I’ve been a working, published writer for about twenty years now, but I’ve been drawing and making up stories for as long as I can remember.
I grew up outside of Albany, New York and I live not far from there today. I went to college at Alfred University, then graduate school at the University of Buffalo. I have a studio in my home which I share with my wife, Christy, and several animals, including two horses, a dozen chickens, two cats, some fish, and a dog.
When I’m not working on illustration and children’s books, I spend my time teaching as a professor at the Sage College of Albany in Albany, NY, where I’m the chair of the Art + Design Department.
Below are some common questions I get about my work and my books.
Where do you get your ideas?
That’s a tough question. Often, an idea will come to me from something I read, or maybe a movie I saw. It could be from a conversation I had with someone, or from someplace I visited on a trip. (In other words, the ideas can come from just about anywhere.) But most of my ideas seem to have one thing in common: at first they don’t work. Usually, I’ll be very excited about a new idea, and I can’t wait to get started on it. About halfway through something will happen-I’ll lose interest, or maybe confidence-and I’ll put the whole project aside. If the idea was any good, it will reemerge somewhere down the road, maybe in a few weeks, maybe in a few years. Somehow, the truly good ideas always float to the surface eventually.
What do you enjoy drawing the most?
I’ve always liked to draw buildings and machines. Whenever I travel, I bring along a sketchbook. By the time I get home, it’s usually filled with pictures of churches, castles, bridges, and landscapes. I like to try to see if I can create a convincing space on the page.
What tools do you use to draw your pictures?
I like to experiment with different media. Lately, I’ve found that the most successful mix for me is a combination of traditional and digital (computer) techniques. If you check out the sections on my books, you can see the process that was used for each one.
Who are some of your favorite authors and illustrators?
Probably my favorite illustrator is Winsor McCay, an illustrator and cartoonist from the early part of the twentieth century best know for his strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. As far as children’s books go, I grew up reading Daniel Pinkwater and I never stopped. His books had a big influence on me. I really like William Joyce’s paintings, and Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl’s books can’t be beat. Lately I’ve spent some time studying Arnold Lobel’s drawings from his Frog and Toad books and Mercer Mayer’s illustrations for the Great Brain series. There’s so much good work out there.
Did you write or illustrate Harry Potter?
Do you make a ton of money writing children’s books?
Not so far, no. (See the previous question for clarification.)
If you don’t make a ton of money, why do you do it?
Because I really enjoy it. I learn so much every day, and I get to meet the most amazing people. It can be very hard work, but I know there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.