FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
How do I go about getting a picture book published?
The best thing to do is send in a copy of a reasonably well sketched out 32 paged dummy book, and three color photocopy samples of finished art work, to the picture book editor of a publisher. Do your research thoroughly--look at all the other books in your local library and book shop to find out which publisher publishes the sort of book you want to do. Otherwise, you're wasting your time. Publishers are very impressed with people who know a lot about their company and what sort of books they publish. Maybe that's because they're flattered, I don't know. This trick works with people, too.
Do I need an agent?
No, but it helps. Publishers get loads and loads of unsolicited manuscripts (called the 'slush pile'), most of which they read, although very very few books ever get published this way. Many people feel as though their own children's stories and picture books are as good as those on the market, and in some instances, this is true. However, for a publisher to take on a new writer or illustrator, they have to feel as though the investment is worthwhile. It could be many years before a new writer or illustrator 'pays', and they're looking for potential, tenacity, and of course a talent that they feel the public will want to buy. An agent acts as a 'filter' as well as a good advisor for a fledgling author or artist.
How old do you have to be to get a book published?
You can be any age. You just have to be good enough. One writer called Caitlin Moran had her first book published when she was 16. Another artist called Mary Feddon illustrated her first book when she was in her eighties. I got a job doing illustrations for a book when I was 16, not because I was particularly good, but because I went after the job as soon as I heard the authors were looking for a student to illustrate the book.
Can I send you a manuscript/illustrations to a) show to your publisher, b) get your advice?
I'm afraid not. I have only ever forwarded material to my publisher twice in my life, and they were old friends and colleagues who were already professional illustrators. Problem is, I get sent stuff to look at, and if it's not my personal taste, I cant forward it to anyone, even if it might be of interest to a publisher. My advice is always candid, and this isn't necessarily what people want to hear. I've decided it's best just to adopt a policy of not offering comments on work unless I'm visiting an art college or doing a workshop.
When and where do you write?
I often get the first line or idea from a book in the car or while out walking (see "GETTING IDEAS"). After that I usually finish writing in my studio or maybe a restaurant or a train. Illustrating takes much much longer, and that all happens in my studio at home. To help me work, I have lots of mechanical assistants (not quite robots, but machines to hold things), over 20 lamps to light up the room, and over 100 drawers to store things, plus lots of books and clippings with pictures of things I might want to refer to.
Do your stories take a long time to write?
I continue to write my stories throughout the year or so that I spend doing the illustrations. Sometimes it only takes me two days to write the text picture book. Altogether, I usually spend two weeks worth of time working on words, and 7 months worth of time drawing, painting, and working things out. If I didn't insist on drawing my own pictures, I could write dozens of books a year and still live a relatively idle life, while some poor underpaid illustrator slaved away on the drawings. You must think I'm pretty stupid to do my own pictures. Maybe you're right.
But you have to think about the text for a long time don't you?
Not really...I'll spend much more time thinking about the rest of the book. 90% of my thinking time goes into the pictures and the way they will integrate with the text.
Do you write with a pen, or a computer?
Both. Sometimes I start off with the computer because I can type much faster than I can write, but usually I start in a notebook writing notes and drawing sketches and then type them into the word processor when I'm ready to shuffle and fiddle with the words.
Where did you learn to draw?
I began to learn at home when I was very little. The best way to become good at drawing is to do a lot of it. Too many people stop drawing when they're ten because suddenly they get worried that they're not good enough. You have to keep practicing if you want to get better. I had very good art teachers at school and at Brown University . After that I taught myself lots about illustrating books by going to the library and looking at the books there.
Why didn't you go to art school?
I didn't go to art college because I didn't think I was groovy enough to fit in with the other art students (I didn't have any black clothes at all). Instead went to a university to study engineering and music, and this taught me how to think. And luckily, one of my favorite illustrators, David Macaulay, taught drawing at Brown for one semester while on leave from Rhode Island School of Design, which was right next to Brown. Also, the Brown University organist Fred Macarthur, who introduced me to David Macaulay, taught me the discipline and stamina to keep working at something even though the rewards might be more than a year away. I used to practice organ two hours nearly every day. Fred was the first person who suggested I ought to be an illustrator rather than an engineer. If anyone knows his whereabouts, I'd like to send him a few books to let him know he was right.
