I guess it’s been a while since I’ve done one of my illustrator breakfast interviews, but here I am, welcoming illustrator A. G. Ford to the breakfast table this morning. It wasn’t that long ago that I featured some art from his most recent illustrated title, Goal! (Candlewick, April 2010), written by Mina Javaherbin. At that time, I invited A. G. to stop by for an interview, and here it is today. I have to say that it was a pleasure to format this interview and get to know a bit better all the styles in which A. G. has worked.
And this might be a 7-Imp first: He goes so far as to share his favorite breakfast recipe with us: “Because I work out often in the mornings,” he told me, “my breakfast…usually consists of a protein shake and a bagel with cream cheese. My shake is actually quite tasty. Here is the recipe, if you would like to try:
1 cup milk
Half of a banana
1 tablespoon of peanut butter
1 scoop of chocolate protein powder (or Nestle chocolate-flavored powder)
2/3 cup of ice cubes
Blend and drink! It’s faaaaaannnntastic!”
A. G. added, “after my work out, I usually grab two sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins and an orange juice from McDonalds. By this time, its probably around 10 a.m., and my breakfast is fully complete!”
Let’s get right to the interview. First, we’ll set the table and get the basics from A. G. before our seven questions over breakfast. I thank him kindly for stopping by.
7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?
A. G.: Illustrator.
7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?
- Barack by Jonah Winter
- Our Children Can Soar by Michelle Cook
- Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson
- First Family by Deborah Hopkinson
- Goal by Mina Javaherbin
- Summer Jackson: All Grown Up by Teresa Harris (set to release Summer 2011)
7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?
A. G.: I use oils mainly but have recently completed a new book using watercolor, pen and ink (Summer Jackson: All Grown Up). It was a very nice change of pace.
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?
A. G.: Well, my first few books were about…President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and the First Family. These books were for readers age 4-7 but actually offered the opportunity for me to illustrate very realistic images. We really wanted to have realistic, colorful oil paintings throughout and wanted the portraits to be accurate as well. This was a really tough challenge, because readers are very familiar with the faces of the First Family. This meant, if my drawing were off, it would be noticeable. My editors/art directors and I were careful to make sure that all portraits and figures were a good representation of the President and his family. This caused for a heavy set of revisions on the art. Me being a perfectionist myself, I would re-draw faces three and four times in order to achieve the portrait I wanted. For these books, the age wasn’t much of a concern, but more so the accuracy of the image.
With Goal, I was a little more loose and fun with the drawings, because the nature of the story was joyful and exciting.
the bucket will tip over and . . .”
For middle reader covers, I have learned I can be more stylized and experiment with backgrounds and colors. Mostly because on a cover you are seeking to create one stunning, eye-catching image; therefore, you reach farther creatively in order to achieve this.
(Candlewick, Fall 2010)
7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?
A. G.: Dallas, Texas. Well, it’s really considered The Colony, a suburb of Dallas. I know what people are thinking: “Texas? Do you ride horses?” Hahaha. No, but there actually is quite a bit of land right in front of my townhome, and yes, there are cows and hay there. It’s kinda cool, though, when I go for my morning jog. They usually stop eating and watch me pass by. I feel me and the cows have an understanding—not sure of what kind—but I would like to think they would miss me if I didn’t run by.
7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?
A. G.: I graduated from The Columbus College of Art and Design in 2007 and moved back to Dallas. I hooked up with my wonderful agent, Steven Malk, and then took a trip to New York and met with every publisher that was willing. I have been working in children’s publishing ever since landing my first book deal with HarperCollins in early 2008!
7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?
7-Imp: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.
A. G.: I have done a few school visits, and I really do enjoy them. It’s interesting to meet the kids and see what questions they have. They usually draw as well, so it’s neat to see their imagination come to life on paper. I will be doing more school visits in the near future.
7-Imp: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.
A. G.: I don’t teach, but I absolutely plan to in the future.
7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?
A. G.: My latest book that I completed is titled Summer Jackson: All Grown Up. It is set to be released in the Summer of 2011. It’s a very cute story written by debut author Teresa Harris. This book really allowed me to loosen up and be a little more expressive, as far as displaying characters’ emotions, especially Summer. The character has a wide range of sassy attitudes, but still remains a sweet lovable character. Drawing Summer offered so many challenges because of those dynamics. Eyebrow lifts, smirky smiles, and a bold personality all needed to be on point to maximize Summer’s personality. I can’t wait for readers to fall in love with this character.
