Interview with Author/Illustrator Peter Brown

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.”
-Groucho Marx
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


Interview with Author/Illustrator Anna Alter

Anna Alter grew up surrounded by beautiful books and is delighted that it is now her job to make them. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied illustration, then quickly began her career in books at Houghton Mifflin Company in the children’s book design department. After learning the ropes, she began submitting her own stories and illustrations to publishers and has been creating books for kids ever since.
Anna’s books have been selected as a CCBC Choice best book of the year, Bank Street College best book of the year, Junior Library Guild selection, Texas 2×2 Recommended Reading, and twice been included in the Society of Illustrator’s Original Art Show.
In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, Anna has taught art and book making to audiences of all ages: she has worked as a preschool teacher, held art classes for grade schoolers, and taught a course on children’s book illustration at the Montserrat College of Art.

Since this blog’s about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?

I love this quote:

“When you write don’t think, listen.” -Madeleine L’Engle
It is so easy to over-think the writing or illustrating process. The times when I’ve been the most happy with the results of my efforts have been when I stop weighing decisions in my head and let myself get totally lost in what I’m doing. It requires some thinking of course, but its almost like the thinking is the framework you make to hold up the real work of listening to your creative voice.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Relax. Don’t sweat it. Things will work out one way or another. Life continues to get more rich and interesting whether or not you get what you think you want.

What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author/illustrator did this come as a surprise?
I’ve wanted to make books since I was fourteen, before that hmm… I guess I’ve always known deep down that I wanted to be an artist of some kind. And I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother. I am constantly surprised and grateful that I’ve managed to do both things.

In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
All the books I loved growing up made such an impression, reading them felt so freeing. Beatrix Potter has always been one of my favorite author/illustrators, I just loved to pour over the tiny little worlds she brought to life. She is one of the reasons I love using animal characters.
Are there ever times you feel your creative spark dying? If so, how do you light it back up?
I get the most stuck when I worry about what other people will think and how they will judge my work. That is a sure fire way to kill your creative spark. When I get in that mindset, I try to talk myself down by focusing on what is enjoyable about what I’m doing. Which reminds me of another quote I love:

“Achievement is the byproduct of a happy life, not the goal of one.” -Elenore Roosevelt

Do you have a favorite illustration you could share with us that has a story behind it?
My favorite illustration from my new book, A Photo for Greta, is the one below.

The image popped into my head before I had really hammered out the story and yet seemed to fit through all the stages of revision, while just about all the other images around it changed. To me it sums up Greta’s spirit.

I too agree that this illustration sums up Greta’s spirit, my eyes were glued on it while reading A Photo For Greta. Thank you Anna for sharing your wisdom, good cheer, and work with us. I feel so honored to have you today!

If you would like to find out more about Anna you can visit her site here. She also has a fabulous blog titled Painting Bunnies and frequently blogs on a group blog called The Blue Rose Girls.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell

Hazel Mitchell recently finished working with Priscilla Burris in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and illustrated HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID by Daniel Stefanski.  Currently she is illustrating a series of chapter books for Kane and Miller by Anastasia Suen, and a search and seek book for Charlesbridge Publishing about New Jersey. She stems from Scarborough in Yorkshire England and now lives and works from her studio in Maine. She attended art college in York and Sunderland in the UK and worked as a graphic designer in the Royal Navy before running her print and design business in England.  Her art has even been presented to the British Royal Family. Now she is working on writing and illustrating her own books as well as illustrating for other authors.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
My favorite quote is by Oscar Wilde;

