Frequently Asked Questions
I love to visit schools and meet the creative students and teachers! Unfortunately, my busy schedule doesn’t allow time for as many visits as I’d like, . . . but I make arrangements as I am able. If you’re interested in a visit, send me an email.
Yes. In some of my earlier books, there is a small, black dog. Her name was Kismet. She was a rescue dog from an animal shelter. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but she always patiently sat with me in my studio while I painted. I included her in many books as a bit of a tribute to such a loyal friend. We now have a sheepdog named Riley who is also a rescue dog. He hangs out with me in my studio too, except he has a tendency to munch on my paintbrushes when I’m not watching! Although he doesn’t look like Dawg in the Cowpoke Clyde books, he was the inspiration. Riley, however, is the star of my holiday cards. You can see some of those images in the portfolio section of this site.
Practice! Practice! Practice!. . . And then go back and practice some more! I discovered that magazine work was a good way for me to break in to the field. In the bookstore, I found illustrated articles in a particular children’s magazine and decided to reillustrate them as if the assignment had been given to me. I submitted these “reimagined” illustrations to the magazine’s art director and within the month I received my first assignment.
When I was little, much to my mother’s irritation, I painted and drew on anything I could get my hands on, like paper plates packing cardboard and even rocks. I particularly loved to draw anything creepy like ghosts, monsters, my little brother. . . I began by reproducing some of my favorite TV characters and scenes from books and continued until I started coming up with my own ideas.
I could never choose just one! I thoroughly enjoyed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. I also had a big book of fairy tales that included stories such as The Blue Light, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and The Nose Tree. In the back of the book, where the last few pages are blank, I believed those were placed there for kids to practice their drawing. . . which is exactly what I did in that book.
There is a long list of artists whose work I admire. Some of my favorites illustrators include: Chris Van Allsburg, C.F. Payne, Clayton Brothers, Peter de Sève, Tim O’Brien, Tim Bower, Daniel Adel, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Carter Goodrich.
It varies but typically it takes me between 5 to 7 months to illustrate a book. Sometimes the publisher doesn’t give that much time though and I have to finish much sooner. For example, I had to illustrate one book in only 18 days!
The paintings are almost always much larger than what you see in the finished book. The smallest ones are about 18 x 24″. The largest ones have been about 48″ wide!
Different publishers have different approaches which can cause my process to vary. Typically I receive a rough copy of a manuscript to look over first. After I agree to do the assignment, I begin by brainstorming as many ideas as I can. I enjoy this part the most! For some books I end up with stacks of ideas I never use, which in most cases is a good thing. I usually start with rough character sketches. Often my family serves as unwitting sources of inspiration (they’re a fairly goofy looking bunch!). Fortunately I have had a tremendous degree of freedom in my assignments. I wouldn’t say I am “totally free to do what I want”, but I have had many opportunities to explore creative options. When I have refined my sketches, I submit them to the Art Director. Sometimes the author may get copies of the sketches as well. After the drawings have been approved by the publisher, I begin rendering the final artwork. This is the part that takes me the longest. When I’m finished, the publisher adds the type. I don’t usually have any say in book design or fonts used, however, sometimes I am invited to discuss general layout issues such as type placement. Once the design work has been completed, the project is then sent off to be printed and bound into a book. This last phase, in my experience, typically takes about 3 months.
After college I lived in New Orleans where I worked creating displays for music artists. It was during this point in my career that I learned the value of experimenting with different materials such as foamcore, gold leaf, metal and even spray paint. Once, I created a display for a band that consisted of an 8 foot dog constructed out of spray foam, rubber gloves and plastic. Now I usually paint with acrylics on illustration board. Sometimes though, I add other mediums too, like colored pencil and pastel.
I would love to tell you something like. . . I go out when the moon is full for a dinner of spicy food. Afterwards, I return home, lay my head down on a special pillow filled with exotic goose down and then let ideas come through surreal dreams. But, unfortunately, for me there isn’t anything that specific or unique. My inspiration comes from the things closest to me like my friends, family, even the furniture in my house. For example, the train, the Sagebrush Flyer in Railroad John and the Red Rock Run, was composed out of parts of furniture in my home. I combined those ideas with photos of an old train nicknamed the Gophers, Frogs and Alligators line, which ran where in the area where I grew up. Also, my great grandfather, who actually worked for a railroad, was the basis for the Railroad John character.
Another example comes from my very first book which had a monster that lived in hedges. When it came time to illustrate this nasty character and his home, I looked no further for ideas than my own backyard at the time. Bordering the whole backyard, there was a row of bushes, which always struggled. They had diseases, they got bugs, they grew in strange patterns and directions. I thought if ever there was a plant that would be home to a monster, it had to be these unruly bushes.
There are ideas everywhere. Just look around your own home and I’m sure you’ll find many!