Since I'm the artist, this page is about me.
Most of the factual information is available here in a more
resume like format. This page is of a more general nature. The text is an
abridged version of the text that is going to be included in an upcoming edition of Something
About the Author, a reference series aimed at young people.
How I Got Started
I was born in Santa Clara, California on August 20th,
1968, in what is now known as Silicon Valley. I grew up near the San Francisco Bay
in a town called Fremont and still live in the Bay Area.
According to my parents, I was drawing while still in a highchair.
In nursery school, I was the one kid who didnt want to go around to all the
different "activity stations" and do anything else; I just wanted to stay at the
easels and draw. This was not a popular decision. Thankfully, my mother supported my
decision and ignored the other parents, and their desire to see me do what all the other
kids were doing.
Growing up I was drawing all the time. My dad worked in real estate
in the 70s and used to bring home the old listings which had been primitively
photocopied on one side but were blank on the other side. I used the white side for my
drawings and would go through reams and reams of these old listings. For the longest time
I could never understand why they put all that other garbage on the "back" of MY
paper. Looking back on my childhood drawings now can get me really depressed, especially
when I see what kind of house you could buy in 1975 with $60,000!
My First Book
My first recorded childrens book, "The Fishing Trip"
starring my dad, was dictated to my mother, who carefully printed the text underneath each
of my drawings. (I was not writing at this point) When the judge puts him in jail because
hes caught fish over the legal limit, he is forced to eat all the fish and ends up
as "one fat fisherman." Readers who didnt like the story could always turn
the book over and find choice real estate in the mid-$50,000's.
I was an avid fan of comic books and cartooning in general as a kid.
Id copy the characters from the newspaper strips (Hagar the Horrible, Family Circus,
Beetle Bailey) and write and draw original comic books with my friends. During high school
I set out to get a job in comics and through many critiques and talking to many
professionals I slowly began to learn about drawing. This in turn led to learning about
painting, and then illustration during a brief year at San Jose State University.
Later, at Art Center College of Design, I was fortunate to have
David Shannon as an instructor for a childrens book illustration class. Over the
years hes been an invaluable resource for information about the industry. While at
the time, I didnt plan on pursuing childrens books full time, being able to
call Dave when I had a question has been a tremendous help.
After graduating from Art Center College of Design, I began
illustrating book jackets, several of which were for the Young Adult genre. The art
directors for those books, and other art directors in the industry saw those jackets and
began to offer me my first manuscripts.
When illustrating a book, my first concern is just to
communicate the story in a compelling way, while keeping myself entertained and
challenged. Ultimately of course, I have to pay my bills, so I hope I do a good job, and
people like the books, buy the books, and keep me from having to get a real job!
My books tend to take a while to complete. Thumbnailing out the
manuscript or story is probably the part I enjoy the most. Thats where the
"flashes of inspiration" and such occur for me. The actual production of the
finished artwork is more of a mechanical process and can be frustrating at times because
you want sixteen perfect paintings at the end of it all which is never going to happen. In
your head, the pictures are always perfect, but you do the best you can and resolve to
make your next book absolutely perfect. Its a useful and marvelous
I like to "putter" through my books, letting the ideas
come to the surface in their own time, letting the book "grow" very naturally.
Im convinced that my brain works on the book subconsciously all the time, and passes
good ideas along when it has one ready.
With Right Here On This Spot, I was trying to create a book where the
visuals echoed the feeling I get from archaeology. Layers and layers of information, some
of it barely discernible or only partially visible. Clues, juxtapositions, the context of
the information, all communicate and clarify your understanding, but in a very subtle way.
I wanted my book to convey the narrative in a similarly indirect way.
For The Stone Fey, a storybook, I felt the
illustrations functioned more to illuminate the text rather than explain it. The
information was already there, my illustrations were more of a "soundtrack" to
accompany the story. It was still enjoyable, but because it didnt need to be
sequential, it wasnt as interesting a challenge as a picture book.
In On Christmas Eve, (to be released Fall
challenge was to accurately reflect the mood of the story, visually, as the boys
hopes ride the emotional roller-coaster that is his Christmas Eve.
My major influences are hard to pin down. My early
training was very traditional, which provided technical skills, and my later training was
very contemporary, which had a major influence on my thinking process. I dont feel
that technically, Ive been very influenced at all by any one artist. I cant
point to any artist and say "He was the one!" Where I can spot major influences
are in less obvious areas. Ive always been inspired, and tried to emulate the
behavior of artists I respect. Michelangelo, Rodin, Rembrandt, Mucha, and several others;
even contemporary musicians like Lyle Lovett and Peter Gabriel. Im impressed by how
they think, how they work with metaphors, their discipline, and their honest pursuit of
their respective crafts. Thats how Ive been influenced the most. One of my
favorite things to do is to hear artists or scientists or creative individuals of any kind
talk about their work. It never fails to fascinate and inspire me.
The contemporaries whose work I love to look at are the
late Shel Silverstein, Kevin Henke, and the late Crockett Johnson. Despite the appearance
of my work, the childrens books I like the best are the simpler humorous ones.
Again, its how they think that gets me. How a phrase will have a double meaning or
how the simplest addition to the illustration will foreshadow another event on the next
page. I think too often, people are "seduced" by a complicated illustrations,
and ignore or overlook the clumsiness with which they work within a given story.
Thats not to say that I believe complicated or realistic illustrations are
inappropriate for childrens books, not at all; but the illustrations need to serve
the story in the way that the authors mentioned above manage to, when theyre doing
their best work. A pretty picture just isnt good enough by itself.
Advice to aspiring
I believe the most influential factor on a persons
career is their education. Nothing else even comes close. I dont necessarily mean
formal education. I mean looking at people who are doing something at a very high level,
and studying what they do. As important as Art Center was to my education, I still believe
my earlier self-directed studies were what made Art Center as worthwhile as it was for me,
and laid the groundwork for my career. I would tell a prospective artist/author to find
people whose work you believe is truly amazing; then learn all you can about it by