Today, I'm paying visit to the studio of talented author/illustrator Chris Van Dusen! How about a little vocabulary lesson on the way. Here's our word of the day... Prolific: producing a large amount of something. Chris Van Dusen is not only talented, he's PROLIFIC! Meaning he has made so many wonderful books I love, I almost can't name them all. But I'll tell you my favorite: Mercy Watson, of course! That's one amazing pig. Oh, but I also love Circus Ship! And President Taft is Stuck in the Bath... and...and...oh, I am so excited to read Chris's latest collaboration with Kate DiCamillo: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up. (Leroy's going to be on Mr. Pig Live, you know!)
Well, would you look at that... I've been going on and on, and here we are! Chris's studio is on the second story of a barn attached to his house here in Maine.
Hi, Mr. Pig!
Hello, Chris! Thanks for inviting me.
My pleasure, Mr. Pig. Shall we get started? As you can see my commute (from the kitchen) takes 20 seconds!
How convenient! And what a beautiful, sun-filled space you have here.
Thank you! This is the giant drawing board where I create my illustrations. In the background you can see my light table which helps me to trace my sketches (although it's covered with reference books right now!) and behind my chair are my flat files and robot collection. I love robots!
Me too! You should do a book about a pig robot. I bet that would be a big hit.
Hmm...not bad...I'll remember that. Looking across my drawing board, you see an illustration in progress. It's for my next book titled "Hattie & Hudson" which will be published by Candlewick Press spring 2016. Beside it is a finished painting from the same book. I often will refer back to completed illustrations so I can keep the colors and details consistent. Everything has to be in the same place and the characters have to look the same from page to page. Believe it or not, that's really hard to do!
These are my messy paints. All my illustrations are painted with gouache. It's easy to remember gouache because it rhymes with squash. Gouache is like an opaque watercolor. I mix the paint on cheap plastic plates. If you look closely, you can see I've written "distant shore-base" on the rim of the plate. This tells me what I've used that color for and I can use it again throughout the book.
Gouache-squash. Got it.
Over in the corner of my studio, on a bookcase, I have a model of a Chevy pickup towing an Airstream camper. I like to surround myself with toys and fun stuff!
On my flat files, my robots stand guard! In front of them you can see more of those plastic plate palettes in ziplock bags. I can use and reuse these paints for the whole book.
This is the front of my flat files where I keep all the materials I use to make a book. The labels refer to the titles of my books.
Looking back down the flat files, you see the rest of my robots and some of the finished art for "Hattie & Hudson." I would really love to have a wall where I could put my illustrations up and see them all together, but since my studio is under the eaves, I don't have the space. This is what I do instead.
My Iron Giant (one of my all time favorite movies) mechanical bank with President Taft in front. Again, more fun stuff.
Great film. I reviewed it for Pigs Weekly. Gave it five out of five oinks.
Two plush Mercy Watsons sit on top of my boxes of original art in another corner of my studio. It was pretty neat how the company that made these stuffed animals took my flat drawings and turned them 3-D! I think they did an amazing job. They really LOOK like Mercy!
Oh, they do. You wouldn't mind if I just... um... cuddled them, for a moment, would you? Our readers will want to know how cuddly they are.
Not at all, Mr. Pig. Go right ahead.
Thank you. Please proceed...
This is a detail from one of the finished illustrations for "Hattie & Hudson." This is Hattie. She's my first ever female main character.
Under my flat files is a long bookcase containing mostly children's picture books I love. But I'm also fascinated with animation, so I collect these "Art of..." books, too. I love looking at the character development sketches.
Another studio view with my robots on the right, drawing table on the left and between the windows on the back wall hang my two Lupine Awards given by the Maine Library Association for the best Maine picture book of the year.
Thanks! Speaking of awards, here's a collection of some I've won for my books- along with a tiny pickup.
Another view of my flat files, robots and finished art. You may recognize the robot with the red body as B-9 from "Lost in Space." I received one of these for Christmas when I was six years old. Not the same one pictured here, however.
Thank you, Chris, for showing me around your amazing studio!
Anytime, Mr. Pig. But um... can I have my Mercy Watson back?
Oh, er... right, ha, ha. Of course.
After high school, Chris studied fine art at The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and graduated with a BFA in 1982. He worked for more than ten years as a freelance illustrator doing editorial work for magazines like Nickelodeon, Family Fun and Disney Adventures.
While freelancing, Chris began thinking about drawing a picture of a boat stuck high up in a tree. "I thought that would be a really funny and intriguing illustration,"says Chris. At the same time, a refrain kept running through his head: “Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee/ Hopped in the car and drove down to the sea." The combination of these two things eventually became his first book, Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee, which was published in 2000. He's been busy writing and illustrating children’s books ever since.
He now lives in a beautiful little town on the coast of Maine with his lovely wife Lori, his two tall sons, Ethan and Tucker, and a yellow lab named Pearl. For more about Chris visit his website: http://www.chrisvandusen.com
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Book One)
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick (August 26, 2014)
“DiCamillo has always been at her best when dwelling on the good and the bad in relationships between humans and animals, and Van Dusen knows precisely how best to present Leroy to us.” —The New York Times Book Review
“DiCamillo effortlessly slips back into the comfortable rhythms of Mercy’s world, infusing every chapter with subdued wit, warmth, and heart. Van Dusen matches the text stride-for-stride, delivering caricatured art of the Pinocchioesque Leroy and the four-toothed, spaghetti-loving Maybelline.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“DiCamillo’s quirky, eccentric characters speak in flowery sentiments and employ charming wordplay. Along with Van Dusen’s well-matched illustrations, there’s a sweet, retro innocence reminiscent of McCloskey’s classic ‘Homer Price.’” —Kirkus Reviews
“DiCamillo’s use of inventive and colorful language and Van Dusen’s stylized gouache illustrations make this story click.” —Booklist