09 February 2008
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

General:

Are you an illustrator or what?

Yes! But I also write and spend a lot of time working on design and graphic identity projects. After graduating college, I spent a year teaching literature to high schoolers and I realized how much I enjoyed working with narratives. I’m also passionate about entrepreneurship, so I started a company with some friends, and I try to collaborate with  hi-tech start ups in New York.


What do you do for fun? 

My career largely consists of doing what I did for fun when I was 12 years old. While is this very often as great as it sounds, you still need hobbies. I love reading, visiting museums, hiking, and traveling. I’m the sort of person who thinks it’s a great idea to walk 200 miles across Scotland, so I did that with two buddies in 2009. And I teach workshops occasionally, usually at schools or museums.


Redwall: 

How did you start illustrating for Redwall? 

I wrested an ancient sword from the clutches of an evil serpent. Immediately afterward, I was thirteen years old and showed Brian Jacques some of my artwork at a book signing. He surprised me by asking if I would create illustrations for his website. I worked on Redwall.org for a couple of years before illustrating the “covers” for the Redwall Recorded Book series. Sometime in 2008, I was asked to illustrate the interior of The Sable Quean. I finished illustrating The Rogue Crew, the final Redwall novel, before Brian passed away in 2011. I wish I could have illustrated more of Brian’s books, but I’m thankful for the two we worked on together.


Will the Redwall series continue? 

So far as I know, The Rogue Crew is the last Redwall novel.


Did you know Brian Jacques? 

Brian wasn’t much for putting magic in his stories, but he worked magic in my life and in the lives of many others. Brian was a great friend, and he is sorely missed.


Craft:

Who are your biggest influences? 

My influences can change depending on what sort of project I’m working on. When I’m illustrating, I’m inspired by E. H. Shepard, Bill Watterson, the Wyeths, and Alan Lee. Going further back, I love Albrecht Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, and the greatest world-beater in the history of art, Michelangelo.

Writing is more complicated.

What inspires you? 

Inspiration can come from anywhere, so I always try to be anywhere just in case. Going on walks and looking around the city helps. I’ve arrived at more important ideas by seeing signs, posters, or graffiti on the streets of New York than I'd care to admit. I suspect that a lot of the people walking around my neighborhood are up to the same thing.

When that doesn’t work, or if it’s raining, I’m inspired by other artists, music, sermons, and especially conversations with friends.


Questions I’m usually asked at book signings and conventions: 

Should I go to art school? 

The first time I was asked this question, I realized I was getting old. The short answer is, “If you want to.”

The long answer is longer. When I applied to art schools, professors offered to let me in, but almost all of them said that I didn’t really have an art school personality. While I do tend to wear button-down shirts, more significantly, those professors thought my interests were too diverse for me to be a happy conservatory student. My work tends to be a response to my interests, and college gave me an opportunity to broaden and deepen these interests. In the end, I think those professors gave me good advice.

Some people don’t think formal education is necessary for artists, but I don’t agree with that. The deeper the well you have to draw from, the better your work will be. Education is important way to deepen that well. A liberal arts education will expose you to a broad spectrum of ideas, and that might make you a more interesting artist, but a conservatory education will hone your craft, and might make you a technically better and more focused artist. The world needs both kinds of artists, and both kinds of artists need to learn from each other. The decision should be based in your individual priorities.

Why did you move from traditional book illustration and publishing to graphic novels and comic books publishers? 

The New York Times ran an obituary for picture books in 2010. A lot of people working in the field were pretty surprised about this. Illustrated books have been around for literally thousands of years, and children’s illustration has been a thriving art form for much more than a century. It seems unlikely that the e-reader or tablet PC will kill either. Books don’t go obsolete, don’t run out of batteries, and you can read the same horrible-smelling edition of Good Night Moon to your children and your children’s children. There’s plenty of incentives to keep the things around, and there are even incentives to make a few more.

That being said, both the economy and all this tech stuff may have changed the way people think about buying picture books. This is a good thing for the art and a bad thing for the profit margins, so it might resemble what’s been going on with the past decade of scripted television. The best illustrated books need to take risks, and their creators need to produce art objects worth your money and the space on your shelf. I think graphic novel people understand this better than most, and while picture books are having difficulty in the traditional publishing industry, all-ages graphic novels are becoming more and more popular in the graphics novel industry.

Do you think graphic novels and comics should be taken seriously as literature? 

Just like other novels, graphic novels can be brain-rot, high art, or something in between.

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