Friday, February 20, 2009

Marcellus Hall • Interview Adventure Series • 2

Marcellus Hall is an illustrator based in New York. He was born on the great plains of the midwest and spent languid summer hours as a youth at the fishing hole or playing video games. His clients have included the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, and Time, among others. His work has appeared in American Illustration, Communication Arts, and the Society of Illustrators annuals. His first cover for the New Yorker was published in 2005. In addition to illustrating the books White Pigeons and 57 Octaves (, Hall has self-published books of drawings and writing including "Hard Luck Stories" and "Legends of the Infinite City" (a collection of black & white drawings of New York City). Hall has illustrated for ABRAMS a children’s book entitled Because You Are My Baby (2008) and CITY I LOVE
(Spring 2009).

As a musician Hall has made recordings with bands Railroad Jerk, White Hassle and has toured the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Hall continues to make music under his own name.

CW: Where are you from, Marcellus?

MH: I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota
(although I no longer speak like I am).

CW: What is your educational background?
What courses or training might
helpful in beginning a career in illustration?

MH: I exhibited a strong interested in drawing at an early age. My parents recognized this and encouraged me. I took summer art classes and had good teachers in the Minneapolis public schools. I made drawings for the yearbook, the school newspaper, and countless school functions. All of this was helpful to me in my evolution as an illustrator.

After high school I spent two years at St. John’s University in Minnesota and then transferred to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).

I developed a love for literature while growing up too which has served to ground me and instill in me an appreciation for the narrative as well as an understanding of human nature.

CW: How did you like RISD? Do think it prepared
you for where you are today?

MH: I liked RISD. Alongside the usual drawing and painting regimen, I benefited from classes in performance art, printmaking, and sculpture. I also met musicians at RISD and I broadened my philosophy of art. I began learning guitar and harmonica. I learned the most from other students while at RISD

CW: How did you develop your current art style?

MH: I wanted to have my style develop naturally and not self consciously. My method was to carry a pocket sketchbook and draw everything around me constantly.

CW: A perfect approach.
An illustrator shoul
dn't have to force or create a style.
If you are, most likely it won't be easy or
rewarding. Its should just come naturally.

CW: After you graduated, what was it like for an illustrator?
What was it like for you?

MH: When I arrived in New York after graduation, I was determined (despite a simultaneous goal to start a rock band) to give illustration my best shot and I decided that, if I failed, I could at least say “I tried.” I scoured magazines at newsstands for addresses and sent photocopied mailers to art directors. On my days off as a part-time bookstore or art supply store clerk, I dropped off my portfolio at magazines.

I produced a comic strip for three years for a short-lived alternative free newspaper. And I made small photocopied booklets of my drawings (and writings).

My first illustration job was for Screw magazine. Later I was hired on a regular basis by Mike Gentile at the fledgling New York Press.

CW: What are some of your favorite books for children?

MH: My favorites include Curious George, Babar, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ferdinand, The Little Prince, Sasek’s cities series, and books by Robert McCloskey, Theodor Geisel and Syd Hoff.

CW: Who are your artistic influences?

Bill Elder, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman, George Grosz, Franz Masereel, Ben Shahn, Rockwell Kent, Paul Klee, Arnold Roth, Ralph Steadman, Saul Steinberg, Ronald Searle, John Sloan, Ernst Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, Sue Coe, George Luks, Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Crumb, Basil Wolverton, Mort Drucker, Aubrey Beardsley, Marc Chagall, Hiroshige, Henri Toulouse Latrec, Heinrich Zille, Hansi, Raymond Pettibon, Al Hirschfeld, Charles Demuth, and Pieter Breughel.

CW: You have done work with New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, and Time, among others. As musician you have made recordings with bands Railroad Jerk, White Hassle as well as solo have toured the U.S., Europe, and Japan. What drew you to children's book illustration? How did your first book come to be published?

MH: After years drawing for magazines and newspapers, I had an itch to work in a field where the printed piece isn’t thrown away. The children’s book field was the obvious place to look. I asked my illustrator friends for contacts and John Hendrix pointed me in your direction.

CW: I had worked with John for a couple of years at that point. He sent me an email suggesting I take a look at your work. I had already known your work from New Yorker covers. I asked you to come into the office, after seeing your work online. But really it was one image of a garbage man that completely sold me on you.

CW: CITY I LOVE is your second children's book project we have worked together on.( The first being
Because You Are My Baby
!) Can you describe your creative process? And how you approached the challenges of this particular book?

MH: My favorite part of the illustration process is making sketches. Here I can be the most free and loose. But the thrill of executing well a final piece of art is no less rewarding. With City I Love I was particularly excited because I am naturally drawn to urban life and its variety.

I began sketching compositions that I felt were dynamic and fun to draw. simultaneously I incorporated city landmarks. Later I sought more specific reference material from the New York Public Library picture collection.

