I've always loved to draw pictures and make up stories, and I've been lucky enough to make a living by using my imagination for over 25 years.
My earliest childhood memory is of sitting in the kitchen, drawing pictures of ships and trucks on a blackboard. I also remember spending hours staring at the illustrations in National Geographic and thinking how wonderful it would be to be one of the people who got to make all those incredible pictures.
My venture into children's books was a happy accident. It happened like this:
Back in 1995 I got a letter from my nephew Adam, who LOVED pirates, asking me to draw him a picture of a pirate. I sat down at my drawing board to draw a few pirates and ended up creating 20 pages of silly pictures and nonsense about pirates. It was enough to fill a book, so that's what I did. I called it Everything I Know About Pirates. I sent it off to my nephew and saved a copy for myself. After four years of submitting the idea to editors, it was accepted by Simon & Schuster and published in 2000.
The question I hear most often from readers is "Where do you get your ideas?" I get ideas by keeping my eyes and ears open, especially when I'm around kids. Then I try to see things as a child would and write from their perspective. I always write with a specific child in mind, as if we're just having a fun conversation. I try to remember how smart kids are, which is why my books also appeal to older kids and adults.
For inspiration, I have a bunch of photos of kids on my wall. Whenever I'm stuck for an idea, I look at one of those photographs and think to myself, "What would make THAT kid laugh?"
My books start out as rough doodles. An entire book can come from a simple observation and one drawing. For instance, What Are You So Grumpy About? was inspired by a grumpy guy I was sitting next to on an airplane. I did a few doodles on the spot, sitting next to Mr. Grumpypants, and they eventually became a book.
My illustrations are done in watercolor and colored pencil. The first step is pencil sketches, then I create black line art and print it on watercolor paper. (It's kind of like a home-made coloring book!) Then I paint a layer of watercolor and build up the shapes with colored pencils. I get a lot of help from our cats, who lay on my pencils, my drawings, my hands and anything else that puts them in the way of what I'm trying to do.
I couldn't do any of this without my wonderful wife, Jan. She helps edit my ideas and often comes up with ideas for the endings for my books, which is the hardest part. She also helps keep me organized and on schedule. Thank you, Jan!
Until I come up with a better one, that's my story. Thanks for your support..