Coffee and Conversation with Calef Brown: From Dreaming to Doing Conference

Happy Monday! We have less than three weeks to go until “From Dreaming to Doing.” I trust you’ve been enjoying our faculty interviews and there’s more to come! Here’s who we’ve had visit so far:

Our latest cyber chair occupant is author/illustrator Calef Brown.

calef-brown-150x150Calef is the author and illustrator of many celebrated books including Polkabats and Octopus Slacks, Dutch Sneakers and Fleakeepers, Tippintown, Hallowillloween, We Go Together!, Boy Wonders, Pirateria, and Flamingos on the Roof  – winner of the Myra Cohn Livingston poetry award and a New York Times bestseller. His latest book Hypnotize Tiger – Poems About Just About Everything won a Lee Bennett Hopkins honor award. He is currently an assistant professor at Rhode Island School of Design.

Calef will be on the “Picture Books and Reviews” Saturday panel. Accomplished authors, illustrators, agents, editors and reviewers will discuss everything you need to know (or at least as much as they can cover in 50 minutes) about the picture book review process and the reality of what it’s like to have a book out in the world. On Sunday, he and Laura Shovan will lead the intensive “All School Visits Great and Small.” They will share their approaches and experiences with school visits, from small classroom workshop to large auditorium presentations. Calef and Laura will offer tips, best practices, and models to help make your school visits a success. After each discuss their presentation strategies individually there will be time allotted for Q&A and interaction with attendees.

It’s high time we get started!

First off, what was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? How about as an adult?

51zmhjud2vl-_sx373_bo1204203200_My favorite picture book when I was little was Nellie Come Home by Rowland Emmett, which along with Seuss’ The Sleep Book really inspired me to draw. 51i5d3nnoul-_ac_us160_As a teenager I loved Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood,  Malagudi Days by RK Narayan to name a few. As an adult, maybe A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

What advice for beginning author or illustrators do you wish you would have followed?

I don’t have any regrets about my decisions starting out as an illustrator, I got a lot of great advice from mentors at Art Center, where I studied, but this was related to my initial goal of being a freelance and editorial illustrator, which is the direction I took for the first 5 years of my career. When I decided to create children’s books I didn’t have any guidance so just made a dummy and sent it out to a dozen publishers without being too critical or doing much research. (Which is in many ways the opposite of the advice I give folks starting out now!)  Looking back I might have tried to find an agent sooner, but things worked out okay.

What’s your favorite medium?

I have a few favorites  – 1. acrylic paint 2. Gouache, and 3. watercolor and ink combined with digital processes.

Where’s your favorite place to work?

I love working in my garage/makeshift studio in Maine during the summer on warm sunny days with the doors and windows open. Otherwise I enjoy working at home. I like writing in hotel rooms. Basically I just enjoy working.

Which authors and/or artists inspire you?

Such a long and mixed-up list – Paul Klee, Ben Shahn, Peter Newell, Florine Stettheimer, Palmer Cox, J.J. Grandville, Edmund Dulac, James Ensor, Daumier, Arthur Rackham, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Sukumar Ray, Leonora Carrington, Heinz Edelmann, Ruth Krauss, Margaret Wise Brown, Beverly Cleary, Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, Bill Traylor, Mary Blair, James Marshall, Taro Gomi, Arnold Lobel, Seuss, George Herriman, Tomi Ungerer, Hayao Miyazaki, Else Holmelund Minarik, Richard Scarry, Charles Addams, among many others…and I’m constantly inspired by my students at RISD.

That’s quite an impressive list! So, what is your favorite writing or drawing how-to book, technique, or website that has helped you improve your craft or provided inspiration?

For illustration and drawing, I’ve never used how-to, or technique-based resources, but for inspiration I love 50 watts, 7 Imp, Magpie That, The Bone Dry (all websites), and Stephen Ellcock’s Facebook to name a few.

For writing I have used for many years.

How do you describe your style and has it changed throughout your career?