There are a few very good art teachers in the art schools, some who are pals of mine, but it seems to me as though there are also many more who actually frown upon teaching students how to draw and paint. Once upon a time, art students used to spend years copying other paintings in museums to learn how to paint, and then went off to develop their own style. I once read that Norman Rockwell spent a whole year just drawing human skulls, and although he got sick of it, he really learned what makes people's heads look the way they do. Now, too many art students just seem to try to impress one another by doing things that anyone could do if they were allowed to hang out for four years with lots of space to make a mess in, and without anyone making them think too hard. Just the same, I'd love to teach art for a year or so if someone asked me to. But after reading this, I don't think anyone will ask.
Where do you do most of your artwork?
In my studio at home, which is the shed Philip Pullman wrote most of his books in. Philip gave me the shed in 2002 on the understanding that, when I was finished with it, I had to pass it on to another artist, musician, or craftsperson who would do creative work in it. That way, the shed would travel through time and space, gradually being changed and adapted and fixed up. At some point in the distant future, it's possible that not a single stick of wood of the original shed will remain, but it will still be Pullman's shed. It's an exciting stewardship.
Much of my studio is filled with equipment that I bought from my optician when he was changing over his shop. So my paints and brushes sit on a tray that's part of an old optician's cast iron stand, and I keep supplies in an optician's desk. There are huge optician's lamps hovering over the work area and even an optician's chair.
How long does it take to do the pictures for a whole Picture Book?
Usually 8 months over the span of a year.
Why does it take so long?
I think doing the illustrations for a book is a bit like making a film... but there's only me to do everything and there's an awful lot to do.
First I think about how the characters will look. That's a little like deciding who's going to play which part. Then I go on to be the person who designs the costumes. I have to make sure that the main characters look the same all the way through the book so I make a character sheet to help me.
What's a character sheet?
It's a page of drawings which show a character from lots of different view points. It helps me to work out how the character will look from the side, or the back as well as the front, doing lots of activities, and pulling different expressions. Whenever I draw the character in the pictures, I have the character sheet next to me for reference. Otherwise, the character might gradually change appearance throughout the book.
What do you do next?
My next job is to decide what the person reading the book really needs to see. How many words should I put on each page? What is the most important thing in each picture?
This is a bit like being the director of a movie. I draw lots of very small pictures because it's easier and quicker to draw that way at first. I try out lots of different ideas. These tiny scribbles are often called "thumbnails", but they are often about two inches across the bottom (perhaps they're called after a giant's thumb). The thumbnail drawings make it easy to see how the whole book looks at one glance. This is called a story-board. Story-boarding is a technique also used in animation and film to get an overview.
Do you do the paintings now?
Not yet. First I make a dummy book. It's the same size as the real book but I do very rough drawings so that I can still easily change things around. The drawings have to fit perfectly with the words, and the page turns need to come at natural places. It's a bit like a rehearsal. I read the book out loud to see how it works.
So now you're ready to paint the pictures?
Well, not quite yet. I copy what I've drawn onto tracing paper, and put in all the extra details that I want in the final illustration. I use a lo-tack transparent scotch tape so I can move the bits of tracing paper around. The rough drawings on tracing paper look like a total cut-up mess when I finally get everything in place--if you saw one of these, you would assume I just pulled it out of the trash. Then when I'm sure I've got everything right, I trace my drawing onto the final water colour paper using a light box, and stretch the paper using water and postal packing tabe onto a board. When the paper dries, it's ready to paint.
What pens do you use?
Nowadays, I use pencil and ball-point pen to draw. I used to do all my drawings with ball-point pen, but art teachers frowned upon that. I've tried loads of materials, but recently, I came back to drawing with ball-point pen because it's very expressive and it doesn't smear or leak. I use a Fisher Space Pen cartridge that fits in any pen that takes Parker cartridges. Fisher Space Pens are pressurized and have a high-quality ball that doesn't blob for years. Also, they're the only manufacturer that makes brown ink in a ball point pen which I think gives a nice soft line. I like to collect pens, and I prefer fat pens.
