David Opie is a longtime friend from the Picture Book Artists Association. He's always been so generous with advice, I love throwing some readerly love his way when he has new books, such as his new THERE WAS AN OLD ALLIGATOR WHO SWALLOWED A MOTH written by B.J. Lee for Pelican Publishing. I asked him some questions about it...
e: David, what is your creative process/medium, can you walk us through it?
I illustrated this book with traditional media. I used a dip pen to draw the line onto cold press watercolor paper, and then I painted it in watercolors. After that, I scanned the paintings, cleaned them up, and color-corrected the files in Photoshop. I’ve tried so many media over the years, including digital, and I really want my drawing to be visible in the final art, so the ink and watercolor combo works well. I like the ability to fix up things in Photoshop if I have to. That flexibility allows me to relax a little bit in the painting process.

Inkline Wash


Watercolor done
Gouache Details

Photoshop Adjustment

e: What was your path to publication?
Two things came together: First, I love to draw alligators. And second, I send out postcards a couple times a year, and the art director contacted me for this book not too long after a mailing. The publisher asked to see some gator samples from my portfolio, so I had a bunch to show. A wacky story about a misbehaving gator is definitely in my sweet spot.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
Well, I didn’t write the story, but I know the author lives in Florida and was inspired by all the gators down there. The structure of the story is based on the song, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” I’m definitely fascinated by gators, and they’re fun to draw—I love all those scales and teeth. My main goal was to try to give him personality and not just make him seem mean, because he does, you know, eat a lot of animals throughout the story.
e: 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?
As far as getting the reader to want to come back for another look, I try to include lots of details for folks to notice after multiple readings. For instance, on one page of the “Gator” book, you see Gator coughing, and way up in the right hand corner there’s a pelican flying away, which is not mentioned in the text. You turn the page and that’s the spread in which the poor pelican gets eaten. On the spread after that, you see Gator sneaking up on a panther. But way in the background you can see a brown pelican feather floating in the water behind Gator.

And I love your idea of “Heart Art.” For me, one ingredient in “Heart Art” would be a generous sprinkling of “illustration magic.” By that, I mean some element in the image that doesn’t occur in the real world. Like in this book, Gator eats a bunch of increasingly large animals, including a manatee and a shark, and then chugs down an entire lagoon’s worth of water. That’s not very likely in the real world, but it sure can happen in an illustration. I also want to give the characters strong emotions, to make them seem like individuals, and to make them seem alive. And I like to see a little bit of the artist’s hand in the work: the drawing, the brushstroke, the layers of color. Those are the things that really make my art heart beat faster.
e: How do you advertise yourself?
A few postcard mailings a year, an extensive website, going to SCBWI conferences and participating in the portfolio shows, and social media (Twitter and Instagram, mainly).
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
My favorite part is drawing, painting, and telling stories. I really like the children’s book community, too. The challenge is, well, making a living doing it.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I added a couple things to the story that are not in the text. The story starts out, “There was an old gator who swallowed a moth. I don’t know why he swallowed the moth.” But, if you look closely at the preceding illustrations, I hinted at a reason. And on the “Author’s Note” page—after the story ends—I have a small, oval illustration, in which the gator is staring at a concerned dragonfly. Maybe the story cycle starts all over again, or maybe the gator has learned a lesson. It’s up to the reader to decide what’s going to happen next.
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I really want to write and illustrate my own books. I’m working with an agent who is shopping around a picture book for me right now, and I’m developing some other ideas. I’ll let you know…

e: Please do, and good luck! :)


BJ Lee said...

I love everything about this interview, but especially the part about the postcard. David – your postcard must have arrived at the exact right moment. I'll tell you the story when I see you on Sunday at our book launch. Talk about serendipity :-) best of luck to you, indeed, on your future projects, or should I say books.

Unknown said...

Very interesting with a perspective that intuitively understands what grips young readers, any readers, really.
Joe Harman