Today you’ll meet Dan Burr, one of the most talented artists working today and my collaborator on Pirates. You met another wonderful artist earlier — Cheryl Harness — and coming up is still another gifted artist, Rob Shepperson, with whom I worked on Vacation and bugs.
Now for today’s treat: Heeeeere’s Dan!
THOUGHTS ON BEING AN ILLUSTRATOR
by Dan Burr
Q – How does on artist prepare for becoming a book illustrator?
That is a great question, I think being an artist/illustrator has to come to you naturally, it’s not something you can force on a person. Kids that draw all the time, turn into adults that draw all the time and eventually do something with their talent or find a career doing something else that will pays the bills. My preparation as an illustrator didn’t start until I hit college, I was fortunate to have a professor who was an illustrator and knew about the world of illustration. He introduced me to the world in which I now live. An education or introduction of some sort is important to enter any serious profession (not that art is serious), As a professional illustrator, you better have some idea what will be expected of you, hopefully you get that from someone who cares and knows a bit about it.
Q – How closely do you usually work with the author?
Sometimes not at all, sometimes a bunch. I don’t know which I prefer either. Authors can bring insights to my work that I may never have thought of or they can be so stifling that you what to tell them to illustrate the thing. I always wonder what the author thinks about the work I do for their book, and sometimes worry that I missed the mark but so far have been lucky in that regard. I really enjoyed working with David on our book Pirates, we are kindred spirits (Pirates) and we think very much alike and that made for a great book.
Q – How long do you usually need to do a complete book project?
I can illustrate a 32 pager in 13 weeks (painting time), I prefer more time but deadlines are deadlines, It usually takes me a while to get everything ready for a project, the sketches and all the research take a fair amount of time and then I have to line up models and costumes etc, etc. I usually hear about the project at least a year in advance and then like always I procrastinate until I have 13 or so weeks to really dig in and get it done.
Q – What steps do you take from idea to finished work?
I usually start with some of my really crummy thumbnail sketches that start my mind working, I hopefully can turn them into a little better version of a sketch that will eventually lead me to research and collecting the information that I need to make the paintings believable and the environments complete. Sometimes this can be a painfully slow process and sometimes if I’m familiar enough with the subject it goes quickly. The sketches then get revised a few times to solve design issues or anything else that looks wrong, when the sketches are finished, off I go to the finished painting.
Q-How much do you revise your work?
If I get lucky and pull it off the first time, not much, If I can’t seem to visualize the image and start with a poor sketch or concept, it plagues me through the whole process until I revise and fix what is bugging me. This can mean repainting that image or sometimes several of the images that just don’t seem to be working. I try to work it out while in the sketch stage but sometimes problems slip by unnoticed until my 12 yr old comes to the studio and says, ahh… Is that a dog or a small horse pulling that wagon? Kids these days…
Q- How do you use the computer as a tool for your art?
I was educated in a very traditional school of art, drawing and painting was taught with traditional mediums, I spent the last15 years of my career painting with oils on traditional surfaces to complete my illustration projects. In 2004 I took a Photoshop class to see if it would be a viable tool to help accomplish my work, I really learned a lot and realized that I could paint in a way that mimicked my traditional work. It took a while to make the complete transition from traditional to digital but finally decided that in order to stay competitive I would have to keep up with technology and make the switch. Today I do all my work on the computer using Photoshop to paint digitally in a way that my clients have come to expect over the span of my career.
Q- What advise would you give authors that would help an artist make a better book?
Write good books. If the words are great the images come easy and the process for me is less complicated. I like working with authors, it nice to get their insight and understand some of their expectations, sometimes I struggle coming up with or starting a project, a talk with the author can make all the difference and get the juices flowing. As an illustrator it’s always nice to be given the freedom to do what we do and create images that do justice to the words. Authors have to trust us to take their words and make the books come to life. As the writer of the book don’t be afraid to offer an insight or two to help the process along, but don’t try to control the process too much or the illustrator can’t do what he/she has been hired to do.
Q- Which usually comes first, the words or the art?
When I am working on a picture book, I usually need the words to help see the images, having said that, sometimes it works the other way around and the pictures come first. In the book “Pirates” the process evolved back and forth, starting with some images I had swimming around in my head, and then the author (You, David L. Harrison) sharing ideas that he thought would make good poems and pictures. “Pirates” was the ideal situation, author and illustrator working together on the same page to make a book. I always have paintings in my head just waiting to come out, some belong to stories and some don’t, the trick is to make sure they find a home in a great story.
My sincere thanks to Dan. If you have questions or comments, plese post them below in the comment section.