Our table’s set now for our breakfast interview, and we’re ready to dig in to our A. G.-shakes. Of course, I brought some coffee along. Let’s get a bit more detailed, and I thank A. G. again for stopping by.
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?
A. G.: When I first get a manuscript, I start by reading it over and over to really get a feel for what the author is going for. I like to get a sense of the story’s mood and get a good understanding of the message. From that point on, I am constantly brainstorming for creative ways to illustrate the story, whether it be extreme angles, portraits, or color palettes. I start by illustrating the whole book in very small thumbnails (around 2 x 2 inches) and lining them up beside each other to see what the page turns would look like. From that point, I am moving images around, seeing what would work best with the help of my editors/art directors. As we get more and more set on each idea and composition, the small loose thumbnails start forming into larger, tighter drawings. Now we are cooking, and I can go into painting!
2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space.
A. G.: My studio is about the size of a bedroom, with a computer, drawing table, easel, stereo, a shelf full of books, and a big window, so I don’t feel too locked in at times. I stay in my studio for hours and hours, so it’s nice to have a little sun shining through.
3. 7-Imp: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?
4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?
These three guys are illustrators — but not for children’s books. I look at a lot of art, so I could probably make this list last forever.
These three do work in children’s book, and I think they would be great to talk with about books. I’ve talked with Kadir a few times over the phone, but have never met him in person.
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?
A. G.: I absolutely listen to music while I work — always, actually! Right now I am listening to Sade’s new album, “Soldier of Love.” It is amazing. I would recommend it to anyone. If you don’t like this album, you should get new ears — maybe even a new head.
6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
A. G.: Probably that I am extremely goofy! If you meet me in a business setting, you would probably just think that I’m a serious workaholic, which I am. But I’m also probably the silliest person you will ever meet off the clock.
7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.
A. G.: Well…Maybe… Why is art important to make or what makes good art? What is considered bad art? What’s the balance between doing art for a living, and just making art because it should be made? How does making art for a living change your perspective on creating art? I think these questions would be difficult to answer but would certainly be worth asking, and these are the questions I would ask a fellow artist. Oh, no…. I guess I have to answer these now… Hmmmmm…
I think art is important to make, because creativity helps make the world go round. People need inspiration in order to create new ideas, whether it be a new invention or a new sound for music. Without each other, we can’t grow, so we must spread the energy by creating good art, and the energy will be returned to you.
I think bad art would be anything that isn’t honest. Art to me doesn’t have to be done a certain way or be about a certain subject; it just has to be an honest portrayal of what the creator is going for.
I think balancing doing art for a living and just creating art—because I feel that there is an image that needs to be created—is probably my toughest challenge. After finishing a book, sometimes I just want to relax before starting a new project, but the creative side of me wants to continue to create new images. It’s a tough balance, and you don’t want to wear yourself out, but I feel that I should constantly be getting better at what I do and create more and more images so that I can learn more about myself as an artist. Also, when you get a new idea, it’s good to get it out while its fresh and you are really inspired.
7-Imp: What is your favorite word?
A. G.: “Real.” I think this is a tricky word, as far as what people believe is being real or not being real, but this just might be my favorite word. I just like people to be “real” — and honest. That’s usually the best way to go about anything in my eyes.
7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?
A. G.: “Unfortunately.” I am sure this is my least favorite word! This word is usually involved at the beginning of a disappointing statement.
7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
A. G.: Just a solid creative vision or well-thought-out idea.
7-Imp: What turns you off?
A. G.: Anything that is half-done. Or lack in effort.
7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
A. G.: In a 1990’s Fresh Prince of Bel-air kind of way, I use the word “wack” more than anything, honestly. I only curse while I am driving.
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?
A. G.: Cliché answer here: Waves, ocean, and sea gulls. Sounds like vacation.
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?
A. G.: A mother yelling at her child.
7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. G.: Doctor, comedian, or personal trainer.
7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?
A. G.: Preacher. This job carries a little too much weight for me.
7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
A. G.: “You made the team.”
All artwork, sketches, and images used with permission of A. G. Ford. All rights reserved.
The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan. Thanks to Matt, Alfred now lives permanently at 7-Imp and is always waiting to throw the Pivot Questionnaire at folks.