Keith Campbell and I are leading parallel picture-book lives...
We both work in pencil.
We share the same awesome agent.
We've each had books published this year featuring title characters named Flora.
And we have each illustrated tea parties- hosted by the fabulous folks at Viking Children's Books.
(Twilight Zone theme music plays in the background.)
We've got a lot in common.
I think that once you've seen his illustrations, you'll agree there's nothing commonplace about them. Keith's work is uncommonly good!
K.G. Campbell is the author/illustrator of Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters and the illustrator of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and Ame Dyckman’s Tea Party Rules.
Keith was born in Kenya, but raised and educated in Scotland where he graduated in Art History from the University of Edinburgh.
After trying on several careers ranging from tax accountancy to interior design, Keith eventually returned to his childhood passion of telling and illustrating stories.
He now does this full time and plans to do so for the rest of his life.
Keith lives in California.
Which books- that were your favorites when you were little- have had the greatest influence on your work?
The books I remember loving most as a youngster were those by Sendak and Richard Scarry. Most of my artistic influences however, have been discovered in adulthood: Gorey, Tim Burton, Nicoletta Ceccoli and (complete divergence) Lisbeth Zwerger.
The exception to this would be John Tenniel’s illustrations for the Alice books. His queer, long-ago world of hollow-eyed, consumptive children, Victorian objects and rather defensive talking animals was (I see in retrospect) likely the single most definitive influence on my aesthetic.
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.
Early on, I thought something that might gain me entrance to the publishing fortress were stories with so called “heart”.
Now I had a great aunt called Cissie. She had a moustache and a leg that wouldn’t bend.
In contrast to the other shiny foiled and beribboned confections I’d receive at Easter, Cissie’s offering was inevitably a small, brand-free, not-very-good-chocolate egg, inexplicably nested in an ugly mug. Her other gifts were similarly modest.
But I remember feeling the weight of responsibility when it came to thanking her. I remember becoming aware that my response to a gift actually had an effect on the giver.
That moment when a child first consciously alters their behavior in order to protect another person’s feelings seemed like it might contain “heart”, so I decided to explore it in Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters.
The emotional milestone was the seed of the story. Auntie Cissie was cast as Cousin Clara.
Do you ever tuck little personal homages or details in your illustrations? Please give us a peek at one of your favorites.
Well obviously it’s not uncommon for family and pets to be exploited by an illustrator in the pursuit of character. I am no exception.
But the one I want to mention here and now is my cat Wilbur who appears as an “extra” in Ame Dyckman’s Tea Party Rules. I actually thank him for his unwitting participation in the flap blurb. We learned yesterday that Wilbur is not long for this world. Not long at all. I’m glad I had the opportunity to immortalize his placid, patient nature in print.
Could you describe your work-a-day routine, and tell us the one little thing you absolutely cannot begin your day without. (Besides caffeine ;)
I arise at 6.30 to take advantage of that deliciously still slice of time before the world gets going. My mind is fresh and it’s a great time to write. After breakfast around 9.00 I hit the gym. I used to go first thing, but now I’m too old and stiff. I head home for a bit more writing and lunch. The afternoons are devoted to illustrating. And of course various chores and pressing minutia get shoved in here or there.
I’m an unashamed devotee of routine. But, being fairly new to this, I do still struggle with time management. Illustration inevitably takes longer than I anticipate and as deadlines loom, time for writing (or indeed the gym or chores or weekends or anything) seems to evaporate and my precious routine goes to hell.
I cannot start the day without ensuring the pets get their morning treats. They won’t let me.
5. Please describe your work as an author-illustrator in 5 words:
[ I’m not sure here, if you mean describe my product or my process so I’ll answer both ways].
Quirky. Melancholy. Funny. Emotive. Cinematic.
Gratifying. Isolated. Intimidating. Boundless. Tiring.
You've had a fabulously busy year what with Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, Flora and Ulysses and Tea Party Rules… Can you tell us a little something about what you're up to next?
I literally just sent off the final batch of the final art for my own picture book The Mermaid and the Shoe, Kids Can Press, Spring ’14. It’s a lyrical sort of tale about a mermaid that finds a shoe and can’t imagine what it’s for. Her quest to find out is a metaphor for a journey of self-discovery. These fairytale-esque stories are not really in vogue at the moment; we’ll see how it fares. But I reached for the stars in terms of artistic ambition. I’m not a young person, but I’m a newborn illustrator. Anyone who’s watching is observing an artist in development.
Next on the calendar is a new picture book from Candlewick by Katy S. Duffield about an alien that catches a cold (you think it’s bad, imagine if you had 2 throats, 3 eyes and 5 ears etc. etc.)
Beyond that are a couple of my own picture book manuscripts that are looking for homes, a few middle grade novels calling from the back burner and a folder of ideas and premises that I’m afraid outnumber the years that are left to me.
Well I sure hope that the years, and the ideas, are many.
And, if you've got an idea to take a look at more see more work by K.G. Campbell
(And let me just say- that is an uncommonly good idea)
You can visit his website