1. Tell us about yourself. What makes you tick?
Coffee. Here’s a bio: I grew up in Wisconsin where the winters are long and cold. I was skinny, uncoordinated and blind in my right eye from a playground accident. Forbidden to play sports, I spent my time reading and drawing. I moved to New York City when I was nineteen and enrolled in Parson’s School of Design. In my senior year, I landed my first freelance job from The New York Times.
I spent nearly ten years there. I loved the newspaper. It felt like the cutting edge of history. We were all a big family, the illustrators, art directors and editors. We got free Yankees tickets in the era when Reggie Jackson anchored the line up and Lou Piniella played third… I freelance for the Times to this day, 38 years later.
In those days I had an unfinished loft on Fifth Avenue. It had seventeen windows with great views of lower Manhattan. In the eighties, I moved to a loft in Tribecca and began to work for the magazines: Newsweek, Business Week, Time Magazine. Over the years, I’ve worked for nearly every magazine in print.
In 1996, Bill Gates founded Slate.com, an Internet news website. I was hired to establish the look with illustration. I work there still.
I moved to Park City, Utah in 1995 for the fresh air and the skiing. My first book for children, Wow! City! came out in 2004, and won an ALA Notable Book Award. I’ve written and illustrated over twenty books since then. I live on the side of Iron Mountain, am married to a lovely woman everyone likes better than me, have 2.5 kids, nineteen pets, and have a ten point buck living out back with the mooses.
2. How did you get started as an illustrator?
Steve Heller. In addition to writing over 100 books on graphic design, he gave nearly every illustrator from two generations their first job with the New York Times book Review.
3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?
I don’t have a style. When I did the movie poster for “Sideways“, we ran a sketch.
4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?
I work in line, pen or brush, then scan it into photoshop and scribble on it with color.
5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?
That’s the hard part. Illustration is by definition visual storytelling. Finding the language is the job. I have a big library and dig through it. I look at Steinberg, the Euros of the last century, Glaser, everybody. I’ll see an image that will trigger an idea. Never the image that inspired the new idea, but a mental jump from there. The best images open your imagination and make you think.
6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?
Take a walk. Get the hell out of the studio.
7. Best / most fun part of your job:
Drawing every day.
8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:
It’s isolated – I worked with a studio assistant for many years and that was always fun. Now I have agents that know what a telephone is and we talk a lot. We once had three lines in the studio – now everything is e-mail and mostly chat free… I love summers because my studio is full of kids, all day long. We have five Macs (and three dogs) in here, not counting laptops & tablets…
9. Do you have side projects you work on?
I’m Vice Chair of the Board of a public Charter School with 600 students. It’s a lot of work, but tremendously satisfying.
10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?
I’ve been working with a non-profit, FairHealth.org, on an extensive website and corporate identity program. I continue to do books – Time Out for Monsters by Jean Reidy and Shiver Me Timbers by Doug Florian came out this summer. I have two books that I’ve written and illustrated, Linus, the Vegetarian T-Rex (Simon & Schuster) and Winter is for Snow (Hyperion) coming out next year. Next, I’m working with Scholastic on writing history books for kids. History has always been a passion of mine.
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5 things inspiring you/your work right now:
– I’m reading Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie. What a girl. I think I’m a bit in love with her.
– Winter is coming.
– I love the new illustration I see in my Sunday Times.
– Mo Willems
– Star Trek on Netflix- the entire franchise. Great for kids.
3 constants in your day:
Coffee at three
Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:
Illustration is storytelling.
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Thank you so very much, Robert! Your artwork, ideas, and humor are so inspiring. They definitely make me think!
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Posted by Thomas James on 09/19/12 under Interviews
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