‘We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

I think it speaks of the equality of humanity, and the state we are in – but some of us are dreaming and that’s what makes life worthwhile. I hope I can help even just a few children dream.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself and what you can achieve and stick with it. I have wanted to be an illustrator and writer from my earliest memories. I was always doodling and writing little stories and plays and comics for friends. And yet I always got sidelined by something else. I guess I didn’t have an ideal childhood; my parents divorced when I was five and we moved around a lot. Although I showed early talent I don’t feel my school was geared toward arts. I did have a great art teacher from the ages of 16 to 18 though, and his teaching kept me motivated for a long time. I don’t think I was ready for art college. I did 2 years of my degree course and dropped out. I wanted to do fine art and my work was very illustrative … here’s where I should have believed in myself and asked for help! I didn’t. But I am a great believer that life gives you what you need, when you need it. So my career path was a little crazy … I joined the Royal Navy and I found myself working in graphics studios with excellent civil servant artists and learned a heck of a lot. It was a kind of apprenticeship. When I left the Navy I ran my own business in print and design. It was great experience. I started working with computers in 1988. Now, as I am starting to really follow my ambitions as a children’s illustrator and writer, I find the experiences I had in my former work invaluable as well as having a wealth of life experience. It makes me what I am today! I also have professional consistency and persistence and that’s important when you are dealing with publishers. I never forget that they are investing money and time in me. Yes, I wish I could have been where I am now fifteen years ago – but life gives us what we need, when we need it. (IF you are looking at the stars of course!)
In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
I can’t recall the picture books I read as a child. I started reading chapter books pretty early, and then moved on to adult works quickly. So as an illustrator I have had to go back and rediscover books that I didn’t read, or have forgotten. I also have no children of my own so I didn’t do the whole rediscovering children’s books thing. Robert Louis Stephenson, AA Milne (and the drawings of EH Shepherd), Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs. These are the books I remember. Then I moved on to classics, loving the Brontes and Jane Austen, Dickens. Like most children in England of my era I was addicted to Enid Blyton. What I really loved was pony stories … ponies, ponies, ponies!
Right now I am being inspired all over again. And I am discovering a whole new set of writers .. because what American children grew up with is not what I was reading in England. So I have been discovering all the classic books here. I think what inspires me to keep doing what I am doing is what is happening right now in the children’s book world. It’s exciting to see and read about people like Dan Santat, Mo Willems, EB Lewis, Loren Long, Marla Frazee, Paul O Zelinsky and follow their careers, see how they are evolving. Just knowing that they are out there having the same struggles in their studios on a daily basis even at their level of success. Kind of like being in one big universal illustration club … that’s what keeps me going.
Are there ever times you feel your creative spark dying? If so, how do you light it back up?
I do run out of energy. But not out of ideas. Not yet!! My wall is covered in post it notes with ideas and projects. There isn’t enough time. I am not good at leaving my studio though, once I am working, and that is the way to burn out. You have to balance your day. I get my mojo back by chatting with other illustrators and writers. Right now being part of SCBWI and attending conferences and workshops really keeps my fire burning. If I am feeling really jaded it’s good not to work on anything for a little while. But sometimes that is not possible with deadlines. I think routine is important. Sitting down with a pile of books always gets me inspired. Going outside and remembering there is life beyond the drawing board. Having a snooze and a cup of Yorkshire Tea. Yeah, that perks me right up!!
Do you have a favorite illustration you could share with us that has a story behind it?

This is a picture that has been in my head for about 8 years. I started a story about a boy and a dog with hidden powers and doodled a rough sketch in a notepad. This story has been evolving a good while and has gone from a picture book to a middle grade, back to a PB. I found the sketch and worked it up. I really like this kind of sketchy style and colour palette. I don’t know if I will ever finish the story. But I kind of feel like this boy is me. Everything is spread out before him and he just has to follow the path. He’s not sure where the journey will end, but whatever is over the mountains is sure to be marvelous! That’s where I’m going too!

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Enthusiastic. (Just one??? REALLY?)

Thank you so much Hazel.  You are an inspiration! I too look forward to watching your career.  And please do visit Hazel’s blog, website, pixel shavings, and flickr to learn more about this inspiring author/illustrator! 

