Don't forget to come to tomorrow's Professional Series Meeting, being held tomorrow so you can take your Valentine sweethearts out on Thursday.
Click here for an interview with author ROYCE BUCKINGHAM, just scroll down to the Editorial Reviews section.
and get to know illustrator LEE WHITE in the following interview (with Jennifer Mann):
Something a lot of people don't know is that I didn't start drawing or painting until I was an adult. I NEVER drew as a child and didn't have any art classes beyond the standard classes in school. I came to be an illustrator when my television set broke and I didn't have money to get a new one. I went to the art store and bought some supplies because I thought painting might be fun to try (never mind that I had never actually drawn anything in my life!). I painted a few canvases and enjoyed it. Painting came fairly natural to me and I submitted that work to a school in southern California. They thought it was good enough to give me a scholarship, so my future wife and I packed up from Santa Cruz and moved to Orange County. I stayed at that school for two semesters before getting a scholarship to go to the noted Art Center College of Design. I transferred there and graduated two and a half years later. It was very intense because those students are the best of the best and had a massive head start on me. They had been drawing their whole lives while I had only been doing it a few months.
How did you become a children’s book illustrator?
I became a book illustrator because of a few reasons. I absolutely love the printed book. iPad books are cool in their own way but nothing beats the feeling of holding a beautiful book. I loved looking through books as a kid (but not reading them) and just staring at the pictures. I still have my favorite book from my childhood: The Pink Elephant with the Golden Spots by Philippe and Rejane Fix.
The second reason I became a children's book illustrator is that everything I try to paint ends up looking like it should be in a picture book. When I was in college I tried to make serious art, but it always looked goofy. I think it's because I'm not that serious of a person. I don't have much angst I need to show. I like quirky things. Nothing makes me happier than seeing something out of place and unexpected. Like when I saw a very small monkey riding a pig at a fair. That stuff just makes me happy for some reason. Hopefully that comes across in my work.
I absolutely love Shaun Tan and Lisbeth Zwerger. If I could do work that was a cross between them I think I would die from delight. It's been a long journey to my current style and it's changed quite a bit over the last 5 years. I used to really love Mary Grand Pre' but other artists have taken her place. She's still amazing but I find that I'm liking work that is a bit sloppier and clumsy now. Maybe that sounds counter intuitive (to like work that is technically looser), but I am favoring artists where I can see their mistakes. I like it when I see a scratchy pencil line that they didn't hide. I like artists that show the process and show their personal vision. That's why Lisbeth Zwerger's early work just stuns me. It looks like she just waived a magic wand and the paint did what she wanted.
- Who are some of your favorite/most influential artists?
I am addicted to being outside and being active. I ride mountain bikes and road bikes a lot, as well as skateboarding and other extreme sports. The only thing about art that is hard for me is sitting still. I'm an energetic person (some would say spastic), and I need to burn off that energy. If I wasn't an illustrator I think I would be a tour guide or a personal trainer.
- If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
- Is there a thread or a theme that appears in your work whether you intend it to or not, and if so, what is it?
The theme of flight seems to always show up in my work and this has been constant since I was in school. It wasn't a conscious choice, it just sort of happened to be a recurring theme. For example, I did a cover for Ladybug magazine last year and it was supposed to have a Summer theme. I like the idea of two kids playing on the beach and sketched that out. It seemed to be missing something so I put a pod of whales traveling over them in the sky which did the trick. That's how the cover ran and I was very pleased with it.
My creative power comes from a few things I think. The first is teaching. I am a full time faculty instructor at the Art Institute of Portland and my students really keep me on my toes. You really have to understand something at a fundamental level to teach it well and I have to address that everyday. Sometimes when I'm doing a painting or drawing demo a student will ask why I did something (such as mix two weird colors together or spray water on my brush before touching the paper). Sometimes I wasn't even aware that I was doing it. Most of the time there is a simple answer once attention has been called to it. Over the course of a painting there are thousands of these decisions and if you know why you are making them, you have much more control over the whole process.
- Is there some quirky or ordinary thing you do, or have in your studio, or wear, or eat or drink, to reinforce your creative super power? (What’s your secret??)
The second thing is that I keep an active file of images I want to paint. This list is big and I may not be able to get to even half of them in my lifetime. The sad (or maybe fortunate) thing is that the list keeps growing. I try to set aside time to paint these things just because it's fun. I only have a limited amount of time to devote to this kind of work, so speed has become my weapon. Most paintings take me about 4-7 hours total now which is much faster than when I started my career (it took 3-5 days back then). The things that are on my list can be photos that I've taken or even something as simple as seeing two people talking at a cafe. Sometimes it can just be based on a feeling. For example my wife was dropping me off at the airport and my 2 year old son was in the back. I kissed them goodbye and was just so sad to leave them. When I returned from my trip I made a painting of a mother and son staring through an airport window while a plane taxied away. It's great because once you start paying attention to little moments like that, there is an endless supply of creative material just wanting for you.
Lastly, it helps that my wife is very understanding and gives me the space and time to create. I work at home and the line between work and home is sometimes difficult to manage. We try to be pretty formal about it and when I "go to work" we pretend like I have left the house and can't be reached. I try to give a good effort every day. If I could just unhook the internet I could probably double my productivity. That's something that I think we all struggle with in this new social age. Being able to devote serious time to dedicated work is tough. My students really struggle with it because they are being facebooked, twittered, and texted all day. I'm trying hard to keep that stuff at bay when I'm working. Sometimes I win, other times I play angry birds for 3 hours straight.