1. How did you become interested in illustrating books?

I think like most kids, I was drawn to the cool covers of books and comics. Anything with a monster or alien, or better yet, a teacher pulling off his mask to reveal he actually is a monster/alien instantly had my attention. Much later I got into the words in the book and how the covers were the perfect billboard to get me to read. I slowly got to realize how much potential images could have in selling a story, giving you just enough to be interested. Then, when I was bit older, reading comics and graphic novels, I started seeing the potential in more sequential artwork. You could tell an entire story with nearly no words, just well-organized images.

 

  1. What other children’s books have you illustrated?

I’ve done three widely release picture books with publishers.

The Night the Lights Went out on Christmas by Ellis Paul, about a neighborhood competing for the most over the top Christmas lights display.

A is for Astronaut by Clayton Anderson, an alphabet book about astronauts and space

The First Men Who Went to the Moon by Rhonda Gowler Greene, about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

I’ve also done a couple smaller press books with independent/self-published authors.

The Waking Prince by Zoe Soane, about a fairy tale prince who’s magic kiss doesn’t work on the sleeping princess.   A Brain is for Eating by Dan and Amelia Jacobs, a rhyming guide for young zombies to find and eat brains.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for young would-be illustrators?

Draw all the time. Carry a small sketchbook with you and a handful of pens/pencils. Bet “that person” at social gatherings that is drawing all the time. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. The more you are known for it, the more you’ll want to be better at it. Get that ball rolling early and enjoy yourself.

 

 

  1. What is the most difficult part about illustrating a children’s book?

The sheer number of pages. I’ve loved every book I’ve worked on thus far. But still… imagine pouring your heart and soul into 20 paintings then realizing you still have 12 left and a cover. It’s the best problem to have, really, but it’s a lot of work.

  1. How much research is involved?

Lots. It doesn’t really matter what the subject matter is. Granted, something like a historical nonfiction astronaut book will require some very specific research into actual events. But even something more whimsical like a boy and his dog going on an adventure, you need to draw that boy and dog on 32 pages. That requires a research into the boy’s age, gathering reference for various angles of that boy’s face and expressions. Then there’s the dog’s breed, etc.

  1. What do you like most about creating illustrations?

All the early stages are super exciting for me. The research has become one of my favorite parts of the process. Finding really good reference can basically ensure I’ll have a good painting down the line. Then when I’m starting to figure out sketches for the various illustrations, everything is pure potential and exciting. Each thumbnail sketch is potentially a masterpiece.

  1. Do you have any contact with the author of the book you are illustrating?

Usually not. The exceptions are the self-published books where the author is also the editor, art director, and marketer.  The other exception was on A is for Astronaut. In order to help me figure out some specifics about space, I had to contact the author, retired astronaut Clayton Anderson, to ask him clarifying questions. It was surreal to ask him how big one of the solar arrays on the International Space Station is, then a moment later have him email a video of him in a space suit repairing of those arrays.

  1. Can you tell us about your illustration process?

After I’ve collected my reference and research and nailed down what story/idea I want to convey in an illustration, I start with a bunch of small thumbnail sketches. Anywhere from 20-50 one inch sketches just laying out the general shapes of a composition. Most of these would be illegible to anyone but me, but they help me clarify the overall composition without allowing for me to get lost in details.

Once I decide on a composition, I’ll scan it and blow it up in Photoshop. From there I can start refining details, getting expressions and outfits nailed down, adjusting lighting, etc. Photoshop allows for a lot of quick editing with placement and tone without having to burn through a lot of paper in the process. I can start thinking about different color options quickly.  From here, I can send a cleaned up sketch to an editor or art director for approval.

Taking a sketch to final paint is very much less high tech. I do a very clean line drawing of my approved sketch, then print it paled down onto watercolor paper. I soak the paper in water (which makes the paper slightly more absorbent and expands the fibers), then staple it flat to a board. When it dries, it stretches itself taut. Now when I paint with my watercolor on it, I don’t need to be shy about putting too much water on since it won’t warp. Working in layers, I build up all the colors with ink, watercolor and gouache, using my reference and approved sketch as a guide the whole time. Once I have the painting to a level of finish I’m happy with, I’ll scan it back into Photoshop. From there I can fix any painting mistakes and add atmospheric lighting. Then it’s ready to send to the editor for approval.

 

 

  1. What was your favorite children’s book when you were young?

I had to ask my mom for this answer. I don’t remember having a favorite, all I could think of are cool picture books I appreciate now as an adult. Turns out, according to my mom, I much preferred to just look through our encyclopedia and then report facts about dinosaurs to whoever would listen. So, less “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and more “actually it’s pronounced ‘Di-plahh-dicus.”

 

  1. Your “space” illustrations are so magnificent! Have you had an interest in space, astronomy, or wanting to be an astronaut?

It’s weird, but no. I was always much more of a fantasy guy than a sci-fi guy. I loved swords and wizards much more than rockets and robots. But there is something really fun in designing an image where, if you wanted, you could make large areas completely black, or various tones of color, and it would still work because space can pretty much be anything. It became a playground for a lot of those illustrations.