! Readers may remember when I interviewed you for RED & LULU (https://dulemba.blogspot.com/2017/12/matt-tavaris-red-lulu.html). I’m thrilled to have you back for yet another lovely Christmas book, DASHER.
e: What was your creative process/medium for DASHER, can you walk us through it?
Thanks, Elizabeth! Happy to be back. The illustrations for Dasher were done using watercolor, gouache, ink, graphite, and some black and white colored pencils here and there. Oh and I used pastels in one or two of the pictures. So… a little bit of everything! As for the creative process, I hit this weird rut when I was about halfway through the illustrations, where I basically forgot how to paint night skies. The paint just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do! It was very stressful. That’s one reason I ended up using lots of different materials, and playing around with what worked best. I eventually got back in the groove and I like how it all turned out.
e: It’s unusual for a creator to specialize in holiday books - two in a row! How has that come about?
After I finished Red & Lulu
, my editor, Katie Cunningham, told me that she felt like that story brought out something new in my work, and she thought I should keep going in that direction. She suggested I try to come up with another holiday-themed story, and maybe even one with animal characters. So I started brainstorming, and eventually landed on the idea of an origin story about Santa’s reindeer.
I tend to get stuck on a topic and stay there a while. Earlier in my career I kept thinking of baseball stories. Then I did a bunch of picture book biographies. I guess I’ve been in Christmas mode lately!
e: Ha! I guess so! Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of DASHER?
Hmm, unique stories… there was one day when I was working on my Dasher
sketches, thinking about how I could really use a good model for Santa Claus, when I took a break from work to go watch my daughter’s chorus performance. They were performing at a holiday event at a restaurant in town during the school day. And as it turned out, Santa Claus was there too! So I told him about the book I was working on, and he happily agreed to stop by my studio right after the event, and I got to have a great photo session with him, which helped quite a bit. I’ve shown some of these pictures during my school visits, and kids often ask it it’s the real Santa. All I can say is he looked real to me!
e: Maybe he was Santa! What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
There is a scrap of watercolor paper taped to my drawing table with the words "Everything matters” and “Make me care” written on it.
“Everything matters” is there to remind me that every square inch of an illustration is important. If I’m showing a house in the background of a scene, I don’t want to get lazy and just make some generic house because it’s not the main focus of the scene. I want to think about who lives in that house, what kind of stuff they might have in their yard, what kind of car is in their driveway. I want all those little background details to ring just as true as the more central aspects of the picture.
“Make me care” is there to remind myself that if I don’t care about the picture I’m working on, or the story I’m writing, then other people probably aren’t going to care either. But if I pour my heart into it and create something that really means something to me, then hopefully my story or my illustration will connect with readers in a real way. I guess that’s my definition of “heart art”.
e: I love that! How do you advertise yourself (or do you anymore)?
, I’ve been traveling all over the place, reading, drawing and signing books at bookstores, schools, and book festivals around the country. And I keep up with social media, and update my website
on a semi-regular basis.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favorite part is just sitting here in my studio working on a book. I feel very fortunate to be able to spend my days doing something I love to do.
e: Is there something in particular about Dasher you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
There are a couple little things in Dasher that people might not notice, unless I point them out...
Everything that happens in the story is because of Dasher’s wishes. I wanted to leave a couple hints in the illustrations that reinforce the idea that maybe Santa was hearing Dasher’s wishes all along. First, on the title page, we see Dasher and her family in their pen at J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie, surrounded by a crowd of people. Santa is in the crowd.
Later, when Dasher and Santa meet for the first time, if you look closely you can see that Dasher’s harness is hanging out of Santa’s bag. I wanted to show that Santa and Dasher didn’t just run into each other accidentally.
One other fun little detail- Red & Lulu make a cameo in Dasher
. There is a scene where Santa and his team are flying over a neighborhood. I put my house in the neighborhood, and Red and Lulu and in my yard, at a bird feeder.
e: Fantastic! What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
My next book is called A Ben of All Trades: The Most Inventive Boyhood of Benjamin Franklin
, written by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by me. It comes out in March, 2020. And I’m currently working on illustrating a picture book about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
, which is slated for Spring, 2021.
e: Wowsa! Working with Michael Rosen is no small thing - CONGRATULATIONS! I hope you get to do some book tour visits in the UK as a result! Hope to have you back to celebrate that one too!