I'm really excited to share this interview with author/illustrator AJ Smith. His picture book, Even Monsters, came out earlier this month and it chock-full of monsters, cooties, and a silliness that kids and grownups alike will really love. So let's get right into the wit and wisdom, shall we?
G: I love the rich, layered look to your art for Even Monsters. What is your process like?
A: My process involves a hodge-podge of mixed media: pencil, ballpoint pen, sometimes technical pens or brush pens, acrylic paint, cut paper, a shoddy laptop (donations welcome!), lots of caffeine, with a dab of old school Crayola crayons! I work different depending on the client but the common denominator is always rough pencil sketches on 8.5 x 11" copy paper.
G: What came first for you with Even Monsters: the words or the visuals?
A: Mostly the words came first for Even Monsters (way back in 2006). As I revised it, I began to ping pong ideas back and forth: a written idea would become a sketch and then that would ignite some new writing brainstorms and 'round and 'round we go...
G: Could you share one sparkling nugget of advice for aspiring author/illustrators?
A: First, have a sound foundation in drawing and/or in writing. Practice often and always. If you want to write and illustrate picture books,you should be reading picture books! Beyond that, I think you have to bring something new to the table. Have a unique voice, unique style. Be yourself. Be different. Do the art you want to do. You will meet rejection at every stage of the game (I'm always surprised to hear how much Jane Yolen is STILL rejected) so be doing the art you want to be making, not what you think publishers/editors want to see.
A: To me promotion is something an author/illustrator HAS to do. It's part of the job. And that is not always something that's easy to grasp. The tricky part is that you don't get paid to promote your book. In fact, it's been quite the opposite in my empty-pocketed experience. That said there is a reason I do it: To help the book do well (I'm terrified and convinced that this cannot happen on its own unless you are already a bestselling author/illustrator) and to network: meet new people -- educators, librarians, parents, KIDS. Promotion is not just promoting your book. It's promoting and fostering literacy. And if that didn't answer your question, I'd say making videos where I dress up like this has been the best part:
G: What's your next project? And does it involve having the readers spot cooties? (I do love the cooties! They are little orange puffs with silly eyes. Can you spot 3 in the illustration below?)
A: My next book is Even Dinosaurs, which comes out in 2015. There might be cooties. If there are, they'll be Cave Cooties. Still toying with that idea, but I really like the idea of adding an "Easter Egg" element to the book that kids can hunt for on a second read of a book. I hope kids really like them... Really like them or say "eww, gross -- cooties!" Either would be perfect really.
*FYI: My kids LOVE finding the cooties. Like it's their job. And everyone at the book launch loved the way AJ kept 'finding' cooties.
Many thanks to AJ for his thoughtful answers and insight. Be sure to visit www.evenmonsters.com to see where you can buy his book, see more silly videos, learn how to draw Skeebu and Glubb, have your kids enter in his Monster Art Contest, and even design your own silly underpants. I know what my kids will be doing after breakfast!