Greg: As with our previous project If Picasso Painted a Snowman, one of the big challenges with If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur was to capture the essence of each artist’s signature style. This involved researching each artist and breaking down the things that make each one unique. I asked questions like “how did they draw or paint differently than other artists?” or “what materials or techniques did they use?” I then tried to create a piece of art that would feel like they might have painted it. I worked in acrylic, oil, ink, pastel, colored pencil, cut paper, hand cut rubber stamps and digital for this book.
Try as I might, it was impossible to truly mimic the styles of all these different artists. That was OK. I knew that a fair amount of my own style would inevitably filter into the work. My goal was to show the diverse styles of all the chosen artists in a fun way that is relatable to kids. None of these artists ever painted a dinosaur; so it freed me up to create my own interpretation. Some pieces, like the card playing dinosaurs feel pretty close to my own style. Others like Hokusai’s wave homage were much closer to the original.
Amy: I wrote If Picasso Painted a Snowman and took it to a writing workshop several years ago. At the workshop, many of my fellow writers were teachers and librarians. They told me they loved the manuscript and would use a book like this at their schools. I was much encouraged, but as I submitted the manuscript to a few agents/publishers, not everyone had the same opinion. I shelved the manuscript and began working on other projects. Greg was approached by Tilbury House Publishers to illustrate another book for them. As Greg learned more about the types of books Tilbury published, he suggested my manuscript to them. They said I was welcome to submit to them (THP has open submissions). I sent a query letter and the manuscript, and Tilbury was interested. After Greg did a sketch dummy to go along with the manuscript, we were offered a contract.
Amy: Two things stand out to me in connection with If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur. First, I never intended to do a sequel. When Tilbury asked us to consider one, I was tempted to say no. However, as Greg and I discussed it, I realized I was grateful someone believed in the concept and wanted a second book, and I also knew there were many artists I had not covered in the first book. Greg and I brainstormed different concepts and settled on dinosaurs. I had wanted to have Leonardo da Vinci in the first book, but for various reasons he was omitted, so it made sense to make him the headliner of the second book. I knew right from the beginning that I wanted Greg to parody The Vitruvian Man and Mona Lisa. The second thing I think of with the dinosaur book is the picture of dinosaurs playing cards. I saw pictures of dogs playing poker hanging in the recreation rooms of my friends' basements when I was growing up. I thought that they were 1970s paintings that people hung in their homes because they thought the painting were funny. As I joked with our publisher about including one of these paintings in the dinosaur book, he burst into laughter. We decided to do some research and learn more about the artist. It turns out that the artist (Cassius Coolidge) was born in 1844 and did many of his paintings in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I was surprised to learn that, and it made me want to include him in the book.
Greg: Art is a two-part experience. First, I think every piece of art by necessity contains a bit of the creator. A piece of his or her soul is injected into whatever art he or she creates. That said, I think the goal of every artist should be to allow a portion of your soul to connect with the viewer. The second and equally critical factor in this art success equation is the viewer. There needs to be a connection through which the intent of the artist is conveyed to the viewer. The more people a piece resonates with, the more universally successful the piece may be judged. What makes great art special is that magic moment when the humanity of both artist and patron commune through a painting.
Greg: I began my career pounding the pavement around town, showing my portfolio to whomever in the industry would have a look. I took feedback and started getting projects. I tried to network with as many people as I could. Now I advertise in illustration directories, online through my website and other portfolio sites and send out direct emails to past and potential clients. I’ve been at this for quite a while now, so a lot of my work comes from repeat clients and through word of mouth, even random Internet searches. I also post regularly on my Instagram and Facebook pages, which has yielded a fair amount of sales in recent years. I think the best form of advertising is just being visible and doing good work.
Greg: Being an independent creator has its share of challenges and benefits. First off, I get to do what I love which is draw and paint all the time. The process of creating never gets old to me. I also enjoy solving problems to meet my clients’ visual needs. It’s great when you deliver a piece and the reaction is that the art surpassed expectations. That moment when a painting turns out just like you hoped it would is always great.
I love having the flexibility to work different hours than most people. I still treat it like a full time job, which it is, but not having to ask if you can leave to be at a child’s event or take an afternoon to run an errand is nice.
Downsides include, not having a regular paycheck and having to provide all the other things an employer might, such as health insurance, etc. can be a bummer. Overall though, I think the positives are worth the sacrifice.
Amy: I hope readers find themselves in the back pages of the book. As I have heard from readers, I realize that many people struggle in their lives, and I hope as they read about the artists in the book, they will feel a connection. When that happens, I think it frees them to share their own creative vision. For example, one person contacted me to let me know how much it meant to a student she worked with to read in If Picasso Painted a Snowman that Claude Monet didn't like school. It helped that student realize that she had worthwhile talents, even if reading challenges made school difficult for her. The artists in If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur are from so many different backgrounds. Andy Warhol was bullied. Frida Kahlo struggled for years with painful physical injuries and disabilities. Some of the artists were immigrants. Some grew up facing racism. Some lost family members. Others didn't begin pursuing painting until their later years. I hope readers will find art they relate to, and artists they can be inspired by, and that this book will give them the courage to pursue what they want to in their lives.
Greg: Our hope with this book is that it encourages and gives permission to be creative. When our son was in preschool, all the art projects were pre-cut and there was only one “right” way to assemble them. This stifled his creativity. We want to show that there are unlimited ways in which you can express yourself through art. I think that art teachers will like it as a way to open the door to creativity to their students. We love getting photos back from kids who have made their own dinosaurs. Creativity is amazing when there are no limits placed on the student.
Greg: I feel pretty blessed to be able to do what I consider my dream job every day. It’s always challenging, but ultimately rewarding. Next up is book three in the series, so that will be even more fun. The new book will be the familiar format but with different artists and a new subject.
Amy: Right now we are working on finishing the third book in this series. I have some non-art related picture books I would love to see published, but I think a dream project for me would be to either get a YA novel published, or to publish a book of poetry with my own pen and ink drawings.
e: Wonderful! I can't wait to see the third in the series! Thank you for sharing, Greg and Amy!