Interview with Children’s Book Author/Illustrator – Michael Garland

Best Selling author and illustrator Michael Garland’s greatest success has been for writing and illustrating children’s picture books. Garland’s Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook recently won the California and Delaware State Reading Awards. He is author and illustrator of thirty children’s picture books and illustrator for more than forty books by other authors.
His work has won many honors and is frequently included in the Society of Illustrators and the Original Art of Children’s book show as well annuals from Print, Graphis and Communications Arts magazines. Recently, Michael Garland was included on the list of the top one hundred Irish Americans by Irish American Magazine.
You can learn more about Michael Garland by visiting his web site. http://www.garlandpicturebooks.com

Q: When did you get started illustrating for children? What did you do before?

A: I started illustrating professionally in nineteen seventy-four. Right from the start, some of the work was for children. The first picture book I illustrated was my first book as an author, My Cousin Katie 1989.

Q: You had 2 books come out in 2012. Miss Smith and the Haunted Library and Fish Had  Wish. Please tell us a little bit about the illustrations behind them.

A: Miss Smith Under the Ocean is part of the Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook series from Dutton.  The story references many of the famous literary characters whose stories revolve around the sea. They are portrayed in a lighthearted, fun way. so they are easily accessible for children.

Fish Had a Wish is an easy reader from Holiday House‘s I Like to Read series. I love the simple story that a fish gets bored with being himself. The illustrations were a new style for me. They were done digitally, but meant to evoke the look of a traditional woodcut.

The book received a Star Review from PW and went into a second printing immediately.

Q: Do you have another book planned? Anything you can share with us about it?

A: Yes, I do have a few other books in the pipeline in varying stages of completion.

Car Goes Far is another I Like to Read book from Holiday House It will be out next spring. It’s the story of a car that sets out on a journey.

Q: Have you worked on any other children’s books?

A: I’ve lost tract of the exact numbers, but I think I just turned in my thirtieth book as author and illustrator. I illustrated well over fifty books for other authors. I illustrated books for celebrity authors like James Patterson and Gloria Estefan. It’s fun because their books tend to get on TV and reach a much wider audience. My pictures for James Patterson’s SantaKid were the inspiration for the New York Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas window display. It’s wonderful to see millions of people file by for a look at the windows.

Q: A 2011 release, Grandpa’s Tractor, was selected for the 2012 Original Art of Children’s books by the Society of Illustrators. Did you know the book was under consideration? This is a huge accolade, how does it feel to be chosen?

A: Yes, I was thrilled to have Grandpa’s Tractor chosen for the Original Art of Children’s Book Show at the Society of Illustrators.

The story of Grandpa’s Tractor was inspired by a rusty old Farmall tractor that is stuck into a hillside near our home. I thought this book was perfect for Boyds Mills Press. Kent Brown, the publisher is a country gentlemen farmer and he knows tractors. My editor, Larry Rosler and my art director, Tim Gillner are both a pleasure to work with. The book also won the Nebraska Agricultural Award, so all around this book has been great experience.

Q: What are you working on now? Do you have any other art projects you’d like to talk about?

A: I just finished a funny book called Homework? for Scholastic.  The story is about a boy and his missing homework. I am an adjunct professor at Mount Saint Mary’s and Marist Colleges. The many creative excuses for missing homework from my students were the inspiration for this book.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?

A: I have occasionally licensed my art.

I also have a separate artistic identity as a gallery painter. You can visit my other fine art web site. http://www.michaelgarlandfineart.com

Q: When illustrating children’s books do you include a visual storyline not mentioned by the text or include animals or people you know?

A: When I conceive a picture book, the story and the pictures come to me at once, but every book has to have the solid structure of a beginning, middle and end, storyline.

A picture book is a fifty-fifty creative collaboration between picture and text. They should seamlessly complement each for the best effect.

Q: Can you explain your art process?

A: An idea for a story can come to me at anytime. It can be inspired by something specific like an event or a place or a word or a phrase. I usually let the concept germinate for a while as I contemplate the storyline, imagining pictures all the while. When I think I have a handle on the plot, I sit down at my computer and write a first draft in a standard thirty-two page format with simple, child digestible text. Sometimes it flows very easily, sometimes not. Writing is about rewriting. I keep at it until satisfied with the result.

The next step is to put on my illustrator hat and block out the book in spreads. I employ quick, extremely fast sketches to arrange picture and text in an aesthetically pleasing layout. The next step: is to redrawn and refine the crude sketches and scan them into a layout. I do a full color cover and maybe one other color spread. Everything is included as a book proposal that is then sent to the appropriate publishing company.

Q: Do you have a favorite color or palette?

A: No, the content of the story dictates the composition and the color palette of each illustration. I like to vary my palette as much as possible.

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in? Have you always worked in this media? If not, why did you switch?

A: For my illustrations, I like to work digitally because that allows me the most flexibility and creativity.  When I am working on my gallery paintings, I use oils.

Q: Do you use models/source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?

A: When I started my career, I would gather as much photo research as possible. I would hire, pose and shoot models for my illustrations very much like Norman Rockwell’s method. As I became more exclusively, a picture book author and illustrator, I transitioned to a “direct from imagination drawing style.”  I still do research for objects and places but I don’t draw directly from source material any more.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?

A: I would like to be a professional golfer, all I lack, is the skill and talent.

Q: What gets you through an illustration when you’re stuck for inspiration?

A: If I’m having trouble with an illustration from a picture book, I put that one aside and work on another. By the time I return to the first picture, I seem to have worked out the problems or I will have devised a whole new approach.

Q: What book do you remember from when you were young?

A: I remember a large format book Bambi book from Walt Disney, Golden Books and Ferdinand the Bull by Monroe Leaf with drawings by Monroe Lawson.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?

A: Oddly enough, I almost never look at other illustrators work in bookstores. There are so many wonderfully contemporary illustrators, I wouldn’t know where to begin.

The artists I’ve always admired are the ones I still admire today, NC Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Maxfield Parrish and Rockwell Kent to name a few.

Q: If you could illustrate any writer’s new work, who would it be?

I’ve always enjoyed John Updike’s writing, so if a manuscript was discovered in his estate that would be a dream job for me.