Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Frank Dormer

h1 April 30th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

You know what’s great? Waking up and finding Frank Dormer in your kitchen. He’s tiptoe-ing around, so as not to disturb you in your pre-caffeinated state. He’s already put the Pop Tarts in the toaster, and has the kettle just about ready to whistle. So thoughtful. So generous. So… GAH!!! DUDE!!! Is that… Is that a frog under my napkin?!?

Very funny, Frank. What are you, like, nine?

But okay, now that we’ve peeled ourselves off the ceiling, we can admit that that’s what we like about him. There’s a sly, youthful quality to his illustrations. There’s a pronounced wit in the way he wields his pen and paintbrush. He’s a little offbeat, a little funky… and he’s swimming in talent.

He is also very generous. Last year, completely out of the blue, he created for us this fabulous beloved original illustration of the tea party scene from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland after our Sunday-kicks illustrator feature.

We LOVE it so much, we gave it a page of its own.

Not that we expect this kind of thing, people. It’s not like we’re just handing out interviews to anyone who throws down a sketch for us. But it is terribly cool, and we were terribly flattered.

Anyhoo, how about we get down to breakfast? Let’s see what other surprises Mr. Dormer has in store for us…

photo taken by Ernest von Rosen, www.amgmedia.comAnd what is Frank’s breakfast of choice? “I have three boys. Whatever is left when they are done. But I MUST have tea.” So, though it pains us to not include the coffee-cup image, we’ll do it for—and have some tea with—Frank. So, let’s get started. While we’re setting the table, let’s get the basics from Frank:

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Frank: I prefer “Daddy,” but in the interests of not confusing the reader, illustrator. In 2010, I will be christened authorillustrator.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

Frank: I really don’t date books. There is nothing wrong with dating books, I just find them flat. Besides, my wife would KILL me.

{Ed. Note: Okay, we’ve got a wise guy on our hands here. Because we’re fans, we will list them for you:

Not So Tall for Six by Dianna Hutts Aston (Charlesbridge, February 2008) — reviewed here at 7-Imp (really, have you seen this wonderful book yet?);

Aggie and Ben: Three Stories by Lori Ries (Charlesbridge, 2006) — reviewed here.}

Illustration from Dianna Hutta Aston’s Not So Tall for Six; Charlesbridge; February 2008

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

Frank: Good old pen and ink with watercolor.

7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Frank: I have only illustrated picture books so far. Anything over thirty-two pages and I get confused.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Frank: East coast. Near the water. Not ON the water, like some dweebs say.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

Frank: Very dervish-like. Is that too brief? Is that even a word?!?

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?

Frank: frank w dormer dot com.

{Ed. Note: This illustration pictured here is currently on the home page of Frank’s site. See why we love him?}

7-Imp: If you do school visits, can you tell us what they’re like?

Frank: I visit school daily. I go into my room and some children come in and we play with art materials, then they go home, then I go home. I would visit other schools, but my principal won’t let me. Meany.

7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell us how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Frank: In case you didn’t get the above, I teach art to kindergarten through 4th grade students. Their work rocks. I wish I could draw with such simplicity. Someday I might bag doing the illustrations myself, and let my students do it.

{Ed. Note: Here are some fabulous thoughts on children’s art from Mr. Dormer himself over at the Charlesbridge blog, Unabridged, which Jules found after super-sleuthing. Frank writes:

Children’s art is simple, uncluttered, and all about them. How can you not love it? In their art one can find out many things about how they feel about someone, what is important to them. It’s all there.

Love it. And, as that post points out, here is where Frank features the art work of his students.}

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Frank: I have Supersister by Beth Cadena, A Hen for Moishe Pippek by Aubrey Davis, and Good Dog, Aggie by Lori Ries. My own book, Socksquatch, will be out in 2010.

Study for A Hen For Moishe Pippek,
slotted for a 2009 publication

From Dianna Hutta Aston’s Not So Tall for Six; Charlesbridge; February 2008

* * *

Okay, the table’s set, and we’re ready to sit down and talk more specifics over coffee with Frank (ergh, we mean tea) — and Pivot him. Of course we have to Pivot him. Duck, Frank! You’re gonna be Pivoted!

Wait, we’re sorry. We just can’t go without coffee in the morning. Here we go. Ahhh. That’s better. Someone, get the cream and sugar and this. Ooo, and a drop of this would be nice. Now we’re set. Onwards…

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Frank: Once I get a book to illustrate, I immediately go out to cut the lawn or fold some laundry. It’s my time to think, so I try to look productive. I basically daydream. I was the kid in school with his eyes out the window during algebra. I honestly have no idea where or when the images will start. Hopefully not at 3 a.m. I believe that much of what I do as an illustrator is psychology. What kind of main character is this? Where did they grow up? Do they like Pop Tarts? (I LOVE Pop Tarts.) I start a sketchbook for each book and use it to work out composition and character design. I also try to keep it simple. That goes for the art, the composition, and the background. I usually create my final art from very loose doodles copied out of the sketchbooks. I like to work fast and play LOUD music. Something raucous.

