Your work is very historically based on great work of your selected artists. Did this decision to create a character or animal come from your background in art? Or from your father?
-- Annette Keith
A: Yes, my illustrations often reflect specific examples from the history of art, but not always. I don't know how my father would come into it, but my decsion-making process is very subjective, and whatever seems best to express what I want to see in the book is where I try to go with my drawings.
I love your book Rumpelstiltskin.I saw that you used black and white tempera underpainting with oil on top.What kind of paper did you use, and did you do anything special to prepare the surface?
-- Sara Heymann, Chicago, IL
A: Thank you! Rumpelstiltskin's underpainting was mostly watercolor, but it's the same idea. I used watercolor paper (Arches cold press), and after the underpaintings were finished, I sealed them with two coats of matte acrylic medium, so that the layers of oil paint I applied next would not sink into the paper.
What is the name of the skullcap Rumpelstiltksin wears under his black hat? Why does he wear it?
-- Sandi Dobbins, Marshall, MI
A: I'm afraid I don't know its name, but I saw it on men in a lot of paintings of the period in which I set the book. This bagpipe player painted by Brueghel is an example. I presume the reason men wore these caps was to stay warmer in cold weather, perhaps indoors.
Do you have any pets?
Rinster-- State College, PA
A: Not currently. This makes it easier for me to travel—for instance, to State College, PA.
When were you born?
-- Annalise Bessemer; Bozeman, MO
A: on Valentine's Day a long time ago.
We are a 4th grade class who just read Rumpelstiltskin together. We noticed that you dedicated the book to Anna.
-- Mrs. Lockhart's class; Canon City, CO Washington Elementary School
Is this your daughter Anna?
A: Yes, it is. Anna is grown up now, but she was little when I made the book, and I put her in it. You can probably find her if you look.
How would you describe your drawing style? What inspires you to paint?
-- DeJuan Yueadore, Washington DC
A: I hope that my drawing style is something that fits well with whatever I am illustrating. Beyond that, people are welcome to figure out words to describe the way I draw, but I prefer not trying to define myself in that way.
I always try to make my work better, but I am not thinking about it in terms of style.
As to what inspires me to paint, it is usually a text that I am illustrating. I haven't made paintings that were not illustrations for some time now.
I am in a children's literature class and our class was curious what the cat symbolizes in Rapunzel.
-- Miranda, University of South Florida
A: I didn't really intend for the cat to be a symbol, but as sorcerors and witches and so on often have a “familiar,” which is often a cat, it would have made sense for my sorceress to put a cat in the tower with Rapunzel, to keep her company while she was away. Then too, if you want to see a symbol, it seems relevant that cats are pets that don't always go along with their owner's plans for them. Best example: see Lore Segal's picture book with my illustrations here.
Q: Do you sell your artwork through a gallery?
-- Janet Williams, retired school librarian; Cape Town, South Africa
A: I don't like to sell my work, but have occasionally done so. I have an agreement with the New York children's bookstore Books of Wonder to act as dealer; sometimes you can find some of it on their website. The prices are pretty princely, but that is in part a reflection of the fact that I don't like to split up the art from a book.
Q: My grandchildren love Z is for Moose. However, on the C is for Cat page, there is something else in the picture next to the cat. Is it a cloth? I told my granddaughter that I would ask you.
-- Gail Dietzer, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
A: I'm very happy they love the book! If you (or preferably, your granddaughter) look carefully at the cat on the previous page, and look at the colors of themysterious thing you are asking about, I think you will see the answer to your question! I'm happy that your grandchildren love Z is for Moose!
Q: What kinds of Children's Books do you like to read or look at?
-- Jeremy, writing from Illinois
A: I have been reading a lot of middle grade novels recently, many of them written by friends of mine. (“If you don't read your friends' novels, what kind of a friend are you?” I have been telling myself.) Some are really wonderful! And I see many picture books by new writers and illustrators because I'm on a jury that awards prizes in this category. But I don't really prefer one kind of book over another.
Q: What do you mostly use for your illustrations? For example, do you use makers, crayons, watercolor, paints, or acrylic?
--Wynema, University of Texas at Brownsville
A: I use many kinds of media, though not all that you mentioned. What I use depends on the effect I want my illustrations to have. Carefulness or wildness, depth of space or flatness of surface, brilliance of color or something subdued--a given story will tell me that some of these feelings belong with it, and not others. So I have used pastels, both black and colored pencil, Photoshop, watercolor, gouache, oil paint and combinations of media as well. Inspired by your question, I have included the medium I've used for each book I've illustrated, in this website's Books page.
