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Interview with Children’s Book Illustrator – Russ Cox

Russ Cox was raised by a pack of crazed hillbillies in the back woods of Tennessee. Without much in the way of modern conveniences, like a television set or running water, he spent his time drawing and whittling away the hours, often dreaming of the joys of a shower. You can visit him on his website or on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

Q: When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?

A: I have been illustrating for the children’s market for 14 plus years. The past two, I have focused more in the publishing field but still do commercial work. Before going out on my own, I was a creative/art director for a design studio in Pennsylvania.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the illustrations behind your recently released book , Nite Nite Soldier. Can you tell us about that book?

A: The book is about Major Manners who teaches children to brush their teeth, get dressed, and ready for bed, etc. to a military cadence. The book comes with a CD in the Major reads the book and the kids respond. It is a wonderful addition to the book. Here is a blog post about the development of Major Manners. http://smilingotis.blogspot.com/2011/08/development-of-character.html

Q: Are any more books planned? Anything you can share with us about it?

A: There are more books planned in the series but we are working on a new but different story at the moment. I cannot reveal any details right now except that the book should be out next year.

Q: Have you worked on any other children’s books?

A: I have worked on two other books that were self published. They were very fun to do and provided me invaluable experience which laid the groundwork for Nite Nite Soldier and my own books.

Q: I understand you won some very prestigious awards and accolades for you work this past spring. Can you tell us about that?

A: This year’s NESCBWI conference was amazing! Not only because of my Mother Goose poster winning three awards, but the feedback I received from my samples and portfolio. The comments validated that I am heading in the right direction but need more work to get there.

I had an agent review my portfolio, which she liked, but she saw my doodles she said I should start loosening up my style and think about keeping the energy of my sketches. So that got me to doing a daily doodle.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?

A: I am trying to get my own book, Faraway Friends, in front of an agent or publisher as well as developing some new story ideas that I am anxious to get working on when I have a free moment. Art wise, I am working on several book projects as well as a game for Gamewright which I am very excited about.

Q: 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?

A: The art I do for myself, besides my weekly doodles, is figurative fine art work. I am a member of a couple of figure drawing groups that meet to paint and draw in the evening and weekends. We pitch in and hire models for the sessions since they are life drawings.

Q: When illustrating children’s books do you include a visual storyline not mentioned by the text or include animals or people you know?

A: Hmmm, that is a good question. I suppose that I do include some common elements. Not sure if they are based on actual people I know or if they are just some subconscious thing. I know that at least one person usually has a pair of  Chuck Taylors. If I could get a banjo in there somewhere, I would.

Q: Can you explain your art process?

A: Even though I work digitally, I still sketch out the characters and layouts with traditional pencil and paper. After getting the layouts to where I like them, and approval from the client, I them do a tight sketch which I scan in and then paint digitally. the below link shows the process in which I use Photoshop although I am trying my hand at Painter. http://smilingotis.blogspot.com/2012/01/finding-groove.html

Q: Do you have a favorite color or palette?

A: I tend to like bright, fun colors but recently am trying to tone them done as I experiment with color harmony. Sometimes a piece just needs a limited, earthy palette.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?

A: I work digitally, which I enjoy. It is easier to experiment with color, faster (no drying time), plus any revisions are quickly done. I started out painting in gouache which I still enjoy and may go back to with some current ideas I have rattling around my head.

Q: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

A: I mostly draw from my imagination but I use a wooden mannequin to get a pose worked out, shoot photo reference, or go online to find a pose to work from.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: Since music is my second love, a touring banjo or bass player would be fun. That reminds me of this joke:

Q: What is the most seldom heard comment made of banjo players?
A: “Say, isn’t that the banjo player’s Porsche?”

Q: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?

A: Well, playing my banjo for a while helps. Getting away from that project and working on something helps as well. Sometimes I will just stop for the day and take a break, usually watching a movie, going to the library, or treading a book.

Q: What book do you remember from when you were young?

A: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel was the book I remember most and still love. Of course anything by Sendak, Seuss, Dahl, and Silverstein was imbedded in my soul along with those cool Little Golden Books.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?

A: I love Dan Santat‘s work and illustration style. His humor shines through in his pieces. Also at the top of the list would be Lane Smith, of course, John Rocco, Salley Mavor, Kristin Sorra, Will Terry, and illustrator buddy Ward Jenkins. Any of these artist, stand out in the crowd. I know I am forgetting a few others so I apologize to them.

Q: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?

A: Wow, good question. There are so many to choose from. Jon Scieszka comes to mind first, so I will go with him.

Thanks for stopping by, Russ. I can’t wait to see what other zany characters you have in store for us.

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