Details at the end of this blog...
Greetings, all! This will be my fifth and final post for the Robert's Snow auction of snowflakes artistically crafted by artists and illustrators to raise money for cancer research. The first set of snowflakes goes up for bid on Monday!
My special guest today is Aaron Zenz, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me:
1. You've showcased your artistic talent in an amazing amount of media, by designing video games (image below) and toys, penning your own comic series, and of course illustrating books. Is there any medium you haven't explored that you want to?
While growing up my dream was always to be an animator. I bought Frank & Ollie's animation bible "The Illusion of Life" with my own savings when I was around 10. I have vivid memories of going through the giant tome page by page taking notes in a little spiral pad. Somewhere along the line - college I believe - I realized what I loved most about animation was not just making characters move, but rather bringing characters to life. I also realized you have to share a character and his world with a whole lot of other people in order to get a movie made. However, with illustrating children's books, I could make worlds and personalities come alive, and it would be my own creation from beginning to end. I still love the art of animation though. Glen Keane is my hero, and I love looking at preproduction work by people like Peter de Seve, H.B. Lewis, and Ralph Eggleston. I'd still love to do preproduction work for film or t.v.
2. I loved seeing your early (as in childhood!) works posted on your website. Would you say that you were born into this career?
I've always loved drawing and telling stories. I was one of those kids who constantly doodled in all the white spaces of my school workbooks -- up and down the edges, all around the margins...
I'm not sure people are automatically born with intrinsic artistic skills - at least I don't think I personally was. Instead, I think what God does do is bless certain people with an inherent love for making art. And if you love it, you'll do it. And if you do it, you get better.
I could wax theological and talk about how I believe we were created in the image of God and since He's the Creator and we are made in His image then we get a slice of that creative nature too and some of us might happen to get a larger slice of that creative aspect than other people.... I could, but I won't.
3. What is your favorite thing to draw and why? What is your least favorite thing to draw and why?
I love drawing characters - not just animals or people, but "characters." Creatures with personalities wrapped up inside them. It goes back to the whole "bringing to life" thing.
I think my least favorite things are mechanical structures -- buildings, planes, cars, roads - that's why the last book I did (all about racecars) was so daunting!
I went from my first book "The Hiccupotamus" which was totally organic -- clothingless animals running around in natural settings -- to "Nascar ABCs" which was all cars and trucks and tracks and engines. But I do love a challenge, and it was great fun to solve that challenge.
4. I love the cartoon-like quality of many of your illustrations. They're so well-drawn. Do you do anything special to familiarize yourself with a subject when drawing it for the first time? Or is it all just going with what you know from everyday observation?
I surround my self with cartoon-like acquaintances.
Actually I do tend to pull out lots of references. For that racecar project I had a stack of probably 30 or 40 books that I kept renewing from the library over and over again. Prior to that assignment, I don't think I had ever drawn a car once in my life. That statement sounds so ridiculous, I have a hard time believing it's true. But if someone could somehow prove that "You're right - you really hadn't ever tried drawing a car before," it wouldn't surprise me.
The books I'm working on now are about a little Bichon Frise.
Nothing about the stories demanded that breed of dog, but that's what the author had in mind so I wanted to be accommodating. I got another stack of 30-40 library books and spent a couple days simply sketching Bichon doodles before launching into the specific stories.
5. When you are asked to illustrate a book, how much liberty is given to you in the creative process?
So far in my illustration career it's been almost complete liberty. A handful of times an art director has had me rework a preliminary sketch, but I don't look at that as hampering freedom. That's just getting the best out of me.
6. You've actually illustrated AND written your own picture book (The Hiccupotamus). How hard is it to wear both hats?
It's not difficult, but you get double the hat-head. I consider myself an illustrator who also happens to write, as opposed to a writer who can draw. But I love both. I've got around 30 stories I've written that I'm itching to get made. And it's odd - I tend to get more comments on my writing than I do my art. That may just be because people in my life already know that I draw.
I'm by nature very visual. I think in pictures. So when I write, I'm basically using words to record the images in my head, and when I draw I'm just recording them with pictures. The two activities are very similar for me.
7. Are there any other illustrators whose work you really enjoy?
Oh lands. I love looking at other illustrations as much as making them. Shall I just list? N.C. Wyeth, Winsor McCay, P.J. Lynch, Peter de Seve, Scott Gustafson, Eric Rohmann, Adam Rex, Peter McCarty, Shaun Tan, my own kids...
I actually got to meet Scott Gustafson at Book Expo when he came over to talk with his buddy, master illustrator John Sandford. John and I are great friends too, and he knows my love of Scott G's work so he introduced us. And here's what came out of my mouth: "I've been a big fan of your work for a long, long time. In fact, as long as I can remember, whenever someone asks me who my favorite present day artists are, I've said the same three names: Glen Keane, Peter de Seve, and Scott Guftesss... Scott Gussfusst... Scott Guff... Gusf... Gufftenstuh... Gus Stuffsensen... Scuff Gustiffstin... Scat... Sket... Scott Gutfuss..." At which point he graciously broke in and said, "That's okay -- I think I know the guy you're talking about." At which point I promptly clammed up, donned a contented goofy grin, and uttered nary another word for the rest of his visit.
8. You have over 1900 children's books in your collection. What inspires that sort of awesome bibliomania?
I've just fallen in love with picture books. I started collecting them before I had kids. I started before I even thought I'd have a chance to participate in making books. I love story, I love art, and the picture book is a perfect combination.
My wife believes you should only have as many books as you do current bookshelf space. However, I think you should get as many bookcases as you need in order to accommodate your books. We've got books scattered everywhere throughout the house -- kids' rooms, living room, my workroom, inside cupboards, bookshelves in closets...
One of the saddest things ever is a house with no books. Our house is far from sad!
9. Tell me a little about the snowflake you created (Winterdragon) for this year’s Robert’s Snow project. What inspired you to choose this particular character?
I have a section on my website where I drew and posted a new monster every week (Weekly Monsters). In honor of its one year anniversary, I gave a short little run of my take on creatures from children's literature -- Tolkien's "Smaug," Alexander's "Gurgi," L'Engle's "Aunt Beast," etc. I've received more feedback on that Smaug picture than on any other single picture I've ever made. Wanting to do my best to help raise good funds for a good cause, I figured the dragon might be popular with bidders. So I reimagined him in blues for the winter theme and took advantage of the snowflake's shape for composition!
10. Are you currently working on any new projects?
I'm working on four "I Can Read" books about a spirited little dog named Howie. Would you like to be the premiere unveiler of some of the Howie cover art?
It's very exciting for me to be a part of a tradition (I Can Read series) that includes amazing books like "Frog and Toad" and "Sammy the Seal."
Ladies and gents, you have to admit, that is one CUTE pup! Reminds me of Cynthia Lord's little one.
I think you get an idea of how great an artist Aaron is, and you'll be pleased to know that he is giving away not one, but TWO copies of his picture book, The Hiccupotamus, to one lucky winner! That's one for you, and one for a friend or loved one at Christmas time!
All you have to do to enter is comment on this blog (if you don't have a LiveJournal ID, please include e-mail address). On Monday at 9:00 am (when the first set of Robert's Snow snowflakes go on sale), the contest will be closed, and I'll announce a winner later that morning.
Thank you to Aaron for this generosity, and thank you to all the artists and illustrators who help to make Robert's Snow what it is.
Readers, please do what you can to help out an excellent cause. Check out the snowflakes, and if any of them tickle your fancy (which I KNOW they will), put in a bid!
Now, it's 4:19 in the morning. I'm off to bed!
You Could Win Picture Books!
Details at the end of this blog...