You know how you can be puttering about on the internet, idly clicking, just passing time… when, outta nowhere, one unsuspecting click leads you to something that just knocks your socks off?!
Such was the case for me, when I happened upon Matt Phelan's cover for BLUFFTON.
I can't remember where I was clicking to or from… I just remember that when I clicked a link and that image filled my screen- I stopped.
And then, I promptly put my socks back on, laced up my sneakers, and raced out to buy the book.
But it wasn't out yet!!
Luckily for me, Matt and I were both at ALA this summer, and he gave me an ARC of the book (which I read and then reread on the plan ride home)…
I also managed to procure this fabulous sketch of Buster Keaton which now hangs in my studio.
And today, we're all lucky because Matt himself is hanging around the studio, for a Mini Interview!
Which books- that were your favorites when you were little- have had the greatest influence on your work?
The first book (or thing actually) that I remember buying with my allowance money was A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me by Wallace Tripp. I still have it. The drawings are amazing. The ongoing influence of that book is the inspiration to try to draw a fraction as well as Wallace Tripp drew.
I also vividly remember a scratch and sniff book called Little Bunny Follows His Nose by Katherine Howard and J.P. Miller. The smell aspect might have something to do with my fond memory of the book. It was reprinted a few years ago and I almost fell over with Proustian delight when I saw it. However, the new version's scratch and sniffs are not nearly as strong. It was probably all the lead and mercury that they used in the 1973 version.
My dad would occasionally come home with the latest Peanuts on Parade book and I was obsessed with Snoopy. Charles Schulz is one of my biggest influences. I use dot eyes because of Schulz.
Please share an instance in which the seed of an idea or experience, (though small at the start), took root, and grew to become one of your books.
At my last job before becoming an illustrator (I was copywriter at a university), I had the habit of doodling during meetings. It helped me to focus, I swear. Anyway, I was doing a pen exercise that consists of drawing a series of small parallel lines. It's actually not as tedious as it sounds. I was working on slightly slanted lines to shake things up a bit and, although I'm not sure if the head came first or the lines, but I ended up with a man whose face had a series of crosshatches. It looked like rain, like a man with a thunderstorm for a face. That image stuck with me and became an important seed for The Storm in the Barn.
Do you ever tuck little personal homages or details in your illustrations? Please give us a peek at one of your favorites.
At the time when I was illustrating Always by Ann Stott for Candlewick, I had written the script for The Storm in the Barn but hadn't started the artwork yet. In this image, the boy's toys include a barn, a bunny, and a giraffe. The barn and bunny were for Storm. The giraffe was a nod to my short story Jargo! (from an anthology called Sideshow) that I did at the same time.
Could you describe your work-a-day routine, and tell us the one little thing you absolutely cannot begin your day without. (Besides caffeine ;)
Coffee was the first thing that came to mind. I'm sipping coffee right now to aid my thinking. I guess I usually select some music on my iPod or put it on shuffle. The music may go off later depending on what I'm doing, but I'm usually listening to something.
I've just had a studio built in my backyard and I love the morning walk from the house. Putting the key in the door also has a magical aspect. It's like stepping into the TARDIS (for you Dr. Who fans). I work in the studio until early afternoon then go play with the kids.
Please describe your work as an author-illustrator in 5 words:
Be honest and sincere always.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you're up to next?
Next year will see the publication of my first picture book as both author and illustrator. It's called Druthers. 2014 also brings a debut novel that I illustrated from Burleigh Muten about Emily Dickinson called Miss Emily. I'm currently illustrating a picture book called Marilyn's Monster by one of my favorite authors, Michelle Knudsen. That should be out in 2015. I'm also starting to sketch my next graphic novel (Oh, the insanity) which is a retelling of Snow White set in 1933 Manhattan. I want it to look and feel like a black and white film noir. All of these books will be brought to you by the fine folks at Candlewick Press.
Matt Phelan is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including Flora’s Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal). He is the author/illustrator of the graphic novels The Storm in the Barn (winner of the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award) and Around the World. His latest graphic novel, Bluffton, is about summertime, vaudeville, and the young Buster Keaton. His latest picture book is Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park. Matt lives in Ardmore, PA.
To learn more about Matt and his work you can visit his website: www.mattphelan.com