Illustrator Cyd Moore has generously shared her time with us today. She has dozens of books to her credit. Her whimsical style has always been one of my favorites. You can visit her at her web site CydMoore.com.
When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?
I’ve been illustrating children’s books for about 25 years. I’m also a graphic designer and worked in advertising, newspaper, and television.
You have a book planned for 2010 called Arbor Day Square. This book is about the founding of Arbor Day, right? Did you do a lot of research about the time era to get the clothing and environment correct?
I poked around in the 1800’s for weeks! Even with my wacky style, I feel that I should accurately represent the period as much as possible. I had a five inch stack of printouts with trains, store fronts, gingham and calico fabrics, dresses, school houses, toys, mules, wagons. It was fun learning more about those pioneers—they were a tough bunch! I wonder if folks today could handle such a hard life! Above is a pic of a hard working lady from the 1800’s that was tacked on my board during this job—she was my inspiration for making the deadline! She’s pushing buffalo dung!!! She does not whine about her life—she does not expect someone else to take care of her. She is tough and strong and determined to do whatever it takes to keep her babies warm!!!! I LOVE her!
You work on a series of books for a character called Stinky Face. Can you tell us about that character? Are there more Stinky Face books planned?
Stinky Face all began with I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE, written by Lisa McCourt. I liked that it’s such a sweet story without being sentimental. The little boy says, ‘Mama, what if I was a super smelly skunk and I smelled so back that everybody called me Stinky Face?’ She bathes him in bubble bath and sprinkles him with powder, but he still smells bad, of course. This is how he came to be known as “Stinky Face!”
I’ve been told by many parents that kids get hooked on Stinky Face and read it every night! Hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold, so there are a lot of little ones curled up with their moms and dads reading Stinky—this makes me smile! Currently there are 5 versions of Stinky Face, including Halloween and Christmas versions. I’m working on 2 Stinky readers which will be out in July and December 2010. Stinky is growing up—he’s going to kindergarten!
What are you working on right now? Do you have any other books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
I’m also working on another fun project for Sleeping Bear, but don’t know the title yet. Also a few magazine jobs and doing some graphic design projects.
Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
I’ve done a lot of advertising work—McDonald’s happy meal boxes, Burger King ads, telephone book covers, etc. Also, lots of editorial work for magazines and newspapers. I enjoy painting canvases in oils and acrylics, but I don’t have much time for it. The style is rather whimsical—it’s what I do, I suppose. Illustrating children’s books takes most of my time for many years now—I usually do 3-4 per year. I’m writing also, and developing my own projects.
Do you illustrate full time? If not, what else do you do?
Yes, full time many years. Now and then a graphic design job comes across my desk, but mostly children’s books. I feel so blessed to have a job that amuses me every single day!
I also do a lot of appearances at schools, libraries, and conferences. Meeting the kids, teachers, and parents who enjoy the books is such a treat. This is one of my favorite things about publishing—sharing my passion for art and reading with kids. The school program is really fun—lots of storytelling, art from when I was a child up to the most recent work on my drawing board. Lately I’ve been doing something a little different—Skype interviews with classrooms! These have been really fun! Just last week I was talking with a third grade class down in Atlanta, and I was sitting at my drawing table here in Michigan!
When you illustrate a picture book how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
It’s hard to answer this question, because I don’t really ‘decide’ anything. It’s a very intuitive process—not cerebral. There is no ‘how to’ guide, but I can tell you how I eventually get there!
Everything, of course begins with the author’s text. Reading the story, I sketch and doodle any ideas that pop up—even if they are silly or bad! No editing during this phase, no filters, and nothing has to be perfect. There definitely ARE good ideas and bad ideas, but all of them go down. The good ones keep you moving forward.
I believe this phase is necessary for any creative project. You can think and plan and scheme and fret. But until you actually move the pencil across the paper, or pick up a wad of clay, or paint brush, nothing really happens. Pushing that pencil generates concrete ideas. I spend more time during this phase than I do actually painting the books.
So, I put everything down, move it all about, taking bits and scraps from some and put them with others, and eventually it becomes a book. If I start thinking about it too much, or planning too much, I feel like I’m trudging through deep mud. PLAY is the process…play with the ideas that come—light and free and unattached. Sometimes, I’m amazed at what shows up to the party!
