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: 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?
Trim Size: 9 x 9
Page Count: 32
Illustrations: Full-color illustrations
For more interviews about other children's book illustrators click here