a kid in the audience who dreams of being an artist just like I did.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out as a children’s illustrator?
Draw and read, read and draw. Know that hard work and perseverance are going to be as important to your success as your skill and talent.
Do you have a favourite soundtrack you listen to when you’re working?
I do like listening to music while I work as well some podcasts. The list of music would be very, long. For podcasts, I like the Illustration Department and Malcom Gladwell’s Revisionist History.
Are you an author/illustrator?
Yes, I write stories as well athough I have only been published as an illustrator.
How important is it for you to be part of a creative community of people?
Being a part of a creative community of people is very important to me. I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people in the creative arts through conferences and formed many friendships. I’m part of a small critique group that I value very much and also attend some larger online critique groups. They help foster a feeling of connection and better my work which is done often alone in isolation.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be doing?
I’d be a musician. My school aged aspirations were to draw a syndicated comic strip and play drums in a famous band. I could draw my comics on the tour bus as we traveled from city to city and rock with my band to thousands of adoring fans in the evenings. Without visual art, I would have attended school for music and became a professional musician.
What are some of your favourite subjects to draw?
Sharks, without a doubt. Anyone who enters the ocean (I am a certified SCUBA diver) has familiarized themselves with sharks, if only to make sure they can spot one quickly and make a hasty exit. For me, they’ve been fascinating creatures. I’ve had the opportunity to see them in the water with me a couple of times. It was like seeing a rockstar. In elementary school, our librarian politely suggested that perhaps I’d consider reading about another subject as I had exhausted our library’s supply of books on sharks. I think they are so cool. I adore drawing them! I have sketchbooks full of them. I draw a lot of other things and creatures, but sharks are definitely my favorite.