Behind the Book with Chris Robertson
With an extensive background in the story department for animation and years as a freelance illustrator, Chris’ strengths now lie as a children’s book creator, both as a writer and an illustrator. He loves to dabble in a variety of writing and illustration styles. He approaches each project with a clean slate, not knowing exactly how each one will turn out, almost letting the subject matter and the tone of the piece dictate the final look and feel of the book.
Chris’ latest book, Giraffes Ruin Everything published with Bloomsbury USA Children’s on August 16, 2016. Keep reading below as illustrator Chris Robertson takes us “behind the book” and walks us through the making of the instant classic–from sketches to ink to final art.
What was your favorite part of working on Giraffes Ruin Everything?
First off, it was a wonderful manuscript by Heidi Schulz. Any time you can connect with the material from an illustrator’s point of view, you know it’s a good sign! From the moment I started reading it, funny images came to mind, and trust me, that doesn’t always happen!
Secondly, it gave me an opportunity to study and sketch an animal I really hadn’t drawn all that much. I visited the zoo, looked at photos of giraffes, studied other illustrator’s and animator’s interpretation of giraffes. Overall, I became as familiar as I possibly could with a giraffe without actually marrying one.
In your Bright bio, you cite Curious George as an early inspiration. What inspires you and what influences you when creating a dynamic and playful animal for young readers?
I get inspired when something feels true and honest to me. It could be the relationship between two friends. Or between two rivals. They could be depicted as human. Or animals. It doesn’t matter.
With the giraffe, so much can be told with his expressions, body language and attitude. Some of the most endearing qualities about a character may be very subtle ones. A slant of the head for instance; a look in the eye; the posturing of a drooping neck and head. All of these can lead to a certain feeling from the reader…perhaps empathy, or laughter, or joy, or even tears. My wife is a tad clumsy…so I think she can relate to the giraffe in the book!
What does your creative process look like? How has your process changed throughout your career and your move from animation to illustration?
For me, I find animation and illustration to be directly linked. Since I’ve been in the animation business for about 20 years now and currently still work in the field, my creative process in both animation and illustration is very similar in that regard.
The progression of the treehouse scene
I love to start loose. The looser, the better. I don’t want to be nailed down with a particular composition or character design too early. I don’t like to feel trapped by too many restrictions early on. Then when I start to feel a little more comfortable with the material, that’s when I start “tighten” the look of a drawing. But you’ll see by some of my samples, that my work never suffers from being “over-worked.” I like a fresh, bright, colorful palette combined with a relatively quick line. It’s important that I have fun creating these illustrations. Then they, in turn, stand a much better chance of being fun to look at!
The creative process behind the birthday party
What advice to you have for illustrators starting out in this business?
If talent, hard work and persistence are a given, then I would have to say to read and look at as many picture books as you possibly can. REALLY get to know the art of children’s book illustration. Study it. Examine it. Dissect it. Copy it. (I mean that loosely). Then when you’re working on your own picture book, you’ll have a better instinct on when to show a close-up or a wide shot. Or when to have one illustration over the spread or when to have six smaller illustrations scattered about the spread.
And please, by all means, don’t worry about your “style” too much. In time, the more you work, things will start to happen naturally and organically, and before you know it, you’ll be recognized as someone who has the most unique style of all!
In addition, if you can and if you’re lucky enough to land a great agent, I would also highly recommend it! I was lucky to get the wonderful people at The Bright Group behind me!
We are so excited about your upcoming project WHERE DO PANTS GO? Tell us more about the book!
All projects are near and dear to me. They tend to take on a life form of their very own. You learn to love each one. Almost like children…but not quite. And sometimes your most recent project feels like your most precious. But only time will tell.
Giraffes Ruin Everything was released on August 16th. I LOVED working on that book. But I am lucky enough to have another book coming out on September 6th called WHERE DO PANTS GO? by Rebecca Van Slyke from Sterling Publishing.
The book got a nice review from Kirkus:
All of us are eagerly anticipating the pub date of WHERE DO PANTS GO? in a few short weeks. Thanks for chatting with us, Chris!