How did you first get into writing and illustrating your own books?
When I was a kid in Middle School, an author came to visit our school to talk about her book. After her talk, I stayed to talk to her more about writing children's books. I knew right then that I wanted to create magical stories for children. I also found out that she lived very close to me, so every chance I got, I went to visit her to talk about writing.
While in college, a friend of mine asked me if I would illustrate a story he had written. He wanted to produce it to give to his family and friends for Christmas. I said yes, and we had his father to print the book for us. It wasn't a bestseller or anything, but we sold it at the local bookstore and got an article about the book in the Baltimore Sun. I was hooked and knew I wanted to illustrate and write children's books for the rest of my life.
Have you completed formal art studies, or are you self-taught?
I graduated from the University of Maryland in Advertising Design. But after college is when I really started to take illustration seriously. I took drawing classes at Otis Parson School of Design, American Animation Institute, Art Centre College of Design and Associates in Art, where I learnt to draw really well from professional teachers. But it was up to me to develop the style of how I wanted things to look in my drawing. Deciding upon your style is one of the hardest things an artist has to do. My style seems to fit with the way I l ook at life and how I think. I still explore and develop my art, because this is a lifetime adventure and only I know how far I can take my art or want to take it.
I need to share something with you here, because even though it seems that my life is very magical, I was told by four different English teachers over the years that I would never learn grammar. They threw their arms up in the air at me. I was always told that I had a great imagination but I would never be a writer because I couldn't learn grammar. Well, I have proven that where there is a will, there is a way. I just started writing lots and then hired a great editor to edit my work. The moral of this story is that someone else might not be able to teach you how to do something, but you can always teach yourself. Or you can hire someone to cover your weaknesses.
How did you get your first full assignment? What did it involve?
After I believed that my art as ready, I started sending out postcards to publishers to try to get a book to illustrate. Every month for six months, I sent out a postcard and then I got my first book to illustrate, Chicken Little. I had to create 17 paintings for the book. I started with a pencil drawing of the spreads, and once they were approved, I went to color comps. They are rough colored drawings to show the colors of the piece. I always give color comps because I paint in bright colors and I don't want to shock anyone with the final art. I also sent out postcards to Educational Companies as well, which helped make extra money until I could get more commissions to illustrate books.
You have a very distinctive style? How did this develop?
Every artist has to decide how they want things to look in their art. There are 50 million ways to draw something and both the classes I took and the way I think (not like others) helped to develop my style. I look at the world as a very magical place that's full of bright colors and I wanted to share with the world the way that I see things. I believe there is magic around every corner and you just need to be open to see it. I also believe that the experiences you have in life helps to determine your style. So I have lots of experiences and adventures that I put into my art and writing.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
When I create a character, I believe that they can exist in reality. They come to life. As I create, I think of things the character would like and dislike. What their personality would be if I met them on the street. I am not quite sure if I am ready to meet a bear on the street but it would be an interesting experience. I give the attitude to their poses.
Once, I was at the Post Office and there were 25 other people in line. I gasped, because I realised that I was standing in a room full of my characters. I went out to my car and sat in the parking lot for over 30 minutes so that I could draw all the people I had seen. I always carry a sketchbook wiht me, because I never know when I am going to be inspired. It's always best to take from real life and add your own twist to it.
Do you prefer writing or illustrating?
I like doing both. Each can stand on their own, but put together in the right combination, that's when magical things can happen. You can create something amazing that others will enjoy as well. You can sweep up the reader and take them to magical places and give them a great imagination.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I have submitted my work to SILA (Society of Illustrators - LA) and won twice. I will also be entering my two new books, Batty Malgoony's Mystic Carnivale and The Mystery of Journeys Crowne into competitions so that they can gain exposure. The other awards that I have won, the publishers entered those products and books. Some of the best books in the workd have never won any awards, they are just written to be great books.
How do you promote and sell your books? Do you also have a day job?
Promoting and marketing are part of the job that I don't like. I have never been a person who likes to talk about what I am doing or working on. I am more of a doer than a talker. But if I wanst my work to be successful, I need to do it. Promoting and marketing has become so much easier since the internet. I do a lot of emailing and contacting people around the world who might be able to help promote my books. I send out a lot of books to reviewers and I try to get national press from newspapers and magazines by sending them press releases and flyers in the mail. The wonderful thing about my books after I created them is that it is up to me whether they are successful or not. Each author and illustrator has that power.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc?
Creativity and magic are two things you can never control. You just havge to be open to oth if you want to create magical and creative books. I am not keen on schedules, because I know best of all that it is when I am having fun that I am at my most creative. I pride myself on being unpredictable and pretty much live my life that way. But I love what I do so much that I probably work more than the average person. Art is more than just a career; it's my life style. For me, it is more about the magical journey I will have than in reaching a goal. But, if I did have to pick one goal, then I hope that others will see and enjoy the magic I create in my books. Being on the New York Times bestsellers list wouldn't be bad either.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help you concentrate?
My studio is not the prettiest think to look at, but I do surround myself with art and toys. It also has a lot of books for reference and learning. I believe that it's not how the studio looks but what comes out of it that is important. I am very protective of my creative area so very few people ever get to see my studio.
What has been your experience with publishers?
The publishers I have worked with over the years have been really good publishers. They have let me be very creative in the work I have done for their books so that we can produce the best book. I have also been lucky to talk to and become friends with some of the authors whose stories I have illustrated and that's not normal in the publishing business.