Monday, October 6, 2008

Interview with our own Stacy Curtis!

First off, Let me say Congrats to Stacy and this wonderful book, The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. I just checked and it's at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list for picture books and that's just not too shabby.
p.s. I included a few poorly reproduced photos from my copy and hopefully I won't be answering calls from lawyers this afternoon.

We managed to wrestle Stacy into giving us a peek into his life as a children's book illustrator. I'm always fascinated with the technique side of things so a few of those questions are included.

Stacy, What is your favorite part of the illustration process?

There are two parts I love best.
I love designing characters. Whether it's a picture book, a magazine cover, a spot illustration, etc., creating new characters is fun. Sometimes I can draw three versions of a moose and one of those three sketches hits the nail on the head. Other times, I may have to draw 60 versions of a moose until I get something that works. Either way, it's an enjoyable process.

Secondly, I love moving from sketches and revisions to the final artwork stage. It gives me a chance to really do what I love, DRAW. I love to turn on some music in my studio, sit down to a nice sheet of watercolor paper and just dive in. Sometimes I'll look up and a whole day has gone by and I've got this really nice piece of work at the end of the day.

Do you have a favorite paper? If so, What makes it your favorite.

I've been doing a lot of work on Strathmore Gemini, Cold-Pressed, 140 lb. watercolor paper. It's what works for me right now, but I'm constantly experimenting with different papers and paints.

How detailed are your roughs when you send them in for the first time?

Only as detailed as they need to be for the client. I don't want them too detailed because I don't want to trace my pencil lines. I like for them to be guides and not dictate the exact spot where the ink has to go. It helps keep my lines loose.

Here is a rough from "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids."

How do you know when the piece is "done"?

When my hand hurts.
That's a lesson I've had to learn by doing the work. You have to listen to your gut and know when to say, "It's finished."
There's nothing worse than ending up with a drawing you should have stopped three hours ago.
That used to happen to me quite a bit.

You style is unique to me. Which artists helped inspire you to go in that direction?

As a kid, I would study the comics pages, editorial cartoons and try to imitate the work that I liked best....cartoonists such as Jim Borgman, Jeff MacNelly, Bill Watterson, Mike Peters and Dr. Seuss. As time went by, I started to keep those influences at a distance and I started to feel my own style develop.

When it came to watercoloring my linework, I really didn't have an influence as far as other artists go, I just did what felt right against my linework. Once I did that, I really felt my artwork became something that was mine.

My style has transformed from being influenced by other artists towards being influenced by things. Most times, I carry a sketchbook and/or my camera to capture things I see while I'm taking a walk, go to a new place or whatever. These things eventually end up in my drawings. It really has made my artwork take on a personal element.

Did you draw upon any influences for "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids"?

Not at all. From day one, I felt like this was the project I had been waiting for. Everything about this project just screamed my name, I love drawing animals and outdoor scenes. Some of the Seven Oaks characters of "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids" have been living in my sketchbooks for decades. They were just in there waiting for their chance to be in a project.

When faced with a big project on a tight deadline, how do you deal with managing your time in regards to family, eating well, exercising, etc?

Have you been talking to my wife and my doctor?
Balancing family time for me is easy, because I have no children. My wife and I have made adaptations to accomodate those times when a project has a tight deadline. I moved a small drawing table into our living room, so when I need to work outside my normal work schedule, I can draw while also spending time with my wife and pooch.
As far as health concerns go, that's a totally different story.
One thing we as artists have to acknowledge is that we sit stationery at our drawing tables for long periods of time. Exercise is probably the first thing to drop off our schedule.
It happened to me and after a couple of health scares, I was forced to make exercise a priority in my daily schedule.
You can't draw if you're dead.

How do you manage your workflow? Do you draw everything and then paint, or... ?

Depends on the project, but most of the time, I will draw everything first to keep the linework consistent and then I will paint everything to keep the colors consistent.

What do you think is most important for maintaining a good working relationship with your clients?

If you aren't making a client happy, you probably won't get work from them again.
I think what makes a client happiest is when you re-affirm their choice of hiring you for a project by turning your artwork in on time and try to wow them with the quality of your work.

What do see as the respective advantages/disadvantages of working with digital and traditional mediums?

Making a revision on a digital file: EASY. Making a revision on a final watercolor painting: NOT SO MUCH.
I do love having the option of UNDO, when I'm working digitally.

With traditional mediums, you'll always have an original piece of artwork at the end of the day.
I painted over 130 pieces of artwork for "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids" book and nothing I can do digitally will ever stack up to being able to hold all those paintings in my hands. That's one of the few reasons I haven't switched over to creating digital drawings.

What children's book character do you most identify with?

Is Charlie Brown a children's book character?
I am Sam. I do not like Green Eggs and Ham.

What will we be seeing from you in the near future?

In mid-October, there is another Raymond and Graham chapter book coming out called "Dancing Dudes."
And there's another picture book in my schedule.

Thanks, Stacy! Just awesome!

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