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Frank: It’s more of a closet, really. I plan on overhauling the studio this summer. Until then, my books are littered all over the floor, and my Mac is stacked on one of those Ikea desks made to hold a gerbil cage and not much else. I have many architect friends who have donated plans. Now I have to move my #@& and get going.

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Frank: Oh, boy. This question is embarrassing. Somehow I started off life with a large collection of children’s dictionaries in my room. What were my parents thinking! Does anyone actually read dictionaries? Needless to say, I am a product of my surroundings. To wit; I was a kid, I needed to occupy myself, and I drew pictures to do that. I liked that I could start with a blank piece of paper and create a whole world. Some time later I discovered comic books. THAT changed me profoundly. To tell a story with a sequence of pictures. Neat stuff when you are a visual person. I also have to say that EVERY SATURDAY MORNING I WATCHED AS MANY WARNER BROTHERS CARTOONS AS I COULD. As a young adult my parents always had this big book that you could use to pulverize melons with. Turns out it was of Norman Rockwell. That gave me visual food for thought. And it made a great paperweight. I also made scads of balsa wood replicas of the Millenium Falcon and Star Destroyers. Guess you didn’t need to know that . . .

Bugboy, “from a poster I designed
based on the title, Take Flight

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Frank: That guy who drew in those picture dictionaries! Boy, would I tell him a thing or two!! Of course he may not be alive. The other two? Pete de Sève. Does he do children’s books? I’m sinking fast, I know it. Should I confess now that I don’t really look at other illustrators much? Sorry. Wait! That pigeon guy, what’s his name? Mo-something. Yeah, that’s it. Mo. Just Mo. So, just to recap:


Pete de Sève.

That guy who may be dead who did illustrations in children’s dictionaries.

(Whew, made it.)

Wait! Can I add another? Please! Pretty please! I’m going to anyway.

Lisbeth Zwerger.

From Lori Ries’ Good Dog, Aggie; Charlesbridge; Release date: 2009

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Frank: I’ve listened to R.E.M. since college. I couldn’t draw a thing without a little R.E.M. Once I get up to final art, Van Halen, or something of similar volume. Billy Joel.

one of Frank's creations6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Frank: I read. I don’t TV.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Frank: How do I get to daydream all day and call it work? Beats me. I’m still trying to convince people to pay me for it . . .

The Pivot Questionnaire

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Frank: “Daddy.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Frank: “Math.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Frank: Blank paper.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Frank: Lined paper.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Frank: “Rats.” What can I say? I am a product of Peanuts.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Frank: Silence. Is that a sound?

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Frank: Truck horns.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Frank: Musician.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Frank: Professional Pole Vaulter.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Frank: “Thank ME you’re here. We needed someone to wake this place up.” (God wouldn’t say “God.” He would say “ME,” right?)

16 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Frank Dormer”

  1. Somehow, you’ve got to expect the frog under the napkin trick…

    I love his use of color — the fact that people’s faces can be blue, or the sky a lovely watercolor green is just perfect — more in tune with mood than fact, and it works SO WELL. My very favorite book is still Not So Tall for Six; Kylie Bell is almost bigger than her daddy, and it works so well ’cause she’s Brave. And I love their cowboy hats! FUN interview! Thanks, grrrlz!

  2. Rats! I really didn’t want this interview to end. Can’t you lure him back with another PopTart?

    And Socksquatch? Really? I am so there.

  3. Thanks, guys. I don’t know about you all, but I want there to be an entire book around the illustration of the girl sleeping in the dragon’s mouth.

  4. Such a funny interview!

  5. That. Was. Hilarious! I laughed out loud soooo many times. I must get some of his books immediately. Lovely illustrations.

  6. Man do I love this guy — and this interview!Tea drinker, yay!

  7. How can you not love a man whose favorite word is Daddy and also likes Van Halen and Billy Joel played LOUD!

  8. Oooo… I got to see the “Take Flight” poster live at the NESCBWI conference– and Frank won top prize! Awesome work, awesome interview…

  9. […] guess what? Anyone else remember when illustrator Frank Dormer created a Mad Tea Party image specifically for us and how ga-ga we were over it? We promptly put it […]

  10. […] Frank Dormer (interviewed April 30): “Once I get a book to illustrate, I immediately go out to cut the lawn or fold some […]

  11. […] colors. I raved about them at our company party to a watercolor artist we’d begun working with, Frank Dormer. He got some, and you can see the difference in his work if you compare his first book, Aggie and […]

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this. No wonder your Dad gave me that little bookmark with Aggie & Ben at the top. I can see that you have his sense of humor–he keeps us laughing on Friday mornings. Sorry it took me so long to get around to visiting this site. Best of luck with future projects.

  13. […] else seen Frank W. Dormer’s newest picture book, The Obstinate Pen (Henry Holt, April 2010)? It’s funny stuff, and […]

  14. I’d like to follow your blog on facebook. Is there a way to do that?

  15. Beth, yes, I’m under “Julie Walker Danielson” and use Facebook to primarily post about children’s lit-related stuff.

  16. […] It’s a pleasure to have Frank Dormer share some images here today from Firefighter Duckies! (Atheneum), a picture book published in May […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact Thanks.