Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview Adventure series—Jed Henry • 7









Jed Henry is a fresh, new picture book talent and the illustrator of Pick a Pup, by Marsha Wilson Chall, and Can’t Wait till Christmas, by Mike Huckabee. He lives in Utah with his wife and daughter.





CW: Where did you learn to speak dinosaur? And by dinosaur I mean where did you learn your craft. What courses or training were helpful in beginning a career in illustration?


JH:  I've always wanted to be an artist of one kind or another.  In college, I didn't major in illustration, but in computer animation. Here (KITES) is a link to a film I directed, just as proof.  As my senior year approached, my career in animation seemed inevitable – I was winning national awards, and landed an enviable internship in LA. But for some reason, things didn't work out as planned. I couldn't find work at any of the animation studios, and recruiters seemed distant.  My dream of working in the animation industry was off to a disappointing start.



Around that time, I began to investigate the publishing community here in Utah.  There is a bizarre concentration of career writers and illustrators living out here.  Rick Walton is one such veteran, and he kindly allowed me to audit his class three semesters in a row.  Will Terry and Guy Francis are two local illustrators who also took me under their wing. Lastly, Carol Lynch Williams helped kick-start my career by introducing me to editors who visited from New York.  Without the guidance of these people, I never would have found my way.  I can't thank them enough.


CW: Besides becoming an illustrator, what are other jobs you have had?

JH: I worked a lot of menial jobs growing up: factory work, gas stations, that kind of thing. But one job stands out in my memory. One summer between college semesters, I got a job in Las Vegas as a Japanese speaking tour guide.  (I learned Japanese while living in Tokyo. That's another story!) My job was to pick Japanese tourists up a the airport, take them to their hotel on the Strip, and show them around the town.  I helped them gamble (a terrible idea, since I have NO experience with cards), and translated.  I also took them on long road trips to the National Parks – The Grand Canyon, Zion, etc.  All sorts of mayhem happened on those trips.  I got barfed on, proposed to, lost in the desert, and accused of running a con. (An accusation which I deny. Japanese people don't tip, so creative means were required to encourage their generosity.)  All in all, it was a fun experience.




CW: Every illustrator finds inspiration from somewhere. I for example look always go on walkabouts to focus and be inspired by exploration. What inspires you?

JH: My two cute daughters are an endless inspiration to me.  I don't necessarily steal their ideas for books, but they always encourage me to see the world differently.  I'm also heavily inspired by other art – performance, music, movies, books.  I devour books (in audio format, thank you audible.com) to bring in fresh ideas.  


CW: When I first saw I Speak Dinosaur I knew this was the book for me. What was the process you went through before you started to shop around your dummy?


JH: I speak dinosaur came to me like a flash in 2008.  At first, I imagined the main character as an important ambassador between the human and dinosaur worlds, but that led to stuffy grown-up humor.  So I reworked it into its present format, giving the protagonist a more obnoxious angle.


CW: What is your working process?

JH: During the writing phase, I take lots and lots of walks, where I talk to myself about the problems and solutions in developing the story.  My poor neighbors must think I'm a wandering schizophrenic. I scribble down ideas in a notepad, and rush home to flesh them out in writing.  After i'm satisfied with the story's flow, I draw sketches, reworking them over and over until the dummy book is genuinely entertaining.  If I'm having a good time writing, it means my audience will enjoy reading, too.


CW: How has the book changed from the dummy stage to the final book?

JH:  The original dummy book was very close to the final, in terms of theme.  However, its plot wandered a little too much, and the ending lacked clarity.  Chad and Tamar helped me reign in the story's flow with a few pagination changes, and we tightened the ending up too.  I'm very happy with how the story turned out.  It feels like thousands of conversations I've had with my three-year-old, who has her own streak of Dinosaur.


CW: You both wrote and illustrated I Speak Dinosaur. How is being the sole author different that just illustrating?

JH: I definitely prefer to take full ownership of a book, both in writing and illustrating.  It allows me to craft the story as a unique art form. When working as a freelance illustrator, my challenge is to catch up with, and enhance the author's vision.  That process has its own fun challenges, but I prefer to write and illustrate my own stories.


CW: What was the hardest part making I Speak Dinosaur?

JH: During the writing phase, I often doubted the book, thinking it was too didactic.  Everybody hates being preached to.  But then our first daughter turned one, and all of a sudden, we were constantly asking her to be polite.  Being kind and playing nice just don't come naturally to people, I think.  After that experience, I embraced the protagonist's journey to becoming a more considerate person.



CW: I was drawn to this book from one image before I even read the text. ( I'll show the image of the boy on the swings with the dinosaurs behind him) I love dinosaurs and I loved how much fun you where having with painting the dinosaurs. What is/was your favorite piece from the book.






JH: That's a hard one, but I think my favorite is the spread where the boy is in dinosaur form, playing in the yard with his other dino friends.  To me, there's a real sense of wonder in that image.  It's definitely a dream I had as a small child (and maybe still as a grown man).


CW:  Do you also have time to do your own personal work? If so what is it all about?

JH: Books and other commercial works are my main focus.  I don't claim to have any aspirations as a fine artist.  I love that thousands of people can enjoy my stories, snuggled up with their children at bedtime.


CW:  What is your favorite Dinosaur?


JH: Allosaurus has been my favorite for a long time.  They're such elegant animals.  However, Allosaurus has recently been challenged by a worthy contender: Pachyrhinosaurus.  That thing just looks tough.


Little boys will roar for I Speak Dinosaur!, in which an energetic kid with a big imagination prefers to “speak Dinosaur.” Speaking Dinosaur means he doesn’t have to use his manners and instead can roar and growl at his friends and family! But speaking Dinosaur gets the boy into trouble, and without other “dinosaurs” to talk to and play with, he gets lonely. Delivering a fun message that encourages young readers to express themselves creatively, yet cautioning that even dinosaurs need to be polite and say “please” and “thank you,” this dino-mite book will have larger-than-life kid appeal.



Trim Size: 9 x 9
Page Count: 32
Cover: Hardcover
Illustrations: Full-color illustrations



For more interviews about other children's book illustrators click here 





4 comments:

Joe Sutphin said...

Very nice post! Thanks for sharing!!

Joe Sutphin said...

Very Nice post! Thanks for sharing!!

Mary Uhles said...

great interview, thanks for sharing... enjoyed the sketch excerpts

maruthi said...

Really an inspiring post! great interview!! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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