PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN! illustrated by John Nez - GIVEAWAY!

I've been a member of the Picture Books Artists Association for many years now, and one of our most active and talented members is John Nez. He has a new book out, PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN! written by Artie Bennett. So I thought it would be a good time to invite him on to talk about making kids book art!

Q. John, you've been illustrating picture books for how long now?
I've been drawing and painting picturebooks for most of my life. Once upon a time, I ran away to New York City to become a book illustrator. I was inspired by my Uncle Edwin Scmidt, who was an illustrator from Philadelphia. He was very successful doing commercial work along with some Little Golden Books. I used to see his name in Little Golden Books at the supermarket and it made me feel like he was famous. A while back I was very proud that my name appeared in the Little Golden Book 50th anniversary catalog along with my Uncle Ed.

Q. How have you watched the business change over the years?
Everything has changed. I used to hand deliver my sketches to my art directors by walking through Central Park. Then I got an answering machine - then a fax machine - then FedEx came along so I could move back to Seattle. Next came computers and photoshop - and PDFs and e-books and the internet. Whew! Was it always this confusing? Starting out in New York City was the most exciting time of my life. But of course everything in book illustration has changed over and over since then. I think the trick is to try to stay new and keep a feeling in the work.

Q. I love your line and watercolor method - is that always how you've worked? How has your style changed over the years?
The style for Peter Panda is just one of many styles I work in. I always try for something different in each new book. My previous book, MOUSE'S CHRISTMAS COOKIE, is very elaborate in comparison. Often I get tired of doing one style and want to make something entirely the opposite next time. After I did the painterly realism of CROMWELL DIXON'S SKY-CYCLE, I next did a very bold and abstract digital style for THE DANCING CLOCK.
      The art direction for PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN! was very much 'less is more'. The art was done with simple brush-pen on watercolor paper and digital color. I also have colored line styles and more traditional watercolor styles. Working digitally allows a range of styles from traditional painting to hard edged design. I totally love photoshop and the other tools in the Creative Suite - they make my life so much better. With digital tools I can be my own art director and change anything about an image. I could go on for ages about how I make pictures. My method is a process that I'm always tweaking. Some day I'll have to write a book and reveal my secret techniques. (Some of them are way cool!) By the way, I still use real paper for drawing and painting.

Q. What was your process behind Peter Panda and nailing this sweet character even during a meltdown?
This book all came about from a chance meeting at ALA-mid-winter13, when I got to chat with Blue Apple Books. The publisher, Harriet Ziefert, (who has written 100's of amazing picture books), was looking for a panda character. So I went home and designed the tryout character in about 3 hours. Everyone loved it! It was exactly what they were looking for. And one of those first sketches later turned into the cover, since it perfectly captures the mixed up emotions that I was trying to convey. I had not even seen the manuscript at that point. It was hugely helpful to meet with the publishers so I knew exactly what they wanted.

Q. What was your path to publication when you first entered this business?
Originally I moved to NYC with a half scholarship from the Parsons School of Design. I even got to take a class from Maurice Sendak. But after one semester I dropped out because I already had a degree in English and I wanted to start freelancing. I had $300 in the bank and a huge portfolio that I'd worked on for years. So I schlepped my 30 pound portfolio all around Manhattan. My lucky break came one morning in the middle of a blizzard in February, where I found refuge in the office of Holt. The editor, Miriam Chaikin, paged through my portfolio and quietly said, "Well, we have a little book that you could do... but it only pays $800". My career was rescued! Suddenly my bank account doubled! I cancelled Plan B, which was to return to Seattle and find another career. I loved every minute of being a freelancer in Manhattan. It was so much fun as more and more jobs rolled in. It was all so exciting... meeting publishers. I was young and starting out in New York! And I've been at it ever since.

Q. How do you advertise yourself nowadays?
I use online directories, social media and and postcards. The internet has changed everything, of course. I keep meaning to look for a literary agent, since I write lots of stories. I've been so busy working that I've scarcely had time this year. My degree was in English. I'm self trained as an artist. I also learned how to make interactive e-book apps for the iPad. I get to do everything in that case. I'm the publisher, actor, writer, producer, designer, choreographer and sound effects. That has been interesting and even a little bit profitable. But it's a different direction from print publishing and the marketing isn't much fun. Also there are no advances so the monetization is a slow steady drip rather than a big gush like with a book advance.

Q. This is how many books for you now?
Just like with birthdays... I kind of stopped counting.

Q. Will you do anything special to celebrate its release?
Actually I've never had a book launch for any of my books, and by now I don't think I'd even know how. Since I work entirely alone and only know three other people in Seattle who do books, it seems too daunting to organize a party in public. Probably about three people would show up. But I've had fun emailing the author, Artie Bennett, who forwards all the rave reviews to me. One new thing about the internet is that now I seem to meet all my authors with email. I know dozens of book artists online... but very few in person. Generally I find it's best to just get on to the next project. Making pictures is where I find the most fun.

Q. Thanks for stopping by!!!

John has kindly agreed to give away a free, signed and dedicated copy of PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN! to one of my lucky commenters. Must live in the US/Canada to win. Enter below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Unknown said...

Hi Elizabeth... what a bunch of fun it is being on your blog! I thank you and Peter Panda thanks you too!

Roberta Baird said...

Great interview with such a talented illustrator!

Maggie said...

I always enjoy seeing what John is up to and reading his posts on the PBA listserve! He's an inspiration.

Traci VW said...

Fun! I've always enjoyed John's art, and this panda bear is so adorable. Reading about another artist's journey is great fun too. Thanks to the both of you.

apple blossom said...

love to share this book with the students I teach and my nieces thanks

Rhonda Miller said...

This looks like such a fun book. I would share it with my kids, nieces and nephews.

see sharon draw said...

would love to have a Panda tantrum at my house! Love John's art, always have-I wont say for how long :)

Maggie Smith said...

a great post by the unstoppable john nez!

LJ said...

Great post. Looks like an adorable book. It's going on our reading list.

LJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne said...

Well, as a panda myself, I'm always wondering what other pandas are up to. Looks like Peter Panda needs a time out (perhaps in his room with a few cuppycakes and his favorite toys?)
BTW I'm near Seattle and I would have come to your launch party.