Random Illustrator Feature — Michael Wertz’s
Q & A with Michael Wertz; Or, Fun with Pronouns

h1 March 24th, 2009 by jules

Back when I took part in my half of 7-Imp’s blog identity crisis, I decided to no longer accept review copies of titles for a while. Well, after that while passed, I came to discover a more fine-tuned focus, I guess you could say, here at 7-Imp — for my part. And that would be that I love talking to illustrators, and I love love LOVES me some good picture book art. So, while I no longer accept review copies of novels, I find it hard to turn down—and, it turns out, will gladly accept—advance copies of new picture book titles that I think look exciting. All of that is to say that I keep wanting to say to you all, have you SEEN Betsy Franco’s new collection of concrete poems, A Curious Collection of Cats, illustrated by Michael Wertz? I’ve been wanting to say that for a while. And then I have to stop and remind myself that it’s not out on bookshelves and in libraries yet. But guess what? Yup, you got it: It’ll be out in April from Tricycle Press, and April is wowwheredoesthetimego NEXT WEEK. In honor, then, of National Poetry Month, which will be here oh-so soon, I’m finally going to show you some illustrations from this engaging book.

You may have already read Fuse’s fabulous-as-always review of it:

Thirty-two poems cover every aspect of all things cat. From their tendency to attack feet from within paper bags to their dislike of leashes to their less than brave encounters with the native squirrel population, Franco endeavors to cover this cat related topic by using a variety of different poetic techniques. Complementing her efforts is debut illustrator Michael Wertz who captures perfectly not only the feline physique and manner, but also its attitude, quirks, and personality. Set against a colorful background constructed out of monoprints and Adobe Photoshop, this is one poetry book destined for every library collection.

She nailed it. The poetry’s great; the design of the book is stellar; and Michael’s art is eye-poppingly good. Here’s the big, bad brawl between Lenny and Patch:

This is Michael’s picture-book debut, but he’s already a hard-working, well-established commercial artist. He’s pictured here with the booklet he designed for this Camper Van Beethoven CD. (Incidentally, this June will be the 25th anniversary of the band’s existence. JUMP BACK. Now I officially feel old. This is neither good nor bad. Just an observation.)

Michael creates art for books, designers, ad agencies, musicians, publishers, and movie trailers. I hope he does more children’s books, because his art in Franco’s title, started in pencil and finished using monoprints and Adobe Photoshop (as Fuse points out), completely pulls the reader in and dazzles and enchants. His site does indicate that there may be more in his future. Goody!

Oh, and you’ll see that he mentions below a children’s book about dogs. Not that the below image necessarily comes from that (though it is a sketch from a children’s book, so perhaps so); I just thought we’d give a canine a fair share of the spotlight today, since we opened with cats. This is I Can Tie My Own Shoes:

I’ve got more of Michael’s art below, but first I’m going share Michael’s interview with himself. When I asked if he’d like to say anything about his art work, the new title, etcetera, he sent me this, which pretty much made my day:

* * * * * * *

'Peace Flower'; monoprint; 2008Wertz: Hi, Michael. Nice to see you. You’re looking good!

Wertz: Hi there. Thanks. This mirror is a tad distorted, but I *do* look good today, don’t you? My hair is slightly less crazy looking than usual. Looks like you’re going for a Wayne from the Flaming Lips look.

Wertz: Yes. Pronouns are confusing. What are you up to these days? And is it appropriate for children?

Wertz: A lot, and probably not. But let’s move on.

Wertz: A lot?

Wertz: I have a children’s book out now, hot off the presses. It’s called A Curious Collection of Cats, and it was written by Betsy Franco and published by the kind folks at Tricycle Press. I’m working on some designs for sippy cups for kids for the folks at Camelbak, and some book covers for the the Developmental Studies Center. I’m also producing a hand-printed book with my friend Carolee at the San Francisco Center for the Book.

Wertz: Sounds fun. What’s your favorite kind of work to do?

Wertz: I’m enjoying all of it. I love a variety of mediums, a variety of styles and jobs. Right out of art school, I got very interested in screen printing, and that has informed a lot of my work. I wish I could do all my work as silk screened prints, but tight deadlines don’t really allow for it. I love flat color, and I love the endless possibilities that silk-screening provides. I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here, and that there’s lots more to discover. I love pulling paint, and making multiples so I can give them as gifts (and make a bit of extra cash).

Jules interrupts Michael’s interview with Michael to say: Here is Michael in his silk screening studio, creating posters for the 2008 year-end Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven shows:

I started out working in pastel, and I’ve since moved on to more computer work. The work for the cat book uses monoprint, pencil, and computer.

Wertz: What was the work flow for the cat book like?

'Flower Hairdo'; monoprint on paperWertz: I generally start with a pencil drawing, scan it in, and work any revisions with tracing paper or computer. I do a monoprint using water based inks, scan that in, and use that as texture. I do a color sketch, send that to the client, then finish the illustration using the monoprint and photoshop.

