During my school visits, kids often ask me very interesting questions. Here are some answers to twenty of my favorites.
1.How old were you when you started drawing?
I’m not exactly sure. Probably three or four. But maybe younger.
2.Did you always want to write books for a living?
Yes, but I also planned to invent pinball machines, haunted houses, miniature golf courses, and robots that served free cups of tomato soup.
3.What influenced you most when you were a kid?
Anything scary or gross. I drew lots of monsters with bugs on them. Later, I drew superhero comics. Actually, I liked the villains more than the heroes.
4.Were you a good artist as a kid?
I think my drawing skills were pretty average, but I was intense and persistent. I didn’t stop trying until I got my drawings to look the way I wanted. I continued to practice long after most of my friends had quit.
5.Did other kids like your work?
Some kids liked it and asked me to illustrate their stories. Some didn’t. They criticized my stories for being weird and said, “That can’t really happen.” I said, “I know it can’t really happen. That’s why I’m writing a story about it.” For me, writing and drawing are ways to make the impossible, possible.
6.How did your teachers influence you?
I was lucky to have many teachers who paid attention to me and supported my interests. My fourth grade teacher encouraged me to write gross monster poems. In eighth grade, my art teacher stayed after school to help me paint a dinosaur mural. In college, my drawing teacher and I shared a strange sense of humor.
7.Where do you get your ideas?
A lot of my ideas come from things I see kids doing or hear them talking about. I also write about things that happened to me when I was a kid. If I’m stuck for an idea, I make a list of problems, fears, or surprising situations. Then I write about the one that seems most interesting at the time. Sometimes the story goes nowhere, but often it gets me thinking about an even better story idea.
8.Which was your toughest book to illustrate?
I think Boo, Bunny! was the most challenging. All of those solid black shapes may look simple,
but before I painted them, I drew about two-hundred sketches.
It took a lot of work to get everything to look the way I wanted it to.
9.Which was your toughest book to write?
Hippo and Rabbit in Three Short Tales was very difficult to write. Saying something important in a short and simple way is a great challenge.
Then again, Clueless McGee was also very difficult for me because it is so long and complicated. Here are a few pictures I drew for the cover:
10. Which of your books is your favorite?
Each time I finish making a book, it feels like my favorite.
Then I make another one.
11. What do you enjoy more: writing books or illustrating books?
12. What’s your favorite part about making a book?
I love the sketching part. That’s when my imagination feels the most active, and I’m discovering lots of different possibilities. When I’m sketching, I feel like I can do whatever I want to. And no one can stop me!
Here are some early sketches for Good News Bad News:
It depends. Sometimes I’m in the mood to write, especially after I spend a lot of time drawing. Then again, if I’ve just finished writing 250 pages, I’ll probably feel more like drawing.
Even when I’m illustrating, I’m still telling a story. My book Good News Bad News has only four words in it, so most of that story is told through the pictures.
13. What materials do you use?
I make most of my pictures with acrylic paint on watercolor paper.
I also use a computer with a screen that I can draw on.
I even made a book that combined paint with the computer and all kinds of crazy collage materials.
It worked great until I got bubble gum stuck in my scanner.
14.Where do you work?
I can work almost anywhere. I’ve written stories on trains and airplanes, in bakeries and copy shops. I’ve painted at the kitchen table, on the floor and in the backyard.
Mostly I work in my messy studio. When faced with the choice to clean my studio or work on a new book, guess which one I usually pick?
15.Why do you work in different styles?
I write different types of stories, and each story has a different feeling. I want to choose a style of drawing or painting that best matches the feeling of the story.
16.How long does it take to make a book?
Some books take me months to write. Some take years. And some take minutes.
I wrote all the words for Hush Little Polar Bear while sitting in a restaurant waiting for my editor. But I tried different versions of the story for two or three years before that. The trick was finding the right voice to tell the story. Roll over this picture to see how it changed:
17.Do you have any hobbies?
I like to go for hikes with my dog, McGee.
I also like to read, listen to weird music, go out to dinner with my friends, and play the trumpet.
But not all at once.
18.Do you have a favorite kids’ author?
Yes. William Steig. I find his work funny, clever, and sincere. He made some great books for adults too.
William Steig - The Bad Island
19.Do you have any advice for writers?
Write about things that bring up strong feelings in you. Write about things that make you laugh or cry.
Make lots of mistakes! Sometimes they can lead you to an even better idea that you hadn’t thought of before.
While you’re writing, don’t stop to re-read your work. It will interrupt your flow of ideas. Just keep writing.
20.How about advice for illustrators?
Trust yourself and draw what you love!
Let your drawings reflect your personality. Maybe you naturally draw straight lines. Maybe you are a squiggly-line-drawer. Any style can be great!
Don’t erase too much or your drawing could lose its lively character.
Don’t strive for perfection. Instead, make something unique: a drawing that only you can make.