What an honor to have Tedd Arnold on my blog today. He is the creator of such classics as PARTS (and the following PARTS books); HI! FLY GUY and the rest of the series; HUGGLY's series of books; the list goes on!
His latest is DIRTY GERT about a little girl who loves to eat dirt. What are her parents to do when her feet take root and her hair sprouts leaves? The rhymes are hilarious and the art is classic gorgeous Tedd Arnold style. I asked him about his latest creation as well as his trade...
Q. Hi Tedd - Thanks so much for dropping by dulemba.com - as a fan, I'm honored! You've been in the children's book business a long time now. How did you get into it?
A. Hi, Elizabeth. I'm glad to be able to visit. Yes, I've been published for more than 25 years. And it was all inspired by my wife, Carol, who was a kindergarten teacher. I was doing advertising and graphic design while she was collecting picture books for her classroom. I began noticing her books that I hadn't paid any attention to since I was a child. I loved them and joined in the collecting. And a seed of a dream was planted--that one day, maybe I too could illustrate a picture book. I had always been an artist and a cartoonist. Back in middle school I did a lot of comics inspired by Mad Magazine. I began to realize that the close collaboration of words and pictures in children's picture books was actually similar to the words and pictures I had doodled with in my grade-school comics.
Q. Which book was your big breakthrough to the big-time? How did that change things for you?
A. NO JUMPING ON THE BED was my first full-blown picture book. I hadn't intended, at first, to be an "author". But I didn't know how else to break into the business as just an illustrator. I needed SOMETHING to illustrate. So I wrote. That was the hard part--figuring out how to put together and write a good story. It took 6 years. So when NO JUMPING ON THE BED came along, it changed my entire life. I quit my day job! We had some hungry years. But I always approached my picture book work as a full-time job, not a sideline interest.
Q. You have a wonderful walk through of your method on your website
A. My early books were somewhat realistic and smoothly rendered. My book, Green Wilma, changed all of that. I experimented with my art style for that story. I wanted Wilma to look frog-ish. (Is that a word?) So I drew her with large froggy eyeballs. To go along with the eyeballs, I began drawing the rest of the bodies more loosely and cartoony. I was literally drawing faster. So, instead of rendering the shading slow and smooth, I was scribbling the tones in quickly. Suddenly I liked the energy of the scribbles and worked with it until the scribbles became a nice jazzy texture.
Q. You're a prolific creator - do you ever run out of ideas? Are you booked ahead?
A. I think most creative people occasionally feel like, YIKES! What am I going to do now??? But I tell kids I can only do two or three books a year because the drawing part takes a long time. Two or three ideas a year? Not too tough. I've been blessed with an abundance of ideas. One frustrating thing is to get an exciting new idea, then have to put it in a waiting line behind ideas that came before.
Q. Can you imagine yourself ever doing anything other than children's books?
A. Nope! I'm kinda out of touch with any other life-skills by now.
Q. How did the idea for DIRTY GERT come to you?
A. It came from simply playing with names. Gert and dirt rhymed. The original Gert rhyme grew out of a never-completed collection of silly rhymes I attempted to create long ago. But I was told by publishers that collections of poetry often started out with hundreds of rhymes that would then be winnowed down by editors to 30 or 40 of the best, to fit into a 32 or 48 page picture book. I am pretty good at coming up with ideas, but that became too much for me. So that book project got filed away in my REJECTED folder. More than a decade later, in my home town, I put up an art show of my career work at the local museum, and my Holiday House editor, Grace Maccarone drove all the way from New York City to Elmira, New York to attend the opening. On one wall of the exhibition, I had put up a few images labeled REJECTED IDEAS. Grace spotted Gert and said, "You never sent me this!" I replied, "Er...um..." in my typically articulate way. "Send it to me," she said. And that's that!
Q. DIRTY GERT actually has a lovely environmental angle to it - have teachers been using it that way?
A. I fully expect that to happen. I love to see how teachers and librarians use my book. I say to myself, "Oh! That's what my book is about!" At this interview time, DIRTY GERT is so new that at the schools I've visited recently, the librarians are just now getting their Gert copies. But I was impressed by one very nice Kirkus review that taught me a new word. "Gert likes dirt to the point of geophagy...", geophagy being the practice of consuming soil. Apparently a modicum of soil consumption strengthens immune systems and lessens allergies! I don't want to be seen as encouraging kids to literally eat dirt, but it is definitely not a bad thing for children to play outdoors and get dirty. Soil becomes "internalized" by accident from dirty hands or inhaled as dust and it is indeed good for young growing bodies!
Q. Do you mind sharing a photo of your studio space?
A. My studio was formerly the attic. It's all fixed up now. I work at one table with watercolors and color pencils and at another table on the computer. Dirty Gert was entirely illustrated using Photoshop software and a Cintiq monitor.
Q. Thanks so much for stopping by. I wish you much continued success!!
A. Thanks. You too, Elizabeth!
Holiday House is giving away one free copy of DIRTY GERT to one of my lucky commenters! Sign up below. (Must live in the continental US to qualify.)
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