Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeremy Holmes

h1 April 8th, 2014 by jules

I’m pleased to welcome illustrator Jeremy Holmes to 7-Imp this morning for breakfast. Back in 2010, I wrote about Jeremy’s delightfully creepy and beautifully bizarre adaptation (Chronicle Books, 2009) of the mother of all cumulative children’s folk songs, “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” (complete with a slip cover and closing eyes on the lady’s head when she kicks the bucket). This book went on to win him a Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima Award.

And it’s this Old Lady, which Jeremy notes at his site, who opened his eyes to the “imaginative and playful world of the picture book” (from primarily the world of graphic design, that is).

Jeremy’s here today to talk about his road to publication and what’s on his plate now — and he shares lots of art, especially from his latest illustrated book, J. Patrick Lewis’ and Douglas Florian’s Poem-mobiles (Schwartz and Wade, January 2014). Fitting, since it’s National Poetry Month. Rah!

I’m very good with Jeremy’s favorite breakfast: English muffins toasted with a smear of salted butter; one egg over hard, heavily peppered; “some pancetta, if ya’ got it, but Canadian bacon will do in a pinch”; a small glass of OJ; and a cup of strong, slightly creamed and sweetened coffee. (He got the coffee JUST RIGHT!)

I thank him for visiting. Without further ado …

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jeremy: I’m an illustrator trying to author.

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


Jules: What is your usual medium?

Jeremy: My medium-of-choice is still up for debate. Currently, I’m working with pencil, charcoal, watercolor, digital color, and paper collage. Maybe I should list my non-preferred mediums? But I’m not sure I have any. Wait … I know. I’d never make anything using Limburger cheese.

[Ed. Note: All of the pencil drawings immediately below are from J. Patrick Lewis’ and Douglas Florian’s Poem-mobiles.]

Drawing the “Caterpillar Cab” spread
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The “Jurassic Park(ing)” spread
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The “Balloon Car” spread
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The “Bathtub Car” spread
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Drawings for the “Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow” spread
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The “Dragonwagon” spread
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The “High-Heel Car” spread
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Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Jeremy: My family and I live in a quaint little 1920s’ bungalow just outside of Philadelphia, PA.


“Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow” and “Mini-Mini-Car”

“Fish Car” and “Eel-ectric Car”

“Caterpillar Cab”

“The Love Car”

“The Supersonic Ionic Car”

Above: Final spreads from Poem-mobiles (Schwartz & Wade, January 2014)
(Click each spread to enlarge)

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

Jeremy: While in grad school, I took a publication class with the uber-talented designer Paul Kepple of Headcase Design, during which I created my first children’s book, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. Once graduated, The Old Lady and I set out into the great wide world of publishing to see if anyone would have interest in making her. Everyone we met with revered the concept, but because of her complicated construction, no one felt she could be built for profit. So I sat her up on a shelf and began illustrating anything and everything that knocked at my door. Before I knew it, I was an editorial illustrator creating weekly assignments for the New York Times, Wired magazine, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and CNN. Not exactly what I set out to do, but it paid the bills, and I was satisfied (for now) with the level of work being demanded by my clients.

I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. PERHAPS SHE’LL DIE.”
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Then out of the blue, I received a call from Victoria Rock of Chronicle Books. She had come across the elaborate marketing piece I had created for The Old Lady three years ago (yes, three years had passed) and wondered if I would send my one-of-a-kind mockup of The Old Lady out to her. They wanted to take her over to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair to see what type of response she’d garner. It had taken me over 100 hours of hard labor to build her, so I was a bit nervous to let her go but figured it would be best for us both.

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A few (very quiet and long) weeks passed before I received another call from Victoria, saying she had some good and some bad news. Confused, I requested the bad news first. She went on to notify me that The Old Lady had been kidnapped, swiped, stolen from the book fair. Victoria immediately consoled my broken heart, saying everything would be alright, because soon there’d be thousands more of her out and about. And so it began.

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


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Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jeremy: I’m currently working with the fantastic Rebecca Sherman of Writers House on my first author/illustrated picture book and a graphic novel, but it’s all still too raw to provide any pictures/pages.

But don’t fret, there’s still a few things I can share. I recently created a piece for Tiny Pencil


… and I’m neck-deep in the jacket and interior art for a chapter book for Simon & Schuster (all still a work-in-progress).


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Mmm. Coffee.Okay, our coffee is ready, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with five questions over breakfast. (We’re too busy eating English muffins for all seven.) I thank Jeremy 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?

[Ed. Note: All of the images in this response are from Poem-mobiles.]

