It’s been rather slow here on my blog since April. Again, I apologize for that, but I’ve had a few obstacles (trips, house cleaning, plans gone awry, etc.) that are taking more time than usual. BUT no worries. Especially because today I get to bring you an interview with an Illustrator’s debut author-illustrator picture book. And it’s GORGEOUS!
I’m delighted to introduce you today to Matt Myers, if you haven’t already become acquainted with his illustration work. He has illustrated quite a few picture books including “Battle Bunny,” “Rules of the House,” and “Pirate’s Perfect Pet” (one of my personal favorites). You can learn more about him and see his work at his website.
He made his author-illustrator debut with “Hum and Swish” on June 11th. And I KNEW this was going to be a book I would love. It’s the story of a girl playing at the beach, creating something (she’s not quite sure what). It’s about being creative and following that pursuit without knowing where it’s leading. I read a lot into it as both a writer and an illustrator. It reminded me a little bit of “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires in that regard. BUT I also just dove into the illustrations (forgive the pun). They are STUNNING! I digress. I will let you be the judge of that yourself as you get a sneak peek here at his process.
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? When did you start drawing or painting?
Matt: My parents were both graphic artists, so art supplies were as available as the books on our bookshelves, and a lot easier to use, when I was little. I drew elaborate battle scenes or monsters, and supplied them with plenty of sound effects while they were being created. In my teens, I began to yearn for realism, at the expense of creativity. I wanted to capture what I saw perfectly. And yet I drew cartoons for the school paper. I had my serious art and my goofing off art. It took decades before I allowed the two sides of my creativity to reunite.
Me: Oh my, I can relate to that! You have illustrated several books now. What draws you to illustrating picture books in particular?
Matt: I love the idea of kids staring at my pictures. That I might fuel a child’s imagination is a thought that makes me feel deeply honored.
Me: “Hum and Swish” is your first book that you’ve both authored and illustrated. Yay! Why was this your first story? What about it made you want to write this story, as well as illustrate it, more than any other? Have you written other stories?
Matt: I have written a lot of stories—probably around a hundred. Many of them were far too long, or trying to be clever without telling a story. It’s not that I wanted to write Hum and Swish more than any other story. It’s more like I finally wrote something that resonates with people (I have been told). That is probably because the story is so real to me—I’m very much like Jamie, the girl in the book who just wants to be allowed to make things.
Me: The illustrations in “Hum and Swish” are beautiful! Can you talk a little bit about how long it took you to make them with traditional acrylic and oil paint? Since this is a medium that you are used to working in, was it easy? Did you finish the book quickly?
Matt: I initially planned to do the book in watercolor—beach equals watercolor, right? But I’m more comfortable in oil, and I was able to get richer color and texture with the thicker paint. Was it easy? Yes and no. Some pieces came out very fast and fresh. I belabored others to the point of having to start over. While oil paint is far more forgiving than watercolor, an overworked illustration in any medium has less life in it. When a painting is going really well, I can finish an illustration in a day or two. Working fast is not only more fun, it helps the art feel more energetic. Even people who are not artists can sense it. Children, I think, are the best at knowing when art is still alive.
Me: I love that. It’s so true. What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?
Matt: That it’s not funny. My usual go-to is humor, and while this book has charm, it’s certainly not full of gags. I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it stayed, at least in the writing.
Me: It’s funny (or not) how that is often the case. Any advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Matt: Even if you are an author and don’t think you can draw, sketch your story out in stick figures. That will show you how few words you actually need. A picture book is not called a word book, after all. If you love language, show your love by making a few words feel special. Let the pictures write a line for you. So many books are redundant, because the text does too much. Too often an illustrator has to struggle to show something the text hasn’t already explained.
And read the book aloud. This is something akin to a painter stepping away from the easel to look at the art from another perspective. You’ll hear the words that don’t need to be there. Read it to kids, with stick figure drawings if necessary. Far too often, I forget to follow this advice myself.
Me: I agree! Reading our work aloud is pivotal. I love the ocean and any beach beside it. I assume you do too, from the subject matter of this book. What is your favorite part of the beach and why? Beach-combing? Listening to the ocean? Playing in the sand?
Matt: As a child, I thought the beach was great. As an adult, the beach is fun, if I’m with little kids. Teenagers and adults are boring beach buddies. I can body surf for about ten minutes. I really don’t like reading on the beach. Not many people my age want to toss a Frisbee any more, much less dig in the sand. If you think I’m exaggerating, try to imagine an adult, off by himself, making a sand castle and decorating it with shells and sticks. Sadly, most people would think he was a weirdo.
The reason I picked the beach is that sand and sticks are all an artist needs. I didn’t want the girl to have any art supplies or tools—you’ll notice she doesn’t even use a shovel. That kept the book focused on the creator, not the medium.
And creation is what we thrive on, in every capacity, isn’t it? Writing, illustrating, creating sand castles or whatever brings you joy. I love that. Thank you for stopping by Matt! And dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to check out “Hum and Swish” yet, find a copy! It’s the perfect summer read! And WOW look at those ocean paintings! <3