Wertz: I’m fascinating. Enough about my work. I want to hear more about *my* work. What are your influences?

Wertz: My first kids book (that was given to me) was a book called Kitten Nell. Flat color and great line work. I loved The Giving Tree: I looked at that book a lot when I was young. The original illustrations for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are great: they’re so scratchy and weird-looking. My mother decorated my room when I was young with Peter Max prints and sheets.

Wertz: Which artists make you happy?

Wertz: Lynda Barry. Keri Smith. Leigh Wells. Ward Schumaker. Vivienne Flesher. Marcos Sorensen. Isabel Samaras. Robert Rauschenberg. Maira Kalman. Rex Ray. Jim Winters. Rama Hughes. Luc Latulippe. Mats!?! Dave Warnke. Shepard Fairey. Adam McCauley. Calef Brown. Rhode Montijo. Sara Fanelli. Esther Pearl Watson and Mark Todd. Maurice Vellekoop. The Little Friends of Printmaking. Dan McCarthy. Eric White. Robert Shadbolt. Brian Biggs. Edwin Fotheringham. Sarajo Frieden. Alison Bechdel. Phranc. Gronk. Lloyd Dangle. Gary Panter (and Lynda Barry) were the first artists I really loved. I saw their work and thought, “hey, I want to do that.”

'Go Go Dancers'; monoprint and computer

Wertz: You’re a dog owner, aren’t you?

Wertz: I am a friend to all furry beasts, and that includes cats. Humans are pretty cool, too. We have a pit mix named Miss Olive whom we love very much. She isn’t terribly good with cats. I wrote a kids book about dogs, and I’m in the middle of pitching it right now. I feel like I love cats more now that I’ve finished the book. I surrounded my self with cat images from books and magazines. If you see me in the studio, it looks like me scribbling away surrounded by towering skyscrapers of open books and piles of photographs. I’m like the Yerba Buena Center surrounded by downtown San Francisco.

Wertz: What?

Wertz: Sorry. Nothing. Too much caffeine.

Wertz: Hey, me, thanks for talking with me, and I hope I keep on keepin’ on.

Wertz: I’ll do your best.

* * * * * * *

Hey, you. Thanks for talking to you, and I hope I keep on keepin’ on, too. As well as you. And oh yeah, them.

We’ll close with three more pieces from Michael. Oh, and don’t forget: Michael’s site; Michael’s blog; Michael’s flickr photos. Good stuff.


Bucking Bronco; monoprint on paper


Stage a Play; from Arne Johnson’s and Karen Macklin’s Indie Girl: From Starting a Band to Launching a Fashion Company, Nine Ways to Turn Your Creative Talent Into Reality (Orange Avenue Publishing, 2008)

* * * * * * *

Cat images: Reprinted with permission from A Curious Collection of Cats by Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz. Text copyright © 2009 by Betsy Franco, illustrations copyright © 2009 by Michael Wertz, Tricycle Press, Berkeley, CA. www.tenspeed.com.

All other images courtesy of Michael Wertz. As he puts it at his site, “no stealing. all images © michael wertz. mkay? mkay.”

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10 comments to “Random Illustrator Feature — Michael Wertz’s
Q & A with Michael Wertz; Or, Fun with Pronouns”

  1. Go ahead, lick your neck. Prove me wrong. HAH! That book looks like such fun! As I said when we were just discussing the POETRY, the artwork has such life and movement in it that it makes the words sing louder. I really love the color. And that floral beehive is THE BEST.

    It took me… oh, a minute. A couple of minutes, really, to get that Mr. Wertz was interviewing himself. And then I laughed and laughed. :) Ah, makes me homesick. Another proudly insane member of the SF Bay Area.

    Great stuff.


  2. [...] jules over at seven impossible things before breakfast put a most fabulous interview together with me about a curious collection of cats. well, i kind [...]


  3. “Enough about my work. I want to hear more about *my* work.”

    Doesn’t that interview make you wish Michael had more books out there?


  4. Too freakin’ cool. These interviews are outrageous, gals. Love, love, love the art style, and that printing video was great too.


  5. MEE–OOOWW!

    Michael is the cat’s pajamas!! How much do I love Rascal’s Tongue? And the dog with sneakers?

    The new poetry book looks fabulous. The cover art alone makes me want to dive in. Thanks for this feature :) .


  6. I LOVE that bucking bronco piece. And I love Betsy Franco, too. Can’t wait to see her new book!

    Thanks for the very funny self-interview!


  7. Very funny interview – thanks so much. Loved seeing his whole range of artwork too. THANKS! Can’t wait to share this book with our cat-loving kiddos.


  8. [...] http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=1611 [...]


  9. I love the video! Thanks a lot for sharing.


  10. [...] illustrator Michael Wertz, this funny guy, who interviewed himself here at 7-Imp in 2009 and blatantly disregarded the usual rules for [...]


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