Q: Are you original works done by hand or computer? I really really hope by hand :) !
-- Natalie, writing from Billings, Montana
My work is mostly drawn or painted, by hand on paper. But sometimes when there is a reason, I use a computer. For Z is for Moose, for instance, when I wanted perfectly flat, smooth backgrounds, and simple rectangular borders, I created those things in Photoshop. I could have printed them on watercolor paper, except that watercolor is transparent and you can't paint it over a colored background. So I also drew the outline drawings I'd want for these pictures, scanned them, gave them a white interior and set them in front of my backgrounds. When I printed this onto watercolor paper, I could then finish by watercoloring everything not in the background.
Q: Where do you live?
-- Amy Xing, writing from school
A: I live in Brooklyn, New York. If you click on the old man on a bicycle on my home page, you'll see a picture of me on a bicycle near where I live and work. (This old man is a Flash animation, so on iPads and other things like that, he won't be there, and you won't be able to see the picture, unfortunately).
Q: In Rumpelstiltskin, why is there a gold medal on his hat? Why did you put a medal on the back cover?
-- Dri, Mia and Lora, Boyd Elementary School, Springfield, Missouri
A: In Renaissance Europe, men sometimes wore medals on their hats for decoration. I thought it would be appropriate for Rumpelstiltskin, to wear a gold medal, since he is after all a maker of gold.
To understand the back cover and the medal on it, take a close look at the picture where the Queen is correctly guessing Rumpelstiltskin's name. Look at his hat. Look at the floor.
Q: Is there a self-portrait of you in The Wheels on the Bus? And is it supposed to be set in Miami?
-- Daniel Hill, Macclesfield, Cheshire, UK
A: Many people have thought that the man with the guitar in The Wheels on the Bus is a self-portrait, but that wasn't my intention. On the other hand, it often happens that people's drawings resemble themselves, so maybe in a way, he is.
I was traveling a lot in the months before I made finished art for Wheels and I took notes on the styles of houses in different parts of the US. But I have to say that the book can't take place in Florida because there are no palm trees in it. And in fact, a number of the details-- some aspects of the library, and the domed building nearby-- are based on buildings near my own home in Brooklyn, New York.
Follow-up Q: What's the significance of the license plate on the bus? And of Overtown Public Library?
The bus has as its license plate number 3.1416. That's the number pi (or π), which is a measurement involving the distance around the edge of a circle. Wheels going around through the book made pi seem like the perfect license plate number. It was a last-minute change to the art when I thought of this, and I made one slight mistake-- Daniel, thank you for noticing it!
And since the bus is always going "all over town," (which I liked better than another popular version, "all around the town," I thought it would make a sort of sense if the end point of the journey was Overtown. And the library was definitely a good place to finish up.
Q: What was your first illustration?
A: Although at the age of 14, I drew a hand
that was used in a diagram in a math textbook written by my father, I
was first published on my own merits when I was in college. As an 18-year-old
I got an appointment to show my work to the art
editor of the New York Times, who asked me to make a drawing for an article
called something like "Autumn is a Woman." It was written by Verlyn Klinkenborg,
who still writes editorials for the newspaper.
Q: What was your first book?
A: I illustrated a novel
The title was "Emily Upham's Revenge, or How Deadwood Dick
Saved the Banker's Niece, a Massachussetts Adventure." The
cover looked like this:
Q: Did you always know you were going to be
a children's book illustrator?
A: No. I thought I might be a painter. Or maybe an architect. Or one of a
dozen other things, not all of which were related to art. And I also knew
as a child that I liked to make books, often collaborating with friends. But
somehow it didn't dawn on me that I could become a children's book illustrator.
Q: Which of your books is your favorite?
A: I can't answer that question because if I chose one book, it would be
unfair to all my other books.
Q: Where can we learn more about you?
A: Look for Talking With Artists, Volume III, by Pat Cummings.
Q: Where and how do you speak about your work?
A: I very much enjoy giving presentations
about almost any of my books. These include lots of pictures, along with
explanations of the stages of bookmaking, research, technical challenges,
issues that relate to what I do. Much of it is pretty funny. I often
draw to illustrate points, either at an easel or straight into my computer
for projection on a screen;
I can draw very
not as fast as Stephen Kellogg, if you've ever seen him give a presentation!)
I generally communicate
all ages of audience, and try to adjust
the content of my talks accordingly, whether they be Kindergartners,
graduate students, or the general public. This is
the part of my website for people who might be interested in arranging
a visit from me.