I created a character (a dog) to establish continuity in the book (which is a collection of poems).

Once the sketches were approved, I began work on the final art. Using graphite transfer paper I redrew the compositions onto Arches 140 lb cold pressed watercolor blocks. Then I painted the line work with a brush and brown waterproof “Calli” ink. Finally watercolor washes were applied (Winsor Newton) and “touch ups” were made digitally or with opaque acrylics.

CW: What is it like to work with an Art Director?

MH: When I was younger and less experienced, I resented the role of an art director. I have since learned to value a good negotiator between the artist and editor. There are good art directors and bad art directors. A good one makes you feel trusted and gives you freedom. Eventually an art director can be a collaborator. A bad art director causes you to second guess yourself.

CW: It's good to see that I made a such a good impression on you . . . just kidding.

CW: During the making of CITY I LOVE, what was (were) some
of the oddest requests or changes you where as asked to make

MH: Without question, the oddest request made during the making of City I Love was that I not depict a hot dog vendor so near to the U.S. capitol. The reason given was that it was implausible considering current national security measures. I inquired subsequently whether it was plausible to depict a dog on his hind legs with a backpack, but I was not given an answer.

CW: What frustrates you about your own work and
how do you go about changing or adapting to you
r frustrations.

MH: I struggle with color. It is not easy for me to envision a finished colored piece beforehand so my painting process is like groping in the dark. Sometimes the result is a failure that must be thrown away. That said, however, this highwire act (painting without a net) can at times yield a better piece than one that is more carefully planned.

One solution for me with regard to color has been to establish a base color (eg. sometimes yellow) that can unify all the watercolors that come after it.

I have never warmed to the technique of coloring digitally. Although I do make corrections digitally.

CW: What did you find to be the toughest and most
rewarding aspects of your
work on CITY I LOVE?

MH: The toughest part in making City I Love was to create a natural flow. The text is made up of disparate poems about a city and I was asked to assign various international cities to the poems. At times it was like putting square pegs into round holes. Establishing recurring characters and a consistent style was an attempt to achieve continuity.

CW: Your watercolors have been called
"cosmopolitan", a little French with a splash of
nostalgia, "vintage" what do you think or (of)
your work and hope the
viewer takes away from your work?

MH: I hope that people come away from it thinking that it is rural, futuristic, and a little Japanese . . .

Hmm, I have a high regard for my work. But not too high. But not too low either. It is right about where it should be. I am not too egotistical . . . and yet I am not too self deprecating either. I have a healthy relationship with my work. There is sort of a give and take. Not too much give... and not too much take. I don’t think my work is
better than everyone else’s. Nor is it worse. I am just average, I guess. Moderation is best taken in moderation . . .

I hope people enjoy my work... and I hope they think of it as being a little French. But not too French. Maybe a little German for balance.

Or Thai.

You’ll notice that, of the 33 artists I listed as influences, only two
are French.

CW: What is next for you in books as well as in your music career?

MH: Do you mean besides winning the Caldecott and outselling Coldplay?

I am currently writing children’s stories of my own and have finished recording a solo album that I plan to distribute and promote.

I also aim to publish a collection of semi-narrative graphic vignettes that I call graphic poetry. A
visual “Leaves of Grass,” if you will.

I am starting a blog at the moment called “Kaleidoscope City” on which I will post my efforts in this, as well as my many street sketches (which may one day also become a book).
I am also finishing up the sequel to Because You Are My Baby! called Because I Am Your Daddy! The first book followed a Mom and her baby boy this one is the opposite of the first book, following a Dad and his daughter. This will be coming out in Spring 2010.

CW: My last question is a simple one, what city do you love?

MH: It rhymes with ‘blue stork.’

MUSIC by Marcellus

Lee Bennett Hopkins, Marcellus Hall (Illustrator)
Abrams Young Readers
full color illus. Throughout, 32 pages, 8.5 x 10.5
Hardcover with jacket
ISBN: 0-8109-8327-3
EAN: 9780810983274
US $16.95
Availability: Preorder (available in March 2009)

Also illustrated by Marcellus Hall

Interview Adventure Series • 3 •
Starring John Hendrix author of JOHN BROWN

SISTERS GRIMM stamping die

Ever wonder how foil gets stamped on covers? I know you do. I just got in some old worn out busted dies from the printer today for the Sisters Grimm series. These dies are used to slam the foil under extreme pressure onto the case of the book. All these dies are made from copper and weigh at least 15 pounds when stack all together. I very rarely get to see these dies. Boss!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nikki McClure • Interview Adventure Series • 1

A first in a purposed series of interviews from MISHAPS AND ADVENTURES talking with illustrators and authors. We will talk about their process and how they found there way into children's books.

