When I first started doing children’s books I focused mainly on licensed properties. I did work for all the big guys… Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and lots of others. It was a pretty sweet gig with the exception of one thing. Illustrators who work in the world of licensed art can tell you that it’s kind of a lonely business. Your work is everywhere but you are rarely recognized for it unless of course you are the creator. Unfortunately even creators are sometimes not given the credit they deserve depending on how the art was developed.
This art was from a Wild Thornberry’s book I did. Most of the books I did for licensed properties were a little stingy with the credits but not Scholastic and the Wild Thornberry’s. The first time I saw the actual printed book was in at Barnes and Noble on display and my name was right on the front cover in big 20 pt type. I wanted to run around the store flinging copies into the air and dancing like a fool but I figured that would just be bad form. So instead I high-fived my son who was about 4 or 5 at the time and did the dad-dance. He thought it was pretty cool too. He used to love it when I got books from properties he knew from TV because they always came with a video that we would watch over and over as I tried to get the poses just right. He would often run around the house quoting lines from whatever series we had just watched. As he got older the fun kind of wore off and the cool factor faded a bit but every now and then we’ll spot one of my books in the book store or at the library and it’s cool all over again.
(To begin slide show click on any of the images below)
When I was a kid we used to go to New Jersey to visit my grandmother for the holidays. This usually took place in November for Thanksgiving but to me it felt more like a Christmas. It was a very long drive to Toms River New Jersey followed by a lot of adults sitting around talking. Us kids would eventually head down to the basement to try and find something to watch on grandpa’s old 3 channel- no remote TV. For a kid there was a lot of boredom at that time of year but that all changed when we would load up the station wagon and head over to Macy’s. As we arrived the parking lot would be full of families all looking up at the sky. They were waiting to hear the old familiar buzz of that single engine Cessna as it sputtered through the cold gray November sky.
It seemed to take forever but eventually it would appear and the crowd would suddenly come to life. As the tiny plane drew closer the anticipation grew until finally it bagan circling the parking lot. Kids and parents would shout and cheer as they pointing toward the sky. Then in a brief moment a tiny red shape would separate from the fuselage plummeting toward the ground. A hush would fill the chilly air as a trail of billowing marker smoke bloomed from behind the shape. IT’S SANTA!!!, the crowd would erupt into cheers.
Soon a parachute would appear and Santa would glide slowly toward earth slowly zigzagging lazy circles across the cold gray New Jersey sky. The crowd would hush again for a brief moment as Santa aimed for his mark. Eventually he would make his landing hitting his mark as always. The crowd would go crazy as tiny candy canes and peppermint swirls flew into the air, quickly snatched up by the lucky few close enough to reach them. Santa would run through the parking lot shouting his Ho, Ho, Ho’s and Merry Christmas’s then quickly duck into to an old nearby beat up van that sped off, rushing him to the North Pole so he could get ready for Christmas.
Our family would eventually pile back into the old Ford Country Squire wagon, kids all pumped up on parachuting Santa and the promise of Christmas right around the corner. Eventually we’d wind up back in the basement watching the three channel TV waiting for the magical night Santa would slide down the chimney to deliver his toys to good girls and boys.
Children’s book illustration – Working with Licensed Art
A few years ago I teamed up with a good friend of mine to work on some children’s book illustration for Random House and Nickelodeon. We were hired to create two different Umizoomi books, one for Christmas and one about a lost kitten. Umizoomi was completely new to me and when the request came in I actually had to look the characters up on line. When I was younger my children used to watch all the kid shows so it was easy to get familiar with them. Now that my kids are older I have to watch them all on my own. I must admit it’s not nearly as fun but I do still enjoy working on the books.
Putting together illustrations like these was a bit of a challenge because they were originally created in 3D animated and I work mainly in 2D. Even though we had to imitate a 3D look the creation process is basically the same no matter what kind of book it is, starts with sketches, ends with finished art. To build each illustration requires me to become familiar with the characters, the sets, their personalities, how they move, the mannerisms they use and all the other little things the animators masterfully build into the property to bring it to life. That means reviewing each episode over and over again until I’m sure I’ve got it right. By the time the project is complete I’ve probably watched each video 50 times or more but it all pays off when I get to see the printed book sitting on a shelf in the book store. I love working on licensed properties and am always looking for something new. Each one holds a separate challenge and requires a different skill set. My ultimate goal is for my work to match the original so closely no one can even tell it was illustrated by me. Unlike my other books the best compliment I can receive when I working with a licensed property is when someone looks at it and says, “You did that? That doesn’t look anything like your work.”