Interview with Author/Illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka used to be a goofy kid that liked to draw. Now, he is an award winning published author/illustrator with many books to his credit. Growing up in Worcester, MA Jarrett drew relentlessly and always had a cast of characters that he wrote stories for. In 9th grade, Jarrett won a contest with The Worcester Telegram & Gazette and for the first time – saw his work in print.
This sparked a fire within. He went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design – after being initially rejected. It was in his senior year that he received his first illustration job for a national educational publisher. Then, six months after graduating RISD, Jarrett carried his portfolio into New York City and landed a contract for his first book. He immediately ran to a pay phone to share the good news with his grandparents. Good Night, Monkey Boy was published on June 12, 2001 and Jarrett has since been busy producing more books – including Baghead, Bubble Bath Pirates, Annie Was Warned, Max for President, Punk Farm, Giddy Up, Cowgirl and My Buddy, Slug. In 2003, Jarrett was chosen by Print as one of their 20 top new visual artists under 30. His work has also been short listed by Newsweek, USA Today, The Boston Globe and The New York Times, among others. Jarrett’s books Punk Farm and Lunch Lady are currently in development as feature films.
Jarrett you have accomplished so much in your career already, how amazing and inspiring! Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
Aw, thank you! A camper at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, where I worked as a counselor for many summers, once said, 
“I wish I was the way I am.” 

We put that on the staff T-shirt that summer.

You have won many awards and recently, you were nominated for an Eisner award, congratulations! This is a HUGE accomplishment! Is there any advice or words of encouragement you’d like to offer others who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
The Eisner nomination took me completely by surprise! My best advice is to write about what interests you. One of the most influential professors that I had at RISD, Oren Sherman, always told us to avoid chasing trends. By the time we would ever create anything that would be ready to be put out into the world, the trend would be gone. He encouraged us to chase our own visions and by the nature of our success, we would set the trends.

All of your books are packed full of comedy and so are you! How do you keep your creative spark burning?
Thanks! My humor helped me get through childhood and make friends in high school. I keep my creative spark burning simply because it is what I love to do. Well, that and because it’s my job. Imagine if you walked into your dentist’s office and he said, “Eh. I’m really not in the mood to clean teeth today. I’ll be over here looking at Facebook . . .”
What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author/illustrator did this come as a surprise?
I wanted to be what I am. I always told stories with words and pictures in some way. A friend of mine from college once told me that she would be more surprised if I didn’t end up being an author/illustrator of children’s books.
If you could be any super hero, who would it be?
I always admired Storm’s powers. I imagine she was the most popular X-Man around when they all went on vacation. Do you remember that TV Show from the 80’s, Out of this World, where the girl could put her fingers together and freeze time? I always wanted to be able to do that, too.
Has there ever been a teacher that had a big influence on you? If so, what did they do and how did they encourage you?
When I was in the 6th grade, the arts budgets for public schools in Worcester, MA were completely slashed. My grandfather, Joseph, sent me to classes at the Worcester Art Museum. I would take classes there through my senior year of high school, taking classes in drawing, cartooning, animation and illustration. Mark Lynch, who taught the comic book and animation classes, was horrified when I brought in a book that told you how to draw comics. He said, “Forget everything you’ve learned.” He told me that I already had a great style and that I should celebrate that and further explore my own “voice”. I can still see the expression on his face!

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Jarrett for the awesome interview and for spreading your gift of laughter to many. You’re so encouraging and I am thrilled that I was so lucky to have interviewed you!
If you’d like to find out more about Jarrett J. Krosoczka please check out his fun-filled website here and don’t forget to visit his blog because it’s sure to bring you a ton of laughs!  Also check out another great blog that Jarrett is a part of called Random Acts of Reading.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Bob Boyle

Bob Boyle is the Emmy Award winning creator of the Nick Jr. series, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and is author/illustrator of the children’s book, Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String. He also created the Disney series, Yin! Yang! Yo! and was a Producer and the Art Director of The Fairly OddParents.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
I actually have a Word doc. on my desktop that I cut and paste quotes into whenever I find something inspirational. Because I’m a big sports fan, many of the quotes are from athletes and coaches, but I think they relate well to anyone pursuing a dream.
I don’t have a favorite but here are a couple I really like:
“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit.” – George Allen, Pro Football Coach

“In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results.” – Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player
Sports have played a big part in my life. I find the preparation, training, and determination of athletes to be incredibly inspiring.

