Early in my career I got a call from my rep (at that time) asking me if I had ever heard of the Magic School Bus and if I wanted to illustrate a Magic School Bus book. Having no idea what I was agreeing to of course I said yes. As it turned out the animation series was just about to be released on PBS and things were really heating up for the publisher. They were looking for several artists to help illustrate books that would hit the market to coincide with the release of the PBS television show. It was about to go from a very popular book series to a very popular TV show to an even more popular book series based on the very popular TV show. How do you say no to that?
A Wild Thornberrys Book Illustrated by Bob Ostrom
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)
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.”