Saturday, December 10, 2011

Q&A--Author, George Shannon, interviews RJW

Illustrators: Responding to the Text
After 100 posts about picture books, I’m yearning to add other voices. I’ve begun to invite illustrators to answer a few questions about how they respond, relate to, and expand a text they didn’t write themselves. In other words, how do illustrators respond to our manuscripts.

Our first illustrator is Richard Jesse Watson.

#1. What elements of a manuscript first capture your attention? Plot? Language? Imagery? Tone? Sound? Theme?

What a clever question, George.  The first thing that captures my attention is the envelope (that is, if it arrives by mail). Things are changing so fast, that the traditional form of mail may be obsolete by the time you get this response. But I’m sure you remember what mail is even though your readers may not.  So, to clarify for you readers of George, I was referring to Medieval Mail, or Snail-Mail, or Analogue Word Transfer, or in other words,  The Hob-Nobbing of Wizards, using paper and ink made from walnuts. . 

What was the question? Oh, right, am I intrigued by envelopes?  In a word, yes.  The fact that someone sent me an envelope with yummy words or story, is so exciting.  And the possibility of illustrating those words sends me into a little orbit. An orbit of imaginings.  Ahhh, what might I do with these words?

The tone of the words is what hits me at first.  Does the writer grab me by the…uh,  medulla. Am I intrigued? Is this writing fresh? Not like, Slap!!>>fresh, but original voice fresh. Then the other things follow: Imagery. Sound. Plot. Theme. Etc.

#2. What elements of a manuscript inspire your choice of style, line, and palette?

For example, your illustrations in THE LORD’S PRAYER, THE HIGH RISE GLORIOUS SKITTLE SKAT ROARIOUS SKY PIE ANGEL FOOD CAKE and THE MAGIC RABBIT are at once related, yet still different from one another.

 The final emotional delivery of the manuscript will inspire me to want to illustrate the story or not. As an illustrator, forsooth, even as a reader, I want to be led down a garden path; hopefully one with pretty flowers, and ripe fruit. Some lizards would be cool. Maybe I could be wearing a Davy Crockett hat.  It sure works if you surprise me with your thoughtfully arranged words, maybe startle me!  Amuse me? 

It does me-the-reader wonders if you can emotionally nudge me, or even wrench me  in some lingering way.  We could also just have fun.  “Good clean fun,” to quote Bill Murray.

But all that to say, a good story will compel me to experiment with medium in some unique way. My goal is to be true to the text but to explore the text and as N. C. Wyeth said, “To paint between the lines.”


 #3. Is there a picture book text that you would love to re-illustrate? What about the text excites you toward doing this?

I would love a chance to re-illustrate THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Actually it is so perfect the way it is. Forget I said anything. Ixnay on the what I saidnay.  But I love the anti-war sentiment, and the idea of letting each person be true to their unique gifting. Hard question to answer because I love so much in literature.  I am currently illustrating The Twenty Third Psalm. I would love to illustrate some Washington Irving, some Edgar Allan Poe.  THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS is a book I have always wanted to illustrate.

#4. As an illustrator, what is it that you most want writers to understand about your creative process?

 That illustrators cry real tears. We bleed. We put our pants on one leg at a time.  We eat turkey one leg at a time.  An illustrator’s job is to create a sub-text to the writer’s text.  A children’s picture book illustrator will be telling HALF of the story. One half, your words, one half, our pictures. It is an intimate collaboration. A perfect marriage of text and art. Or like the bishop says in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, “Mayowage…”

THANK YOU, RICHARD for sharing your thoughts.  For a fascinating look at Richard’s work and life please visit his website: <>

by Richard Jesse Watson
 Picture Books Referenced Above

Moore, Clement C. THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. HarperCollins, 2006.
Watson, Benjamin James. THE BOY WHO WENT APE. Illus. by Richard Jesse Watson. Blue Sky Press, 2008.
Watson, Richard Jesse. THE MAGIC RABBIT. Blue Sky Press, 2005.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Elf apprentice

The following interview was first published in my version of Clement Moore's poem, The Night Before Christmas, published by Harper Collins 2006 (a New York Times Bestseller, dontcha-know)

Watson: Let me say, first of all what an honor it is to finally meet you.

St. Nick: Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho! You know, Richard, I have seen you on many occasions, but you were always asleep. Except for that one time ––– 

Watson:  Oh, my gosh! You have got a good memory.  Heh, heh. Well... so what do you like to be called?

St. Nick: Slim.

Watson: I beg your pardon?

