Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Randy Cecil

h1 March 12th, 2013 by jules

Though he usually eats a fairly healthy breakfast, he tells me, today author/illustrator Randy Cecil, pictured here with Lucy, is joining me for waffles and coffee. I see that I have the ability to make people downright indulge at the breakfast table. Now, where is that syrup? Mwahahahaha … ha … ha … [Evil laugh … fading … out.]

I am pleased Randy is visiting, as I’ve enjoyed his picture books over the years—he’s illustrated over twenty thus far—especially 2008’s Duck. (Oh! Duck! “It snowed so much, Duck almost disappeared.” Oh, hell. Where are my tissues? What a beautiful story it is.) And just last year (when Randy and I originally started talking about this interview, but life has a habit of getting in the way of blogging), he illustrated Barbara Joosse’s Lovabye Dragon from Candlewick Press (all but one of his books have been via Candlewick), which I also enjoyed. And so did the professional reviewers. “What’s not to like?” wrote Pamela Paul last Fall in the New York Times, calling it “one of a welcome wave of books that let girls play with beasts that once kept company solely with boys.” Paul adds:

The book is bathed like a romance in moody lavenders and deep grayish blues, and its bug-eyed dragon is more adorable than fearsome. Randy Cecil…knows how to make even scaly creatures look winsome, and if his oddly coiffed princess is a bit on the homely side, well, that’s kind of a nice change of pace too.

Randy’s style is all his own, “his simple forms…balanced by sophisticated textures and restrained colors” (Publishers Weekly). He’s both written and illustrated many of his own books, but he’s also worked with a handful of talented authors, as you’ll see below. Let’s get to it, and I thank Randy for visiting. As the coffee brews and we set the table, I’ll get the basics before our seven questions over breakfast.

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Randy: Illustrator. And sometimes author/illustrator.

“Once there was a girl / an all-alone girl / in her own little bed / in her own little room / in her own little castle / who didn’t have / a dragon / for a friend.”
— Spread from Barbara Joosse’s
Lovabye Dragon (Candlewick, 2012)
(Click to enlarge spread)

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?

Randy: I have illustrated twenty-two books, four of which I wrote.

The last five are:

“They were flying! Sort of. Duckling was flying, but actually they were sinking more than they were flying. Duck was just too heavy for Duckling. As they sank lower
and lower, Duck realized what she had to do.”
— Spread from
Duck (Candlewick, 2008)
(Click to enlarge spread)

“‘But you are a dinosaur,’ Madame Lucille pointed out.
‘True,’ Brontorina replied. ‘But in my heart I am a ballerina.'”
— Spread from James Howe’s
(Candlewick, 2010)

(Click to enlarge spread)

[Ed. Note: To see a comprehensive bibliography, visit this page of Randy’s site.]

Jules: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Randy: For the last decade or more, I have worked in oil on paper, although Horsefly and Honeybee also includes some photo collage.

Illustrations from Horsefly and Honeybee (Henry Holt, 2012)
(Click to enlarge spread)

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Randy: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. And after some time spent living in Los Angeles, Providence, and New York, I live here again now.

Randy and his brother in front of their childhood home; Randy is on the right.

Jules: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Randy: During my junior year at Rhode Island School of Design, I applied for a summer internship with every children’s publishing company in New York. Only two companies responded. One offered me an unpaid internship, and the other (Henry Holt and Co.) offered a paid internship. I took the job with Holt and was extremely lucky that I had a bunch of friends who had recently moved to New York, who were kind enough to let me squeeze into their apartment.

So, I spent the summer making photocopies of all the incoming art, and ruling up mechanicals, and waxing and pasting art and text. (Computers were only just starting to creep into the designers’ offices.) It was an amazing experience to see publishing from behind the scenes.

Then I returned to school and around the time I graduated, Holt offered me my first book, [Emilie Poulsson’s] Baby’s Breakfast. And they also offered me my old job back as a freelance designer.