I used to use more dip pens. My favorite, when I use one, is the Somerville Fountain Spear, which hasn't been made since World War 2, but Philip Poole, the pen nib king of the world, sold me a lifetime supply of them after I demonstrated my worthiness. Mr. Poole died a few years ago when he was over 90 years old, but his nibs are still on sale from a shop in London called Cornellissen's on Great Russell Street. He was an amazing man.
What paints and coloring materials do you use?
I paint with watercolors in little pans (usually Rowney, Schminke, and Winsor Newton), all arranged around a white octagonal plate held in place by modelling clay in a 16mm film can. I also use, gouache, ink, color pencil, and some airbrush. I layer the color on with a Raphael number 10 brush (that's quite a fat one.)
What paper do you use?
Either Fabriano 5 hot press, or Arches Aquarelle, around 250 g/m2 (which is a little bit thinner than the paper used for a birthday card).
Do you draw from life?
I prefer to take photos and then have several photos pinned around my drawing table. When the camera was first invented, everyone thought it would mainly be used as an artist's aid, but then people got into the photographs as an art form in itself. When you draw from life, you're limited to what you can get your hands on or where you can go, and if you can stay there long enough to draw. When you draw or paint out on location, lots of people peer over your shoulder to see what your doing and you end up chatting when you should be working. It's nice for awhile but then you go home without much work done.
Most art teachers insist you do lots of drawing from life, but I think you learn far more just by seeing how other artists have solved the problem of how to represent something on paper or canvas. Then you can go out and view the real thing. Art teachers don't actually have to draw all day, so some of them tell you the things they learned in art school instead of things they would have learned if they drew more.
What do you like best about being an author/illustrator?
That I can explore my own preoccupations within my books and that I can listen to the radio or my favourite music while I work. I can open all my windows, work whatever hours I like, and I have no boss other than myself. I could make far more money doing something else, like working for a big company, but I love my job and I can't imagine how hard it must be to do a job you don't really love.
What's the worst thing about being an author/illustrator?
People remarking, with surprise, "oh, you did the pictures, too?" when 90% of the work that goes into my books is on the illustrations.
Where do the ideas for the stories come from?
Usually some tiny thought or impression pops into my head. If I pay attention, and maybe dwell on this little micro-thought for awhile, it grows into a bigger and bigger idea until perhaps I have a good idea for a book. I think most people have story ideas in their heads, but choose to ignore them, believeing they're just unimportant.
However, in order to turn an idea into a book, I have to do months of work. Getting an idea is the easiest part! I often get people coming up to me saying they've got a good idea for a book and maybe I could do the pictures. I don't want anyone to tell me their ideas just in case I come up with a similar sort of idea later on--then they might think I stole their idea from them, which would cause a bad feeling. I usually try to stop them telling me the idea, and instead, suggest that the best thing would be for them to actually write the story and do some sketches, character sheets, etc. Of course, that part actually takes some time and hard work, so that's usually the end of it.
You can read more about where ideas come from in the background info sections of the individual books.
Do you do school visits?
Both Helen and I love coming to see children but because now we have to work and look after Pandora it's hard for us to find time. That's why we made this web site. It's so that you can "meet" us on-line instead.
Do you work in the same room as Helen?
Almost never. We would argue too much if we did. We both have our own studios, and there are very strict rules about knocking before entering. If I burst in to Helen's room without knocking, she will get annoyed, and vice versa. She works at the very top of the house.
Do you steal each other's art materials?
No, we have two of everything so that we don't fight. We even bought more than one computer so we can both write at the same time. Helen spilled a whole glass of apple juice into her laptop not long ago. That's one reason why I like having my own computer.
Does Helen help you with your books?
Yes. She's a very good advisor and sounding board for ideas. She's also particularly good at the things I find difficult, like working out color schemes and storylines. I'm better at drawing, composition, perspective and lighting, so I take my turn at giving advice on them.
How much money do you make?
Not nearly as much as you'd think. But, unlike the pop music business, it takes years to build up a name for yourself as a children's author/illustrator. Children authors and illustrators really don't make nearly as much money as you would think, unless they have a huge bestseller...which I haven't.
Does Pandora help with your books?
Watching her gives me ideas and helps me understand the true roots of cuteness (Walt Disney's animation artists studied babies to make their animal characters as cute as possible). I'm putting drawings of her in my next book.
What objects do you always keep near your desk?
