Peter Brown has always loved telling stories. As a boy, he told stories with pictures, by drawing whimsical characters and scenes from his imagination. As a teenager, Peter fell in love with writing, and began using words to tell wild tales. As a student at Art Center College of Design, Peter’s love of both words and pictures led him to take several courses on children’s books. And before long he knew he’d found his calling.
After graduating from Art Center, Peter moved to New York City to be closer to the publishing industry. He was working on animated TV shows when he was hired to write and illustrate his first picture book, Flight of the Dodo. Peter quickly signed up his second and third books, and he’s published one book per year ever since.
Peter’s books have earned him numerous honors, including two E.B. White Awards, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book award, a Children’s Choice Award for Illustrator of the Year, an Irma Black Honor, and he has had three NY Times Bestsellers. Peter’s books are being adapted into children’s plays and short films, and they have been translated into more than a dozen languages around the world.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
I like this quote because it basically speaks for me. And it’s funny.
Your books are full of humor and so are you! How do you keep your creative spark burning?
I sometimes get tired of my own work. But there is SO MUCH amazing work in the world, that I never get tired of exploring other people’s creativity.
Whenever I get bored with my work, I know that I need to change things up a bit. And so I’ll “add a new color to my palette.” Sometimes that may actually mean changing my color palette, or it might mean flattening out my illustrations so they’re more bold and graphic, or it might mean working on a SERIOUS story (for a change). It’s always different, but change is good, and so when I’m stuck I make changes.
What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author/illustrator did this come as a surprise?
When I was a kid I thought I either wanted to work at Disney Animation, or I wanted to be some kind of biologist working in Africa. I LOVED nature specials and zoos, and I still do, which is why so many of my stories are about animals.
When you were in school, was there a teacher that had a big influence on you? If so, how old were you and what did they do?
Absolutely yes! My high school art teacher, Dr. O’Boyle was one of those teachers every parent hopes will cross paths with their child. He’s a life changer. My family life was pretty turbulent growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself, and I didn’t always believe that I had any talent, but Doc never wavered, ever, in his belief in my abilities. He is an inspired artist and teacher, and he insisted that I apply to art schools that I had no business getting into. But I was accepted to Art Center College of Design, and the rest is history. I thought he was crazy, but I guess I proved him right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m Picasso or Hemingway, but I’ve amounted to much more than I’d ever expected.
When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?
As I develop a story, I spend about 75% of my time being absolutely panicked that my story won’t turn out. But I keep grinding away at it. Basically, when I get a little nugget of a story, I realize that a million things could happen in that story. And so I end up using flowcharts or story webs to map out every possible scenario. It’s grueling. Slowly but surely I begin to see which ideas work and which don’t. And the ideas that work are the ones that are innovative, quirky, wondrous, heartwarming, or funny.
In your career as an author/illustrator, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
This feels like a cop-out, but I’d have to say Maurice Sendak…like I’m sure everyone else says. The fact is Sendak was an unbelievable craftsman, both with his words and his pictures (not to mention that he had some pretty brilliant ideas). Every book that man ever published is a gorgeous work of art. Every little drawing in “A Hole is to Dig” is perfect. Every full spread of “In the Night Kitchen” is just right. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a Sendak illustration (or sentence) and said to myself “Well, I would have done that differently…” I’m inspired by his high standards, and I aspire to his level of perfection.
If you could be any super hero real or make believe, who would it be?
The Time Boss. Time goes by so quickly, and there’s so much I want to do. I’d love it if I could just control the passage of time.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Love it, Peter! Thank you for giving us some wonderful insight into your creative magical world and sharing some amazing words of wisdom!
If you would like to find out more about Peter, please visit his website. Also, Peter’s newest book, CREEPY CARROTS! (Written by Aaron Reynolds) hits bookshelves this month! August 2012! Check out the ever awesome video here.