[Jon Klassen] is an illustrator who trained as an animator (and still does animation.) I was so excited he responded to my email, because I love his technique and have always wanted to know more about it. It actually makes for really mind bogglingly beautiful animation as well. Aside from that, I'm thoroughly looking forward reading 'I want my hat back.'
1) What sort of medium or programs to you use for your work?
It varies on the subject and how complex the final picture might end up being. these days i try and start with a messy media, like ink or charcoal, something that will give me accidents, and i make component parts of the picture with that. i either scan or photograph those pieces, then assemble them digitally. working on them digitally afterwards can get very involved if i wasn't very sure how they were going to be used or if something interesting happened while the pieces were getting made. i like this stage very much. it's kind of like film editing.
2) What are some of your favorite websites/magazines/books/publications for inspiration?
I like to look at photographs a lot instead of other illustrations. for illustrators this is better, i find, because you're not looking at somebody else's solutions to problems. unprofessional photos are best because they usually don't care so much about composition or anything as they do getting what it is they want in the picture, which is great for you because you start to think about how you would stage things in an interesting way. i like older photos mostly, cause the colors are always a little washed out and not so sharp. a good starting place for those kinds of pictures is squareamerica.com
3) What was your favorite professional assignment that you've ever done?
I am working on kids book illustration right now, and i don't know if it's just because it's a switch from what i was doing for many years (i worked at big animation studios before this) but i'm enjoying it the most. i like the simple ones best, even though the illustrations might not be as impressive to do. i wrote my very first one and illustrated it this year, and it's called 'i want my hat back' and it comes out in the fall. i don't know if it's my best work, but i enjoyed making it more than most of the things i've worked on in the past few years.
4) Your style is really distinctive and eye catching, has it always been that way?
Thank you! i don't think i'm in a great position to judge it, really - i still see a lot of inconsistencies when i look at my work altogether, but i'm glad you think it fits together somehow. i think style has to do mainly with what you're choosing to think about and what you don't want to think about (maybe that second one more importantly) - the more i do pictures for myself, the more i start to learn what an idea actually is to me. i think thats a big step - when you're learning all this stuff, it all seems so grandly conceptual and you feel like you're just learning the tools, but once you sort of figure out how a small idea that you like can be pulled apart and extrapolated and made to be a satisfying thing for yourself, you're sort of set free and you stop worrying about technique so much and you just want to make ideas that you like and follow them where they go. the great part about that is that you don't feel like it's ending anywhere - it goes as far as you want to follow it.
5) What sort of process do you have? Do you work on many pieces at once or one at a time?
I try to only work on one thing at a time, but it never seems to work out that way. maybe that's a luxury you work up to - but i'm not sure it's a totally harmful thing to put a project down midway and go do something else. i used to think it was hokey when people said they wanted to let an idea 'percolate' or whatever, but just by the necessity of getting work done, i've found it's actually a very real thing and it can improve your work quite a bit.
6) What do you do when you can't come up with ideas? How do you manage stress?
I'm learning more and more not to hold onto things so tightly - sometimes it's hard because you want to do good work but there isn't enough time or you don't like the subject, and i've certainly done things i don't like now - that still stresses me out. but i think it's important to not see any of your work as a 'legacy' or anything like that - the more you look at it like a local problem with a solution, the more you can focus on that rather than on yourself doing it or how good you might be at it that day.
also i take very long showers.
7) How do you advertise yourself/get work? What have you found to work best for you?
i'm still finding out if this is as true in book illustration as it is for animation, but the best thing that's worked for me is to collaborate as much as you can, early on. you'll find out what parts of a project you like best, and the results will always be different than something you've done on your own. more interestingly, though, is that the people you work with, if you choose them for the right reasons, always end up having other things to do that you want to do too, and it becomes this really great organic thing. it sounds luxurious to say 'only work with people you like' because of course you can't always, but when you're starting out and stakes aren't as high as they might be later, if you have the choice between working with someone you like and who excites you or something you know is just to get on the record, go with the more interesting one. an interesting project will travel around and get you more work than a hundred boring ones for big places that you get paid for.
8) Do you have a time that you prefer to work? Night? Morning?
In school i was a night worker, but since then i sort of enjoy having daytime work hours and keeping the same schedule as people with jobs. of course if something needs to get done, all that scheduling falls apart and you just go until it's done, but that gets rarer, i think, as you get better at managing your time.
9) Is your personal work particularly different from your professional work?
No, not really. the work i do for books and commercials and things will vary based on the topic and the tone that's needed, and even though i think i'm switching it up, there always seems to be some common ingredients. i never really had a huge interest in personal work past things that i could only call 'assignments to myself' - i've always liked solving work problems that are brought to me rather than express anything i'm feeling that day. Although, i will say that more i do this work, the more i find that how you're feeling that day or that week or that month comes across in your professional work whether you want it to or not. I don't mind that when i see it happening, but i have a hard time using it as a starting point for making something.
10) What's the best advice you would give a student aspiring to work as an illustrator?
Work on ideas you honestly like, that are valid to you. your responses to things, your way of receiving a problem and turning it over in your head, before you ever put anything down on paper, is the best currency you have. all your style and technique can come out of that, and should be secondary to that. that doesn't mean you can't have things that you use a lot - sometimes things last a very long time in your head before you're done exploring in there. but try always to start with something in the topic you genuinely have a crush on.