To lead off this series I have interviewed Nikki McClure. Nikki is a self-taught artist who has been making paper-cuts since 1996. Armed with an X-acto knife, she cuts out her images from a single sheet of paper and creates a bold language that translates the complex poetry of motherhood, nature, and activism into a simple and endearing picture. She regularly produces her own posters, books, cards, t-shirts and a beloved yearly calendar as well as designs covers for countless records and books, including illustrations for magazines the Progressive and Punk Planet. She is the author and illustrator of Abrams’ Collect Raindrops. ALL IN A DAY is her first Abrams’ children’s book.

CW: Hi Nikki. Welcome to Mishaps and Adventures
first ever interview

NM: Very Exciting! Let's begin.

CW:Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

NM: I am a Puget Sounder. I grew up in Kirkland and then m oved to Olympia to go to college. Now I live on a hill in town with 30 fruiting trees planted. I am rooted here.

CW: What is your educational background? What courses or
training might be
helpful in beginning a career in illustration?

NM: My Background is in Natural Sciences. I received my B.S. and stayed an extra year to get a B.A. but my art focus was Natural History Writing. I didn't make my first foray into the Art building until my last quarter to print linocuts I had made for a book about wetlands. Even though I didn't take any art classes, I now see that time spent drawing plants and flies as training my eye to see and my hand to respond. Training? Just begin! Don't wait to be "chosen". I illustrated the Brother's Grimm stories, not waiting for a publi sher to ask me. I published my own books at Kinko's and hand-colored them in. The work I do now is inspired by WPA posters. I am not waiting for the government to start funding a new poster series, I'm just making them myself. Less compromises that way. Making mistakes is the best way to learn.

CW: What drew you to children's book illustration?
How did your first book
come to be published?

NM: The first book I made was "Wetlands". I felt there wasn't anything out there for grade schoolers' to understand wetlands. So I made it. I received a grant and rented a studio for $50 a month (!!!!) Put a desk, chair, and iron in it and started making linocuts all day (K Records was next door so I could just listen to the music they were playing). It is still published by the Wa. State Dept. of Ecology. I enjoyed exploring the motion of the book, examining how a book is read, how the images progress. I get really happy when I am making a book and little pieces start appearing in the images. Tiny stories start developing no matter how well planned. I like being open to the evolution of the book. Plus the smell of a freshly printed book is so delicious!

CW: What are some of your favorite books for children?

NM: Well. here are my favorites right now—I love having a child so I can read books all day long!
1. Wind in the Willows—I could read that book forever. I am often Mole and my son is Ratty.
I get rescued from the Wild Wood weekly.
2. The Moomin series by Tove Jannson—Finland, naked trolls, Snufkin. I would stare at the pictures when I was a child. She drew full moons so beautifully.
3. The Swallows and Amazons series—the world as children imagine it.
4. The Jungle Book—never let children watch the Disney version! It will ruin their minds.
5. The Animal Family—a perfect family
6. Where the Wild Things Are—even the paper feels good
Anything that Maurice Sendak touched.
7. Dawn
8. Winne the Pooh
There really are so many. Piles of good books are just behind me.

CW: Who are your artistic influences?

NM: Sendak, Jannson, Kathe Kollowitz, Frans Masreel, Lynd Ward, as well as mushroom gills, rain, pine needles on snow, leaf stains on sidewalks, chickadees, apple blossoms, and my family.

CW: ALL IN A DAY is your third children's book and the first book we worked together on. Can you describe your creative process?
And how you approached
the challenges of this particular book?

NM: It might be my 7th—but it is my first published by someone other than myself. It has also been a long time since I used someone else's words as inspiration for images.
I read the text over and over, memorizing it, internalizing it, reading it to Finn (my 4 year old), reading it to friends. I then made sketches and talked about these with Susan, my editor. Susan and you had ideas too—we went back and forth with many ideas ditched and new ones drawn up. This part was really hard for me,but now I am thankful for the critique and challenges to push more out of the story. The text was challenging as it provided no character, no scene, no place, nothing but emotion. I was intimidated a bit by Cynthia being a NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER! and here I was making a narrative story with my images to her celebrated words. I had to remind myself that she wrote the words with my images in mind, and that this is what illustrators did. So I relaxed, wrote "Have fun" on my wall (a parting quote from Susan Van Metre our editor) and went at it. Once I got the final go ahead, it really felt great to race ahead. I felt like a horse at full gallop. The easy part was making the artwork! I'm not one to storyboard my own work. I usually just let the story evolve. But all the planning paid off in the end. I could just make the pictures. I just had to make the characters look the same throughout. I used clothing to help disguise the fact that I am not a portraitist. Remember my work is with x-acto knife, so it is hard to erase and redraw until the nose ids just the same as in the last picture.

