Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Interview with Doug Cushman, the Wildly Talented Illustrator of THE AMAZING TRAIL OF SEYMOUR SNAIL

Imaginary Readers, we are in for a great treat. Today I'm interviewing Doug Cushman. As you know, Doug illustrated my latest book, THE AMAZING TRAIL OF SEYMOUR SNAIL. I couldn't be happier with his creative and fun portrayal of Seymour, Mr. Stink Bug, Coco La Roach, all the other characters, and of course, the whole story. Here we go.

Lynn: Have you always enjoyed drawing and painting? What kinds of things did you create as a child?

Doug: I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t drawing or writing. I made books when I was eight or nine years old. One was called SPACE CAT; a cat in a space suit who crash landed on a prehistoric planet and battled dinosaurs. Forty-plus years later I published SPACE CAT (with some changes) for my 100th book for HarperCollins. I haven’t changed all that much!

Lynn: That's such a great story. Do you have any quirky habits or rituals that feed your creative process?

Doug: I listen to a lot of music and draw a lot of pictures in my sketch books to get the juices flowing. I find going to a café sometimes in the afternoon with my notebook or laptop helps; it’s a change of scenery.

Lynn: What is your workspace or studio like? Are you well organized or surrounded by creative clutter? Do you have any toys that inspire you?

Doug: The place is a mess. ‘Nuff said.

Lynn: How did you first hear from Holt about illustrating Seymour? What were the initial steps? What media did you use for this book?

Doug: I was visiting Holt and chatting with Reka (our editor). She said she might have something to show me. That was pretty much it. I’ve known the folks at Holt for years, they’re old friends.

My usual process is to design the characters then launch into the sketches, pacing the text out. The finishes were done in watercolor and ink, my usual working method.

Lynn: Was there any character or part of the story of The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail that you particularly enjoyed illustrating?

Doug: Your story so reminded me of all the crazy nonsense that was going on in the art world with the big galleries and artists back in the 70s; I wanted to play with all those images and characters.

Lynn: What was most challenging part of the process? How did you overcome that challenge?

Doug: Pacing out the book, figuring out what I wanted to illustrate and “enhance” (the text really told the story, my drawings were just decorations really). Trying to balance the text and pictures on each page is always difficult.

Lynn: When you were working on Seymour, did any children give you any input on any characters or scenes?

Doug: Nope, no kids, no one really. I had lots of bug books and a large snail shell that I found in the countryside in Burgundy. That shell was my main inspiration.

Lynn: Kirkus Reviews praised The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail with:

"Engaging characters and winning art create a solid addition to the field of transitional literature…"

"Cushman’s anthropomorphized bugs from the art gallery are a hoot..."

Could you please share any secrets of how you made Seymour and the other buggy characters so fun and expressive?

Doug: I draw what I see ;-)

Lynn: Did anyone you know become a knowing or unwitting model for one of the characters in The Amazing Trail of Seymour Trail?

Doug: No one I know personally but there’s probably a little of me in Seymour.

Lynn: Please tell us a little about your career as an artist and illustrator. How did you get started?

Doug: As I said, I’ve always been drawing and writing stories so it wasn’t any stretch to decide to make my living as an author/illustrator. I went to a private art school in Connecticut and, after graduating, just showed my portfolio to anyone that was willing to look at it. It took 3 or 4 years to get my first book. Even after 120+ books under my belt, I still feel I have A LOT to learn about drawing and story-telling.

Lynn: 120 Books! Wow. Please tell us about any of your other upcoming projects.

Doug: I’m always working on two or three things at any given time; but I’m of the school of not saying anything about works in progress, the old superstition about jinxing the work, etc.

Lynn: Thanks Doug. Do you have any final advice for aspiring children's book illustrators?

Doug: Just keep drawing and painting and learning. And try to stay focused. And eat your vegetables.

Lynn: Seymour would agree with all of that! Imaginary Readers can find Doug at his website:

Forecast: Writing, drawing, painting, learning, focus, and of course, vegetables!


cleemckenzie said...

How fortunate to have such a great illustrator, Lynn. You two make a super team.

Z-Kids said...

Thanks for sharing this interview -- The book sounds and looks great!