I guess my style could be called personal or maybe idiosyncratic.I hope it is distinctive and recognizable as my own. I’ve been very inspired by folk and outsider art and non- realistic spaces. I’m interested in color, surface, line and shape, a playful and expressive approach to characters and figures, and humor. I hope the illustrations in my books are seen as joyful and engaging, but still retain an edge that keeps them from becoming too cute, and have enough formal complexity to keep the interest of both kids and adults. My style has expanded in the most visible way since about 2010 when I started to draw and paint a lot with watercolor and ink.

How were you inspired to write and illustrate your current or upcoming release?

My current book, Hypnotize a Tiger, which came out in 2015 and two upcoming books I’m working on are all collections of poetry and art which come out of a daily practice of working on written and visual ideas in sketchbooks. Playing, basically. The other book in process is my first written in prose, and is inspired by wanting to write a story about kindness and the way friendships endure through ups and downs.

If you followed the career path you chose for yourself in high school, what would you be doing for a living now?

During high school was when I decided I wanted to specifically be an illustrator, as opposed to a more general desire to be some sort of an artist during younger years.

For one day, time travel is a reality and you have the opportunity to visit any famous deceased artist you want. Who do you pick?

thThe chance to sit down and have a coffee and chat with Tove Jansson for a couple hours would be wonderful. I would love to ask her if and how her daily process evolved over the years, about the relationship between writing and drawing in generating her ideas and stories, and what inspired her characters.

You magically find a $100 bill in your box of cereal. In what frivolous way would you spend it?

Well, when I was in fifth grade, my best friend and I found a wad of bills lying in the street that totaled, as I remember, about $90.00. The next day the two of us took busses to an amusement park (long gone) called Willow Grove Park that was out in a suburb of Philadelphia, quite a ways from where we lived at the time. Our goal was to spend all the money that day. We were there from probably 10 in the morning until early evening. We rode every ride numerous times, ate all manner of junk food and candy that we could ingest, wasted lots of money on rigged arcade games, bought souvenirs and still couldn’t get rid of all our cash. I remember coming home blissfully exhausted and gave the remaining ten bucks to my brother. Money couldn’t do anything more for me. It was such a fun and memorable day.

If I found $100.00 today I might spend it on some fancy art supplies I might not buy ordinarily, like a couple tubes of the most pricey colors of gouache, or some very expensive paper. Not sure if that’s exactly frivolous.

What is your favorite quote?

Here’s one from the English writer and humorist Jerome K. Jerome, whom I greatly admire. :

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

I can relate. If you could sum up your best advice for new writers and illustrators in only four words, what would they be?

Don’t chase any trends

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing or drawing?

I enjoy reading –for myself and to my kids, teaching, spending time by the ocean, especially in Maine, visiting elementary schools, playing guitar, travelling, eating good food prepared by other people ( as opposed to bad food prepared by myself )and  looking at cat gifs.

Time for the lightning round. No more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Work from photos or imagination? Imagination

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Talk but not lots

Prefer sketching or final art? Both equally

Dread marketing/blogging or love it? Like but not love

Enjoy brainstorming more or researching? Brainstorming.

Read Kindle or traditional books? Never used a Kindle

And finally, what’s your favorite:

Time to work? 9pm – 1 am

Music to listen to while drawing?  A variety. Classical, hop hop – 80s and 90s especially, vintage vocal jazz,  instrumental folk.

Traditional media or digital? Traditional or a combination of the two.

Pair of shoes?  Some brown oxfords I had in the 90s

Guiltiest pleasure? Sushi and maybe binge-watching tv

Line from a movie? “I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m going to ignore your advice.” From Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Thanks so much for stopping by! We’re all looking forward to hearing more from you.

Happy writing and illustrating, everyone!

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
This entry was posted in Conference Information, Interviews: Authors, Interviews: Illustrators. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Coffee and Conversation with Calef Brown: From Dreaming to Doing Conference

  1. Pingback: Coffee and Conversation with Julie Dietzel-Glair: From Dreaming to Doing | As the Eraser Burns

  2. Laura Shovan says:

    Great interview. Can’t wait to meet you in person, Calef. We are huge fans of your books at my house. Rhymezone is one of my favorite apps!

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