I work beside an old dentist's console and an optician's stand with lots of lights around. I like all my art tools handy, so the trays come in handy.
If you hadn't been an author/illustrator, what do you think you would be doing now?
Getting fired from my teaching job for recreationally setting off the fire extinguishers.
What is the most insane job you've ever done?
Singlehandedly led 7 boys on a 6 week bicycle trip through France. They were good kids, but I wasnt up to it, and my French was awful.
Who lives in your house?
My daughter Pandora , and my wife, Helen Cooper.
Do you have any pets?
No, but I used to have cats when I was growing up. We don't have a garden or a yard nowadays, so if we had a cat, we'd have to have a kitty litter box under the kitchen table. Yuk. My old car is sort of my pet anyhow, and it makes just as big a mess. I really really hate dogs. Except the few I know well, they're usually OK.
What sign of the zodiac were you born under?
Astrology is as dumb as playing with matches...but at least matches work.
What do you do to cheer yourself up?
Which person from the past would you most like to meet?
Max Dewan...he was our first baby who died before he was born. I often wonder what he would be like now.
Does your daughter Pandora like your books?
She doesn't like it when I suggest we read one of my books or one of Helen's. I thought it was because she felt our books were competition for our attention. But one day, her teacher told me she always pulls out copies of our books to be read in school, maybe to show off, I don't know. By the time she gets home, she's had enough of Helen and I.
What are the most outrageous things you've done?
Quit a great job in the USA and moved to London for love (before I met Helen). Disconnected a noisy burglar alarm while dressed as a repairman on a ladder in front of hundreds of policemen at Notting Hill Carnival (the whole street applauded when I finished). Lately I've settled down to things like outraging neighbors with a huge hand-made teletubby banner (Po) hung from the window to punish them for cutting down some trees.
Describe your ideal day out.
Riding my bike across Hampstead Heath for some bagels, followed by a picnic with Helen and a well-behaved version of Pandora, and then a swim in the bathing pond at sunset. Unfortunately, now that I don't live in London anymore, I have to settle for biking in Port Meadow.
What do you do on vacation?
We go to see interesting places and visit friends. At least one of us usually comes up with new ideas for books while on vacation. I think it's because we're seeing interesting things that spark off ideas. Also there's no phone ringing or letters to write so there's time to think.
What are the most important lessons life has taught you?
No good deed goes unpunished.
All the times I've been insensitive and upset people.
What sort of kid were you?
I was into drawing, making stuff, music, and mayhem, but lousy at ball games. I thought at the time I was shy but now I realize that compared to most people, I wasn't at all.
What were your favorite things as a kid?
Mad Magazine, synthesizers, 1961 Plymouth Valiants, rainbows, October days in New England, Christmas Eve, Halloween, electric trains, graphic supply catalogs, flip-card movies, Ealing Comedies, model cars (NOT hot rods, just ordinary cars), comics, bikes, cartoons, go-carts, pillow fights, and the band Yes.
How old were you when you first started drawing?
At two years old, I woke up early, found a blue ball-point pen, and drew all over the wallpaper in the hallway. For some reason, I didn't get punished, and I enjoyed the sensation very much, so I kept at it.
How old were you when you first started writing stories?
When I was about three, my mum prompted me and illustrated a little story I told her about a fat boy falling into some alphabet soup (I still have the notebook with mum's illustrations and my story).
At seven years old, I made up stories in bed before going to sleep. I created a whole cast of shadow puppets using my hands, and amused myself to sleep by making my hands "talk" while held over my head against the small amount of light coming through the open bedroom door.
At nine, I started drawing comics on the empty backsides of discarded letter paper from my dad's work. He worked for the government, and every sheet of the letter paper had the same mistake crossed out with a black magic marker that bled through to the other white side of the paper. So all that first batch of comics had to somehow deal with this big black line that leaked through the paper. My family gave me lots of paper to draw on, and so did school. I still have all my old comics, some of which you can see on WormWorks (click here to see Ted's old drawings).
When did you first see your name in print?
Sometime in Junior High School (11-14 year olds) when I did cartoons for the yearbook. I got a buzz from seeing my work reproduced. It was like having my work amplified with no real extra effort from me.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted be a cartoonist or a rock star, but I was also interested in science so that seemed to be the best thing to study. While at university, I thought maybe I'd be a music electronics engineer, designing synthesizers and recording electronics like M.I.T. geek Tom Scholz of the band, Boston.