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


“We look in the woods—TROMP! STOMP! TROMP! STOMP!
the treesy-breezy, tilty-stilty, wobbly-knobbly woods.”
— Spread from Phyllis Root’s
Looking for a Moose (Candlewick, 2006)
(Click to enlarge spread)

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the coffee’s brewed, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Randy again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: 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?

Randy: I am always tinkering with my approach, but most often I start by sketching out the whole book in small thumbnail sketches, just to figure out the overall flow and pacing of the book, where the page breaks will be, and the composition of each spread in the most general sense.

Sketches from James Howe’s Brontorina (Candlewick, 2010)
(Click each image to enlarge)

When I feel good about that, I sketch out the whole book a little more clearly at about 50% scale, still not worrying about details at all. And I actually cut up the manuscript and tape the text in place onto the sketches.

(Click to enlarge)

From there, I talk with the designer and editor, as I increase the scale and the level of detail with each successive draft. Eventually, I end up with fairly detailed sketches, at 100% scale, ready to be painted.

“…and he wraps his tail around her / so gently, all around her.”
Sketches from
Lovabye Dragon (Candlewick, 2012)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Randy: My studio is not the most exciting thing to look at. If I were not an illustrator, I would call it my dining room. But the light is good, and I like working on a large, flat surface. So, really this set up is ideal for me.

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Randy: I grew up in an extraordinary time for picture books. I loved Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey, William Steig, Steven Kellogg, Mercer Mayer, and many, many more.

I actually wrote letters to Uri Shulevitz [pictured below] and Joel Schick (two more of my illustration heroes), and they both wrote back. That was sort of an amazing thing — to consider that these were real people out there in the world creating these books.

(Click to enlarge)

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Randy: I will forfeit one guest if, instead, I can have coffee with long-deceased illustrators Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac.

“In those days, the line for the carousel seemed to go on forever.
All the children wanted to ride on Gator, Duck, or the Golden Fish.”
— Spread from
Gator (Candlewick, 2007)

“Hey, let’s wokka-wokka / shimmy-shake and shokka-shokka! /
Everybody dance now in your / shiny shoes and socka-socka. /
You can always wokka / in your own wokka way. /
Won’t you come out with me / on this fine old wokka day?”
— Spread from Elizabeth Bluemle’s
How Do You Wokka-Wokka? (Candlewick, 2009)
(Click to enlarge spread)

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

Randy: I wish I could listen to music while I work. But I have come to accept that I do better without it. And once I start to concentrate, I tune out things like music anyway.

So, instead, I have started a habit of listening to a song or two every morning before I start working, different songs for each book, to kind of point me in the right direction. For one book, I listened to “God Only Knows” and “Heroes and Villains” by The Beach Boys. And for another, I listened to “Staralfur” and “Sigur 4” by Sigur Rós. (My musical taste is all over the place.)

“Here’s to the fish! The Bubble People! Fish! …”
— Spread from David Elliott’s
And Here’s to You! (Candlewick, 2004)
(Click to enlarge spread)

“In the car, he likes the windows down and a breeze on his face.”
— Spread from Elizabeth Bluemle’s
My Father the Dog (Candlewick, 2006)
(Click to enlarge spread)

30 is three crabs… or ten people and a crab.”
— Spread from April Pulley Sayre’s and Jeff Sayre’s
One Is a Snail, Ten Is a Crab (Candlewick, 2003)
(Click to enlarge spread)

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Randy: As a child, the books I owned were chosen mostly by my dog. I checked the books I liked out of the library, but I only got to keep the ones my dog chewed up. Fortunately for me, my dog chewed up some amazing books.

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

Randy: I am always wishing interviewers would ask: “Would you tell me about your dog?”

“Well, sure,” I would say.

Her name is Lucy. I tried for days to get a photograph of her sprawled out on the floor, half asleep and looking a lot like the dragon in its cave in Lovabye Dragon. She waits very patiently like that while I work. But the moment I move to clean my brush (or, it turns out, reach for my camera), she leaps up, excited, and ready to go out and play.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Randy: “Nevertheless.”

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Randy: “Irreparable.”

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Randy: I like things that are of a high level of quality, while also being highly original.

Jules: What turns you off?

