Kathy Stemke, the children’s author whose book Trouble on Earth Day I illustrated, is holding a “Virtual Book Tour” to mark Earth Day and to promote her book.  I call it a “Squirrel-A-Palooza”, but then that’s why she’s the writer and I’m a wacky cartoonist.  As part of the book tour, I asked permission to run an interview she did with me, talking about doing the illustrations and about the glamorous life of a scruffy cartoonist.

Share and Enjoy.

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Where do you live? Tell us about your family.

I live in the Enchanted Land-O-Cheese, in the City of  Sheboygan, roughly between Milwaukee and Green Bay.  I met my wife, Lute, in junior high when she played bass clarinet and I played alto sax in band.  When I learned she drew dragons and when she loaned me her paperback of the STAR WARS novelization, I should have known we were destined for each other.  We have two daughters, Gamera Rose and Rodan.

Do you have any pets? Do you ever draw your pets?

We currently have two cats, two finches, a snake, several fish and about a half dozen ferrets.  Yes, we have pets; and yes, I  occasionally draw them.  Drawing ferrets is a challenge, because except when they’re sleeping they rarely sit still.

What made you decide to become an artist?

I’ve always enjoyed drawing.  I suppose if there is any single influence that inspired me in that direction it would have been the collection of POGO books my Dad had in our basement.  Although I never really copied Walt Kelly’s style, his POGO cartoons taught me a lot about pacing and dialouge in comics.

Did you take art lessons?

I took Art in High School and studied Graphic Design at Iowa State University.  But I also picked up a lot of my cartooning by osmosis from the comics I enjoyed reading, such as Walt Kelly’s POGO and Hergé’s TINTIN.  I’m afraid my love of cartooning spoiled me for doing any kind of serious art.

What is the hardest part about illustrating a book?

In the case of Trouble on Earth Day, the hardest part was that I colored it entirely by computer, something I was teaching myself as I went along.  I had to do a bit of trial and error to get things the way I wanted.  I still haven’t mastered Photoshop yet; but I’m working at it.

Please describe the process you go through to illustrate a book.

The first step is the break the story up into pages, so that the text on each page forms a single thought or event that can be represented by a single image.  I map out the book by drawing boxes on a sheet of paper and making a thumbnail sketch in each box representing a page.

About the same time, I’m also doing rough sketches of the characters to determine how I want them to look.  I tried several looks for Shelby, before I settled on her final design.  I send the character sketches and the page thumbnails to the Author for approval.  When roughing out the pages, I try to make sure there’s enough space to accomodate the text for that page.

There are one or two pages in Trouble where I could have done better,  On the page where Shelby goes out into the woods, I wound up with no blank space at all, and the text had to go over the trees in the background.  In the end, I think it worked; but I had to tweak the background a lot to make sure the text would read clearly against it.

As I finish the pages, I send them to the Author for approval so that I can make any necessary alterations.

Why did you decide to illustrate Trouble on Earth Day?

Kathy’s editor put us in touch with each other and Kathy asked if I would be interested.  I’ve been a long-time “furry” artist, and the story sounded like fun.

How long did it take for you to illustrate the book?

Longer than it should have.  But that’s the way these projects always seem to go.

What materials and supplies did you use for the pictures? What is your favorite medium?

For Trouble on Earth Day I kept things pretty simple.  I drew the original black & white line art on plain paper with Faber-Castell fine line markers in a variety of widths.  I then scanned the line art and colored it on my computer using Adobe Photoshop.

I used to use a Crow-quill pen and India Ink exclusively for my cartooning, because I didn’t trust markers.  But they tend to be tempremental and messy and the pen nibs became harder to find. More recently I’ve found some artist’s markers with waterproof inks that won’t pick up on my hands and give me a steady reliable line.

In the past I’ve liked to use watercolors to color my works.  I haven’t done as much of that lately.  Usually for color commissions I will use colored pencils.  For my book illustrations, though, I’ve used Photoshop to give a more consistant color coverage.