When illustrating picture books do you include a visual storyline not mentioned by the text or include animals or people you know?
An illustrator must follow the author’s story line of course. BUT, I believe good illustrators aren’t simply translating the author’s words. They illuminate the words—making them bigger than they were alone. Picture books don’t have many words, and kids won’t sit still for long descriptive passages. The picture book illustrator’s job is to place the story in a world, building the emotion and action. The art visually inspires little (and big) readers to take this journey for a little while. Alone, the story is the story and the art is the art. But put them together, along with editor and art director input, the book becomes something much bigger than the separate parts. The book is the art form.
Can you imagine GO DOG GO without the dog party in the tree? Or WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE without Max in his wolf suit? ALICE IN WONDERLAND is always ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but a Disney version of ALICE is a completely different world from Barry Moser’s ALICE. And I can’t wait for Tim Burton’s wild ride! The visual impact on any story is extremely powerful.
And yes, my pets and friends show up in books!
Can you explain your art process?
After all of the ideas are worked out for each page, I do a fairly tight pencil sketch of each spread at 100% scale—no color at this point. I make copies of all pages, and put them together as a dummy to send off to the publisher. After all of the sketches are approved, I transfer them to Lanaquarelle 300 lb hot press watercolor paper and paint in watercolor, gouache, and Prismacolor pencil.
Do you have a favorite color or palette?
What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?
Always watercolors, gouache, Prismacolor pencils and sometimes ink for commercial jobs. It’s quick process. I LOVE to paint in oils, but I never use it for commercial jobs.
Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
I’m lucky that way. I always knew that I would do something in the art field. I was drawn to art therapy for a while when I was in college, but went with graphic design instead. I think children’s books can be very therapeutic!
Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
It really depends on the book. Most of the time, I’m just drawing out of my head. Many of my books are whimsical and silly, so imagination is the key. I use reference when I need it. The internet has made research so quick and easy. Last week, I had to draw a rainbow, and I swear I can never remember the order of the colors. I realize there is some tricky formula for this, but if I can’t remember the colors, how can I possibly remember the formula? Of course, the older I get, the less I can remember a lot of things!
If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A landscape architect or a botanist. I became a Master Gardener last year—the program was so fun!
What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?
The worst thing, of course, is to sit there and fret over it. It helps to always be working. Taking time off away from the studio makes you rusty. As long as you’re in the room, experimenting, banging away at ideas, the rust fall away and ideas come more easily. Also, no talking about projects to others. I don’t enjoy brainstorming or sharing thoughts in the beginning. The good energy dissipates. It’s much better for me to put that energy into the project and then share the first sketches with others. Otherwise, I get too cautious, or side tracked trying to fulfill someone else’s vision.
That’s not to say I’m not open to input from editors and art directors. I’m quite excited to receive comments and suggestions after the first sketch stage. I simply mean that it’s better for my process to wait until I’ve put down my own ideas first.
What book do you remember from when you were young?
GO DOG GO and GREEN EGGS AND HAM were 2 of my favorites as a little kid. Later, I loved THE SECRET GARDEN. When my boys were young, we LOVED all things Roald Dahl, but especially The BFG. (The Big Friendly Giant)
Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?
If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?
A really famous celebrity who writes well and gets their face on TV screens constantly!!!! No matter how wonderful the author and story, if people don’t buy the book in the first year, the publishers don’t keep it around long these days. Jamie Lee’s stories have made Laura Cornell a very happy illustrator over the years!
TV is so quick, effective and persuasive. I experienced this myself with a book called ALICE AND GRETA. The author appeared on Regis and Cathy Lee and on one of the morning news shows—the Today Show maybe. I had several book signings at that time and SO many people showed up wanting that book. I had other books that were really cute—I LOVE YOU STINKY FACE had just been published. But because folks saw ALICE AND GRETA on TV, that’s the one they wanted! Of course the book has to be good in the long run. Some celebrities have written some rather awful books, and after the big push in the beginning, the books quietly disappear.
Who do you want to be when you ‘grow up’?
Thank you for a wonderful interview, Cyd. Have a wonderful holiday!