Randy: Sentimental television commercials.

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

Randy: Picture book illustrators never curse.

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Randy: The thump of a needle falling on a record.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Randy: The sound a heavy pot makes when I accidentally knock it against the sink.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Randy: I have never really considered doing anything else very seriously, although at times when I have been really stressed, I have fantasized about becoming a ceramicist.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Randy: I was a waiter once for about a month. I hope I don’t ever have to do that again.

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

Randy: “Well done. You may return as a sea otter.”

* * * * * * *

DUCK. Copyright © 2008 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

GATOR. Copyright © 2007 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

AND HERE’S TO YOU. Text copyright © 2004 by David Elliott. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

ONE IS A SNAIL, TEN IS A CRAB. Text copyright © 2003 by April Pulley Sayre & Jeff Sayre. Illustrations copyright © 2003 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

MY FATHER THE DOG. Text copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Bluemle. Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

LOOKING FOR A MOOSE. Text copyright © 2006 by Phyllis Root. Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

HOW DO YOU WOKKA-WOKKA?. Text copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Bluemle. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

BRONTORINA. Text copyright © 2010 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

LOVABYE DRAGON. Text copyright © 2012 by Barbara Joosse. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

All other artwork and images used with permission of Randy Cecil.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.

15 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Randy Cecil”

  1. I love Cecil’s style & thanks for the “behind the scenes” look at his sketches and info… I love that his studio is in his dining room 🙂 great post (as always), thanks!

  2. First, Jules, I have to say your blog has opened up a whole new world to me. I love these interviews giving we lovers of picture books the inside scoop. Lovable Dragon is one of my favorite books. I really enjoyed seeing the sketches. I think I need to read a copy of Duck now. Thanks to you both!

  3. Okay, clearly Daylight Savings Time has addled my brain. I meant to say Lovabye Dragon. Sheesh!

  4. If you read Duck, Margie, come back and talk to me — after you’ve wiped your eyes for about five minutes. So good, that book. And thank you for the very nice blog compliment. People like Randy come along and make 7-Imp look good, sharing all kinds of art like that. I’m so glad he visited.

  5. Awesome interview! I love this blog so much and its because of your ability to showcase and get the back story of artists & writers like Cecil!! Thanks for this post! It has inspired my day!

  6. Oho, another illustrator who can’t work with music. I feel so much better. It always galls me that I can’t have, like, a soundtrack to anything (but God Only Knows is going to be in my head for the rest of the day).

    I love the movement and the color of these illustrations, and the somehow cute-but-not-cutesy face/body language pairing on the characters (and the DUCK). I also love the fact that the illustrator/author himself has such humility and character in his smile… and then you read down and see “twenty-two books.” And he seems just very unassuming about this, what most of us would call the trappings of fairly decent success!

    We should all be so lucky, eh? Thanks for another great behind-the-scenes look, Jules.

  7. Hello, Randy and Lucy! Nice to meet you both.

    Randy, kudos for dancing characters, for dragons, for sea otters, and for appreciating the thump of a needle falling on a record. YES.

  8. Thank you for your great blog, and another very good interview. As an aspiring book illustrator, it is helpful and fun to read about process, but most of all for me to see the process.

    I like thumbnails more than finished pages, because you see more clearly into the original idea of the creator.

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed this – thanks very much. Yet another interesting, really likable person doing such fun art.

  10. Thanks, all! And thanks for the feedback, Bob! So good to hear.

  11. I ADORE Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast. ADORE! and this interview was one of the best! — I feel like I know Randy Cecil just a bit now, which is awesome. I LOVED his comment to the final question, about God. Perfect.
    Keep doing what you do, you’all. You do it well!

  12. Thanks, Anne!

  13. Randy, thanks for telling us about your dog, Lucy.

  14. […] an elephantillion”(Click to enlarge spread)   Over at Kirkus today, I’ve got Randy Cecil’s Lucy (Candlewick, August 2016) on the […]

  15. […] week, I wrote here about Randy Cecil’s Lucy (Candlewick, August 2016), and I’m following up with some art […]

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