Let me tell you about one of my FAVORITE holiday traditions...
Every year, when we go visit Santa, he asks our boys what they would like for Christmas, makes a note of their requests, and gives them each a new book to tide them over till Christmas morning.
This tradition started the very first Christmas after our oldest was born. He was about 2 months old.
He didn't ask for much.
Santa gave him a copy of Walt Whitman's, When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer- illustrated by Loren Long.
This Christmas, Loren has a new book out featuring a certain beloved tractor.
I think I know what book Santa will be giving the Idle boys this year...
But you don't have to wait for Christmas to unwrap your present! Here's a little gift from me to you...
A Mini Interview with Loren Long!
Which books- that were your favorites when you were little- have had the greatest influence on your work?
The quick answer is... that the complete works of Virgina Lee Burton may have influenced my current work the most. But that's too easy. While I loved her books (The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan, etc...) my art is probably more inspired by N. C. Wyeth's Scribner classic illustrations for books likeTreasure Island, Kidnapped, The Boy's King Arthur, etc... I spent much of my development as a young illustrator trying to achieve the power of N.C. Wyeth. But I love the storytelling sensitivity of those early authors like Burton.
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.
Long before I really knew I could be a picture maker for a living (let alone a story teller), I drove an old tractor while working on a horse farm during my college summers in Lexington, Kentucky. I loved driving that old relic.
It was ancient and rickety but it still had a job to do. It's only task was pulling a wagon filled with mowers and field hands like me all over the farm to mow or bale hey. Even then, it occured to me that the old tractor had value to the farm. Twenty years later, those memories and feelings and emotions helped OTIS happen.
Do you ever tuck little personal homages or details in your illustrations? Please give us a peek at one of your favorites.
I used to do it more when my boys were little to amuse them...
In my edition of The Little Engine That Could, I painted our family dog Stella, my oldest son Griff's little red bear and my younger son Graham's little monkey on the spread of floating toys.
I painted our beloved Stella (a weimaraner) into the sky toward the end of TOY BOAT and she appears in the manger scene in my book, DRUMMER BOY. She sadly passed away while I was making the art for that book so my boys and I thought she should be in the stable.
Could you describe your work-a-day routine, and tell us the one little thing you absolutely cannot begin your day without. (Besides caffeine ;)
My work might be how I make my living but my work day seems to revolve around whatever is going on in my household. When the boys are in school, I try to be as disciplined as possible and get to my studio reasonably early. I work in a home studio so it's not always easy. Lots of distractions but I try to embrace them all and the books always seem to get done.
The one thing I have to have before settling into work every day is a morning cup of coffee with Tracy, my wife.
And I work in soft flip flop sandals. When your writing , sketching or painting pictures, your feet must breath.
Please describe your work as an author-illustrator in 5 words:
steadfast, underdog, love, muscle, hope
One of my all time favorite picture books is your depiction of Walt Whitman's, When I Heard The Learn'd Astronomer. And one of my favorite parts of the book are the beguiling drawings contributed by your sons. Can you tell us a little bit about how that collaboration came about?
The Whitman book was a fun and challenging project for a storyteller because it is so short and the narrator never describes himself. In the text of When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer, I had to come up with who the "I" is. I was free to cast the story anyway I wanted in any setting, time period or place.
So when I made up my own visual story to partner up with Whitman's words ( trying my best to get to the heart of what Whitman was communicating in his poem), it struck me that child like drawings should accompany and juxtapose my formal paintings of the story. My boys were five and seven at the time and I just sat them down with some astronomy books on the floor of my studio and had them draw. They drew dozens of little doodles and my art director chose doodles he liked and we prompted a couple of others. My older son, Griff painted the drawing taped to the dresser in the boy's bedroom. I did the painting and left that part blank, covered everything up and asked him to paint the rocket any way he would like. My art director officially got the boys on the phone from NYC and asked for permission to use their art in my book. So it was on the up and up.
Loren Long is the author and illustrator of the New York Times bestselling picture books Otis, Otis and the Tornado, Otis and the Puppy and the forthcoming An Otis Christmas (October 2013).
He is the #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of President Barack Obama’s picture book Of Thee I Sing, the re-illustrated edition of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, and Mr. Peabody’s Applesby Madonna.
To see more of Loren's work, which Santa (and I) highly recommend...
Visit his Website