St. Nick: Ha! Ha! Ho! Ho! Just kidding. No, that really depends on where I am on the Big Blue Marble. Some call me St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, or Kris. Up North, I'm called The Wandering One, Pihoqahiaq, and Inuit name for polar bear. The missus calls me Punkins. Take your pick.

 Elf supervisor

Watson: Okaay... Ah, Nicholas, everyone's big question: How do you deliver so much to so many all in one night?

St. Nick: So you want to know the secret to the Big Milk and Cookie Run? It's simple: eight svelte reindeer and a special customized sleigh.

Watson: Tell me about your reindeer.

St. Nick: Oh, they're the best. Each one has so much heart. They were a gift, you know, from the king and queen of Lapland one year while I was visiting during Candlemas. Lovely couple, excellent dancers.

Watson: You are, of course, a Master Toymaker, but it's rumored that you are also a legendary reindeer whisperer.

 Elf rasta

St. Nick: That's true. I do love animals. I developed a special reindeer feed made from Austrian edelweiss, Canadian lichen, Norwegian oats, Finnish glacial milk, Russian bee pollen, Swedish cloudberries, and solar flare.  A concoction such as this stimulates their ability to move fast. Very fast.

Watson: Absolutely incredible! So then, your sleigh ––– 

St. Nick: Ah, yes. The Polaris is composed of high- and low-tech materials, such as foam titanium and comet dust. This baby is tricked out with electron injection and a little old gamma ray booster I picked up at JPL Surplus in Pasadena. By tucking in the wishes and hopes of children everywhere, the sleigh is able to expand the moment between "tick" and "tock" on Christmas Eve. Oh, it's also equipped with pontoons in case of water landing.

Watson: Wow. 

St. Nick: Ho! Ho! Ho! Well, it's really modern science  and ancient art stretched and pulled together like Christmas taffy.

Watson: Any other thoughts? 


~ Elf self portrait ~

Monday, August 9, 2010

Q&A: Abe and Rich

A short interview between Abe Lincoln and Richard

Lincoln: Good morning Richard. I realize it is later there, but wanted to catch you while it was early.

Watson: Now that's an oxymoronic thing to say.

Lincoln: Really? We don't use that word much in the eighteen hundreds. But speaking of mysteries, I wanted to ask you how you decide what to write or paint about.

Watson: Good question, Mr. President. Sometimes I am compelled to write by inner tubing down the stream of consciousness. You know picking blackberries along the edge of the stream, and seeing what comes along.

Lincoln: Do you use the same method for your illustrations?

Watson: Why yes, I do. Although often I have a specific goal or text that I am exploring. I want to create a "sub-text" to the text. In other words, I tell a visual narrative that holds hands with the written text.

Lincoln: A marriage of text and art?

Watson: Totally. At least that's the goal. N.C. Wyeth said that he liked to "paint between the lines". He was so brilliant as an illustrator. And his son and grandson as well.

Lincoln: I am impressed with all three of them as artists and visionaries.

Watson: Weren't they after your time?

Lincoln: Time is relative, is it not?

Watson: True. Did you know Albert Einstein?

Lincoln: Could I steer us back to the creative process? How is it that we are even talking?

Watson: This is me warming up on my Q&A page. I'll post real interviews when I get time. By the way you are my hero.

Lincoln: Thanks. If I don't see you in the future, I'll see you in the pasture.

Watson: Bring your inner tube.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Q&A With Me

Since I am re-doing my web site I thought we'd jump-start things by asking you questions.

Me: Sure, shoot. Wait, wait. Am I asking you questions, or are you asking me?

Him: I am conducting this interview with you. I ask. You answer.

Me: Okaay...

Him: So do you like being you?

Me: You ought to know.

Him: Are you going to be a hostile witness?

Me: What, am I on trial, or something?

Him: Kind of.

Me: For what?

Him: For your life.

Me: I don't have to take this. What about you? What about... what is... your favorite food?

Him: What do you think?

Me: Spaghetti.

Him: Hey, that's right. With sausage and home made sauce and...

Me: And a little rice vinegar to add tang. And fresh chopped kale and herbs.

Garlic. Lots of garlic.

Me: I never understood garlic when I was a kid.

Him: That's funny, me neither. Don't you think there are some foods that are just plain adult foods?

Me: Totally. Like persimmons, what's up with those? And quince. Egg plant.

Him: Oh, man, I am pretty sure those are alien implants or something.

Me: What about okra?

Him: Ooo-hooo-hooooooooooooooooooo! Slime me with a spoon. Those are so alien it's not even debatable.

Me: So, what were we talking about?

Him: I don't know. Dinner?

Me: Hey, let's go make some spaghetti.

Him: Right on! But no foodstuffs from outer space.

Me: Got it.