A process wall
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Exploring type
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Jeremy: I begin every project with a mind map. It’s quite simple: I just take a piece of paper and start writing down everything my mind knows about the subject at hand. Depending on the material, this can go on for pages. As I’m recording what I know, I highlight certain subjects or thoughts that fit the mood of what I’ve read; I’ll make doodles and note interesting connections. After this initial brain spill, I start gathering research from books, the internet and any other pertinent sources. I stuff all of this info deep down into my noggin and then just sit and let it marinate for a bit. I imagine it’s a similar process to what an actor goes through when getting ready to play a specific part. The goal of all this is to try and figure out the essence of the story — something I can bounce ideas and images off of to see if what I’m creating fits and feels appropriate.

Watercolors for the “Banana Split Car” spread
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Coloring the “Paper Car” spread
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Fine-tuning the “Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow” spread
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Edits to the “Supersonic Ionic Car” spread
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After this brief gestation period, my process is similar to many others. My sketches start as blurry thoughts and lines which, with the help of the art director and editor, slowly come into focus as tight sketches. From here I begin final art. I’ll spend time experimenting with a multitude of materials, trying to find the approach that best fits the mood of the book. Once I feel I’ve got something working, I’ll pick a spread, render it out, and share it with the publisher. If it works, I keep going. If it doesn’t, I go back to the board and start again. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that there’s always another solution. Never be scared to go looking for it.

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

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Jeremy: My studio is my sanctuary. No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve always transformed my space into a place that’s warm, inviting, comfortable. Currently, my studio is in an old stone Methodist church from the 1820s that’s been transformed into small working spaces for creatives by the fabulous owner and designer, Val Nehez. I knew the minute I walked into the building that I could create here. It smelled like my grandma’s kitchen.

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

Jeremy: Anything by Dr. Seuss.

Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White.

Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure by Bill Peet.

Anything by Roald Dahl.

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.)

Jeremy: My body doesn’t respond well to meeting people I admire. My nose instantly turns to ice, and the heat that’s used to inhabit my schnoz goes straight to my hands and clams ’em up, which makes for awkward handshakes. That said, I wouldn’t mind enjoying a delicious German beer at a bar where Lane Smith, Mac Barnett, and Jon Scieszka just happen to be sitting.

[Ed. Note: All of the images from here to the Pivot Questionnaire are early sketches from Poem-mobiles.]

Early cover sketches
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Early dustjacket sketch
(Click either image to see spread in its entirety)

Sketches for “Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow”
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Bookmobile spines
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Concept sketch for “Mini-Mini-Car”
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Sketch for “Fish Car” and “Eel-electric Car”
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Sketch for “The Backwards Car”
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Sketch for “High-Heel Car”
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Sketch for “Balloon Car”
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Concept sketch for “Hot Dog Car”
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Sketch for “The Egg Car” and “Hot Dog Car”
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5. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jeremy: I really didn’t draw that much as a kid. I just daydreamed a lot.

Sketch for “The Sloppy-Floppy-Nonstop-Jalopy” and “Grass Taxi”
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Rejected Heart Car sketch
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Possible sign for “The Love Car” spread
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Sketch for “The Love Car”
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Sketches for “The Banana Split Car”
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* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Jeremy: “Scrumdiddlyumptious.” (Gotta love Roald Dahl.)

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Jeremy: “Disrespect.”

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

Jeremy: Being with my family, the change of the seasons, time in the woods, odd and peculiar inventions, worn artifacts, live acoustic bluegrass music, color study, storytelling.

Jules: What turns you off?

Jeremy: Ignorance.

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

Jeremy: “Shit on a shingle” (also one of my favorite breakfast foods).

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jeremy: Got two for this one: Rain and belly laughter.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jeremy: Kids crying.

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

Jeremy: Chocolatier.

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Jeremy: Anything dealing with Limburger cheese.

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

Jeremy: “Sorry. Not yet, Jeremy. You’ve still got a few more things I need you to make. But don’t worry. Yours is one of my best endings yet.”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images are used with permission of Jeremy Holmes.

POEM-MOBILES: CRAZY CAR POEMS. Copyright © 2014 by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jeremy Holmes. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, New York.

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Jeremy Holmes. These images were orginally reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA, in this previous 7-Imp post.

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

7 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jeremy Holmes”

  1. What a great interview. I always like seeing the process my favorite creatives use when working, and it was nice getting a glimpse into Jeremy’s. Thanks for a nice diversion from my day.

  2. What a treat – thank you both! You gotta love that love car! And, that beautiful studio space – so much fun to see!

  3. I really want my own copy of POEM-MOBILES!

  4. Oh my lord. I’m now as excited to see the art in POEM-MOBILES as I am to read the poetry! Can’t wait!

  5. Wonderful style, great interview…as always, I love getting a glimpse behind the curtain to see in-progress stuff and workspaces!

  6. […] Sources: Illustrator website Illustrator biography: Amazon Illustrator interview: Idle Illustration Illustrator interview: Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast […]

  7. […] can’t-even-figure-out-how-to-describe-it art by Jeremy Holmes. (Explore the art further with this fabulous post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.) Your car-crazed young readers will love it (and so will non-car fanatics–I’m proof!). […]

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