CW: The use of color in ALL IN DAY and in much of your
art is minimalistic. How do you make decisions about color?

NM: When color is added to my work, I ask "Why is that colored in? What make that object so important?" Color is distracting to me. I like things black and white. I was asked to add more color in ALL IN A DAY after all the images were done. BY then, all decisions about value- dark/light had been made. To add color would have unbalanced the images, to me. I suggested alternating the background color from blue to yellow to blue . . . The use of color subtly interacts with the story and enhances it rather than being color used as decoration (make his shirt yellow with red polka dots).

My next book uses a lot of color, for me. Each color is added as the story develops.

CW: What did you find to be the toughest and most rewarding
aspects of your work on ALL IN A DAY?

NM: The redrawing, the redrawing, the redrawing . . . I used up a lot of pencil lead and erasers. It was also the most rewarding. When it came time to make the real art, the hard part was already done!

CW: I have noticed recurring themes of nature, cooperation,
and enjoyment of the outdoors in your work. Does your work
have a particular message? What do you hope people
take away from your images?

NM: If they take away those things, then great! I want my work to resonate with a deep collective memory of fingers in soil, growing food, talking to birds (not just listening), people working together in community. Some people do this everyday, but some people are in cities where the soil is deeply buried and the human noise drowns out bird voices. What is human nature? Cities aren't unnatural, but more can be done to encourage cooperation. I'm just trying to help recall a memory of that.

CW: You have built a strong local following through your cards
calendars. What advice would you give an illustrator who
is just getting
started? What are some ways she can get his or
her name and work out into
the world?

NM: Share your work: Make it. Show it. Give it. Your work needs to be in the world. I donate my images to non-profits to use as holiday/thank you cards. The calendar has been great. I call it my spores. They get sent all over to people who don't know my work. They hang it up in their office or kitchen ( I love being in kitchens everywhere) and all those people who visit them see it- then they all want one next year, and so on. Better than viral marketing- spore marketing is more symbiotic. It has ended up next to the desks of designers and they in turn have called me. I didn't have to send out my portfolio. I did drop off my portfolio once at The New Yorker. They only use a half-sheet of paper when they politely decline. I should send them a calendar I suppose.

CW: What are your working on now?

NM: I have just started the final artwork for my next book with Abrams, MAMA, IS IT SUMMER YET? I'm in the gallop ahead stage. I will finish the image of gathering sticks today. I added loppers- so they are pruning the apple tree and the child has so many sticks in his arms that some are falling away. (I'd send you a pic of the sketch, but someone stole our camera in Hawaii and I am waiting for a new one to be delivered). I am also thinking of the 2010 calendar images, title, theme . . . . Today will will also send out valentines Finn printed on the printing press but we have to get stamps= a Big Day

CW: What is your idea of a perfect day?

NM: Today (minus typing a computer interview, sorry!)
The fog has lifted and the sun is out. Snow is melting and the green is so green and the blue so blue. I will finish a picture today. I might bake cake or at least make a pie. Secret Valentines will be mailed. There will be some slushy snowball throwing. Perhaps I will be rescued from the Wild Wood. Dinner at a friend's house who always cooks so beautifully and where we will read old Peanuts cartoons. Back home I will take a very hot bath. Then read a great book with a cuddly child and dream.


Cynthia Rylant, Nikki McClure (Illustrator)
ISBN: 0-8109-8321-4
EAN: 9780810000000
Hardcover with jacket
US $17.95
Availability: Preorder (available in February 2009)

Spreads from ALL IN A DAY © 2009 by Cynthia Rylant. Illustration © 2009 Nikki McClure. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. New York. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

Interview Adventure Series • 2 •
Starring Marcellus Hall illustrator of CITY I LOVE coming soon!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Society of Illustrators 51 show Featuring the art of Marcellus Hall in CITY I LOVE

This year Marcellus Hall and I attended the Society of Illustrator 51 st Book and Editorial show. Last year his work for Because You Are My Baby was selected into the show. This year it was for City I Love. A book of poems that guide the reader on an international tour—from New York to San Francisco, London to Tokyo, and beyond.
The poems follow a dog and his bird friend on there travels. By developing a character based poem book we hoped to bring poems more in to the Trade market. Fingers crossed.

Marcellus is currently finishing up the sequel to Because You Are My Baby titled Because You Are My Daddy. I allowed him to take a short break to enjoy the nights festivities.

a few interior pieces ( not in the show)

Here are some photos from the evening.

about the author and illustrator
Lee Bennett Hopkins has written and edited numerous celebrated poetry collections, including Behind the Museum Door, My America, and Home to Me. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida. Marcellus Hall has created artwork for many magazines, including the New Yorker and Time. He is also the illustrator of Because You Are My Baby. City I Love is his second book for children. Raised in Minneapolis, he now lives in New York City.