Why did you decide to write children's books?
I'd have made a lousy engineer, and I could see that playing in a rock band would eventually become depressing. I loved teaching physics, but when I moved to London and started illustrating for the newspapers, I eventually approached Dorling Kindersley to see if I could get work illustrating for children. They were a marvelous publisher to work with, and whipped me into shape as a children's illustrator. David Macaulay apparently put in a good word for me there. The art I first showed them was appalling, so they must have trusted David a great deal.
How old were you when you had your first book published?
I was 16 when I did illustrations for a daycare handbook. One of the authors turned out to be the mother of my brother's future girlfriend. The book is still in print, and although my brother broke up with the girlfriend years ago, he did a few additional illustrations for the book when it was reprinted. He tried to make the new artwork look like I'd done it when I was 16.
How old are you now?
Although I still feel the same as I did when I was eleven, I was born in 1961. You do the arithmetic.
I think that everyone reaches an age as a kid where they are most themselves. As they get older, they might pretend to be someone else, but eventually, they become comfortable with being who they were at a particular age when they were a kid. In my case, that's when I was eleven. If you are very young, you might not yet know what it's like to be yourself. I hope you find out.
What comes first for you. The words or the pictures?
What does your editor do?
My editor is a cross between a sports coach, a doctor, and an ace organiser. She has to be the sports coach when I'm onto the marathon of making the art work. It's a long job for me, so even if she doesn't feel like it, my editor has to keep in touch with me, and say nice things so that I don't get discouraged. But she also has to get her stop-watch out. She has to check that I'm keeping up to speed, and try not to sound too disappointed when she finds out how few pictures I have done. My part of the work has to be finished in time for all the other people who work on the book to do their part of the job.
She has to be a doctor when the book needs a check-up, which is every few months, to make sure it's developing the way it should. If the story has any weaknesses, she will diagnose what's wrong and give me a prescription for improving the book. (She tells me where I need to do some more work and it is a little like giving the book medicine). When I've finished the words and pictures she checks everything over carefully and pronounces it healthy, and ready to go to press.
Then she becomes the chief organiser. She will talk with all the other people who help make my artwork and story into a book. She makes sure that the designer, the reproduction department, the printer, and the publicity and sales department have everything they need to do their job properly, so that the book will look good and be published on time.
What does the designer do?
When I first start scribbling I only have a vague idea of how the book will look. A really good book designer can help me firm up my ideas. He also will suggest typefaces (the sort of lettering I should use) for the text and cover, and advise on the composition and layout of my pictures (composition is the placing of all the things within the illustration; layout is the placing of the illustrations and words on the page).
Often quite a small tweak from the designer can make the whole book look more stylish. The cover of a book is particularly hard to get right. The designer is crucial to help work out how all the lettering can fit in with the illustration.
After I have finished all the paintings, the designer lays out the whole book with the words and illustrations in the right places, so that it is ready for the printer.
Do you make the actual books all by yourself?
It takes a lot of people to manufacture my books. The reproduction department take the designer's layouts and work out where the book should be proofed and printed.
The proofs are floppy unbound versions of the book. They are made from a kind of photographic film of my illustrations. They are a way of checking that the book will look the way we want when it is printed.
The printer takes the film, and from it prints the whole book on one or two giant pieces of paper. Only four colours of ink will be used. Red (magenta) yellow, blue,(cyan) and black, to print all the different colours in my illustrations. If you don't believe you can make all the colours of the rainbow with just four colours, try looking very closely at the pages of the book. Perhaps you can see that the image is made of millions of tiny dots. With a magnifying glass, you might even be able to see the individually coloured dots.The big printed sheets are folded, cut and bound together. The cover is glued on and the finished books are sent to the warehouse.
The sales and publicity team work out the best way to sell the books, and the foreign rights department sells permission to publishers in other countries to make their own versions of the book. When this happens, someone from that country will translate the story into their own language and get very little credit for what must be a tough job, especially if they make the text rhyme in another language.
So there are loads of people who help turn my words and pictures into a book. They don't get to have their name on the cover which seems a bit unfair. I suppose there isn't room for everyone. But I couldn't make my books without them.