You have won many awards and one of them being an Emmy, WOW!!! This is a HUGE accomplishment! Is there any advice or words of encouragement you’d like to offer others who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Sticking to the sports theme, I think that the folks at Nike provide the most important bit of advice- “Just Do It!”
I have met so many talented people who talk about wanting to do something yet they never follow through. They think that they are not good enough or their idea isn’t right or they need to do more research. All of those things may be true but you’ll never get anywhere until you take the first step of actually doing something.
Make some mistakes. Get them out of the way, learn, and become better with the next thing you do.
And, once you start, make sure that you finish. When you hit a roadblock or tough spot (and we all do), DON’T GIVE UP! Don’t suddenly decide that you can’t do it and try to find some easier path. It’s very easy to create distractions that will lead you away from your goal. Stay focused.
All that advice is stuff that you’ve heard before. And that’s the thing; there are no secrets to success. There are no shortcuts. You need to wake up in the morning with a plan and- “Just Do It!”

If you could be one character you’ve created or worked on, whom would it be and why?
I’d probably have to go back to a character I created as a kid called Flame Head. Why Flame Head? Because he wore roller-skates and had a giant flame for a head. Come on, how cool would that be!

Bob, you’re hilarious on so many levels!  Who do you think inspired you to become the funny man you are today?
If I’m funny at all, it’s probably because I got my head stuck in between the rungs of a banister when I was a kid. It must have cut off the flow of oxygen to my brain just long enough to make me ‘funny’.
Seriously though, I just like to try to find the humor in most situations. It’s probably just a defense mechanism to soften the blow of all the hard things in life. I guess I’d rather be laughing than crying.
My Dad wasn’t really funny but he was always happy. He once told me, “I’ve never had a bad day in my life. It’s just that some days are better than others”. I think he was lying to himself but, hey, whatever works!

What did you want to be growing up? Did becoming an author/illustrator come as a surprise?
I’ve always loved comic strips and drawing but, more than anything, I really wanted more to be a pro athlete. I especially wanted to play football for the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, by the time I got to high school, I had stopped growing. I realized that being 5’7 and 120 pounds was going to seriously hinder my chances in the NFL so I started focusing more intensely on cartooning. From that point on all of my dreams were based around telling stories with images. I wanted to become the next Walt Disney or Charles Schulz but I’m happy to say that I’m quite content just being Bob Boyle. Although it would be cool to be cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney!
How would you define your road to success, straight, twisting, full of hills, a mountain, muddy, or lumpy?
It has been, and will continue to be, all of those things. Pursuing your dreams can be difficult. The thing that I think has helped me the most is that I don’t give up very easily.
Since I never made it to the NFL, I have fulfilled my athletic needs by running marathons. I’ve found that running is a great metaphor for life. You only get out of it what you put into it. There will be times where you don’t feel like getting out of bed and running, but if you put in the time, you’ll get better. In order to succeed at anything it takes time, effort, and determination. And a good pair of shoes!

If you could be any super hero for one day, who would it be and why?
I think I’d be more of a transforming robot than a super hero (mostly because I’d look ridiculous in tights).
I would be known as- The Mighty Burrito-Bot. Fighting crime and spreading joy with my burrito based powers! Evildoers would be wrapped in a warm tortilla! Justice would be served with a dollop of sour cream and salsa!
“Guacamole blast, activate!”

Thank you Bob!  Your advice is very uplifting and spot on.  And it would be a dream to be Flame Head, especially because of the roller skates!  If you would like to find out more about Bob you can follow his fantastic blog or check out all of his amazing accomplishments in the links above.  And don’t forget to pick up his new book Hugo because it will be sure to bring bright smiles to a family near you!