How did you decide on the cover?

Early on I decided that the center of the story was the point where Shelby hears the crying in the woods and goes to investigate; so I wanted to capture the moment when she comes across the place where the trees were gone.  I hoped to evoke a sense of mystery and a sense of what the “Trouble” of the title might be.

Which illustration in this book is your favorite and why?

I think my two favorites are the one I mentioned of Shelby venturing out into the woods.  I tried to capture the atmosphere of  the big silent forest and the little squirrel alone in it, following the sound of the crying.

My other favorite is the one at the end where Charlie the Bluebird is playing the guitar and Shelby is dancing.  That one grew out of a sketch I made when I was trying to develop a design for Charlie.  On a whim, I drew him jamming on an electric guitar.  Kathy loved the sketch, and so I developed it into one of the pages.

Do you model your characters from real people?

Sometimes I do.  In fact,  my design for Shelby Squirrel was based on my youngest daughter, who was in kindergarten about the time I started work on the project.

Was there part of the story that was difficult to illustrate?

Charlie was the biggest challenge.  Shelby and her family were essentially small humans wearing squirrel suits; I could fall back on my habits from years of drawing “furry” comics.  But I haven’t drawn a lot of birds; so I actually had to do some research.  I discussed with Kathy what kind of bird we wanted him to be and I did several reference sketches until I was comfortable drawing him.

Do you have a collection of your own artwork? Do you hang illustrations in your home as artwork?

I have a lot of my own artwork, but very little on the walls.  I’ve always found framing the pieces to be a major hassle.

Do you have any wise words for students who like to draw?

Keep drawing.  Keep a sketchbook that you can rip off doodles in.  Use it to draw people you see; things in your room, scenes out the window; anything.

It’s okay to copy other people’s artwork; it’s how most artists learn to develop styles of their own.  Copying from reference photos is good too.  With enough practice, you can draw things out of your head, but even the most experienced artist still will work from reference photos.

Draw from the Inside Out.  People have skeletons, but even a table lamp has a skeleton of sorts.  If you understand the underlying structure of an object, it will be more believable when you draw it.  I always start my drawings by roughing out the basic structure, and then drawing the form around it.

What artists/styles have influenced you the most?

I’ve mentioned Walt Kelly’s classic comic strip POGO, and also the adventures of TINTIN by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé.  I’m also a fan of Japanese animation and comics and have picked up a bit of the Manga style.

In addition to illustrating picture books, how do you use your art talents?

I’ve done a bit of drawing for a couple of small comic book companies in the past, chiefly “furry” comics, (comics featuring anthropomorphic animals) for Antarctic Press and Radio Comix.  I do occasional commision artwork and I do cartoon portraits at a few local craft fairs and farmer’s markets.  In addition I draw a webcomic entitled HANNIBAL TESLA ADVENTURE MAGAZINE, a Pulp Era adventure comic, which I post on my website at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

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For more about Kathy, Earth Day and squirrels, swing by the rest of the Squirrel-A-Palooza.  Tell her I sent you.

Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour

Eighth Day of Trouble on earth Day Book Tour


Seventh Day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour




Sixth Day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour-book Review http://familiesmatter2us.blogspot.com/2012/03/book-review-trouble-on-earth-day.html

Fifth Day of Trouble on Earth Day Tour- Book Review


Fourth day of Trouble on Earth Day Tour- Fun Squirrel Factshttp://hookkidsonreading.blogspot.com/2012/03/it-is-my-great-pleasure-to-welcome.html

Visit third day of Trouble on Earth Day Book Tour


Please Visit the Second Day of my book Tour  for Trouble on Earth Day http://barbarabockman.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/review-of-kathy-stemkes-pb-trouble-on-earth-day/

Celebrate Earth Day with Pictures First day of book tour for Trouble on Earth Day



Kathy Stemke
Award Winning Author/Educator/Freelance Writer

Trouble on Earth Day earned the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval
Sh Sh Sh Let the Baby Sleep won the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval
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