Q’s and A’s for You and Me, with Richard Jesse Watson

Illustrator and author members of the San Diego Chapter of SCBWI had the golden opportunity  of attending an early morning hands-on workshop and presentation at their most recent monthly meeting, led by author/illustrator Richard Jesse Watson.

Since nowadays, character-driven stories are what agents and editors seek out, it makes perfect sense to corner your own characters with a Q & A.  Why? Richard explains:

It is a simple way to get to know your character.  The results can be quite unexpected, if you let your character be themselves.

Richard applies his Q&A technique to one of Katherine Ward's critters.

Richard applies his Q&A technique to one of SCBWI-attendee Katherine Ward's critters. Surprise: It's a party animal made entirely from masking tape!

Richard walked us through the process with a plan:

Q&A for Authors, Illustrators, Undercover Operatives 
1. Make the sun shine.

2. Sit outside in your patio under a banana tree.

3. Invite your character to sit down on one of your comfortable rattan chairs.

4. Ask them if they would be willing to do a little Q&A.

5. If they refuse, fire them on the spot and go for the understudy.

6. If they agree, then start with the polite questions (favorite color, breakfast food, describe your pajamas…)

7. Once things get going, ask the harder questions (favorite cuss word, have you done anything you regret? who do you hate and why…)

8. It might be a good idea to park your car in such a way that you can make a hasty retreat [BTW, this is advice that is actually written into the rule book for FIFA soccer referees].

9. If you find yourself blushing, drink some cool orange juice. Remember, this is about your character, not you. Or is it? Damn you Freud.

10. Agree to meet again. Get the phone numbers of some of your character’s friends so you can interview them as well.

Left to right: Joy Chu, Richard Jesse Watson, Edith Hope Fine

Richard Jesse Watson with Joy Chu and Edith Hope Fine, after his presentation

“Weren’t we the lucky ducks to hear Richard Jesse Watson?” author Edith Hope Fine declared afterwards, smiling. “To do a Q and A with one of our own characters. THAT got the brainbox moving, for sure!”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Now, it’s your turn to give it a try. Read on. . .

To demonstrate, Richard completed the following Q & A for the Countdown:

Joy Chu:   Can you list your most recent books-to-date?

cover from "The Lord's Prayer", illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson

(click to enlarge)

Richard Jesse Watson:  I am working on PSALM 23 which will be a companion book to the THE LORD’S PRAYER picture book that I did last year  for Zondervan.  And before that I illustrated a book, written by my son, Ben, THE BOY WHO WENT APE, published by Scholastic.

JC:   Describe your usual work space for us.

cover from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

(click to enlarge)

 RJW:  Chaos, Joy. Pure chaos. Pure, distilled chaos. Actually, more like pure distilled, concentrated, magnified, stratified chaos. (sigh) (Mucho projects, and muy books in various stages). There’s a bank of flat files, filing cabinets full of reference material, two drawing tables and a counter in the center for stand-up work; racks above for art storage. Looking out of every window there’s a view of the forest. I share my space with Big Sur, my moose.

Richard Jesse Watson's studio

Richard Jesse Watson's studio

JC:   What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety; or are experimenting -– your preferred one(s)?

RJW:   I lu-uv to experiment with medium.  Books I’ve illustrated have been done in a variety of medium (sometimes mixed), including egg tempera, acrylics, oil, watercolour, serigraph, gold leaf, sumi ink on elephant dung paper. I let the story tell me what it needs.

JC:   Where were you born or grew up; where do you live; does this effect your aesthetic style or sensibility?

RJW:   It surely must have affected me that I grew up in the jungle as an orphan, my only friends being jaguars and monkeys. On a desert island some of the time. Banana leaves.

Interior art from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

I also grew up in the Mojave desert and Pasadena. First, sidewinder rattlesnakes.  Then roses, orange trees, night blooming jasmine. The Norton Simon Art Museum and Vromens Bookstore were favorite hang out place for me. Also the Pasadena Libraries were a sanctum vitum mirabilis of sorts.

JC:   If you were not an artist/author what would you be doing for a living?

RJW:  I would probably be a bag lady.  I mean, if you are an artist or a writer, you are “all in”. You climb up all those stairs on the high dive and you crawl out to the edge and then you jump or go home.

masthead for Richard's blog, "My Inner Zoo"

Masthead from Richard Jesse Watson’s blog (click above to enter)

I could see being a chef or a baker, because then you could eat your art. Fresh baked bread. . . ohhh. . . (makes gutteral sound, eyes roll up in head).

art from The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake, written by Nancy Willard (above)

JC:   What is your greatest strength and weakness as an artist/creator?

RJW:  I hate this question. My greatest strength is melting things. Or making sparks.

Creating sparks at his studio My agent says I shouldn’t bad mouth myself, so I am reluctant to talk about my weaknesses, which are legion. But one of the worst is. . . hard to say, but my wife says it’s time to come out of the closet and just say it. So here goes, ready? One, two, three, get set, on you mark, Eeuumphh. . . Okay, I’m color blind (hears doors slamming all over the industry).  I mean not all colors. I can tell the sky is green. Maybe I see colours the rest of you don’t. Hmmm?

detail from "The Magic Rabbit"

detail from "The Magic Rabbit"

JC:   When you are teaching, what is one thing you tell your students?

from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

from "The Boy Who Went Ape"

RJW:  Run away. Hide. Get a job. Calm down Richard. I’m still carving my initials in the dining room table after that last question. Students. I tell them to readreadreadreadread and drawdrawdrawdrawdraw. It is more fun if you say that like Gomer Pyle would say it. “Raydraydraydraydrayd”.

"I enjoy the ritual of applying the gesso and meditating on the imagery to come."

". . . I try several other gesso colors. . . "

". . . then experiment with silk screen inks in combo with the gessoes. . . "

"I did an under-painting of alizarin crimson with sap green. . . "

". . . adding some silk screened patterns. . ."

". . . more silk screening on top of the other patterns . . ."

" Hey, since we're here. . . . some more. . . "

". . . well, maybe just a little more. . . "

". . . I am always amazed by the wonders shown us by astronomers, especially . . . the different wave lengths of light not normally visible. I played a little with that . . . "

And I encourage students to give themselves permission to play. You experience real discovery when you play with medium, style, and ideas. A lot of books are conceived this way. Make every effort to cultivate your passion.

from "The Magic Rabbit"

JC:   Favorite Color?

RJW:  Yellow. but only because it is the one that yells.  I like all colors. Can’t we all just get along?

from "The Legend of St. Christopher"

from "The Legend of St. Christopher"

JC:   Favorite Gadget?

from "The Night Before Christmas"

from "The Night Before Christmas"

RJW:  I like my five horsepower grinder. When I was little, and my dad was babysitting me, he used to give me iron rods and said, “Go play with the grinder, Richy”. I would shower my little bare feet with sparks galore. I felt like Thor, god of sparks and molten bits of metal burning holes in my shorts and shirts.

Drawings from The Lion and the Mouse (below)

character sketches for "The Lion and the Mouse"

JC:   Favorite App?

RJW:  I like Penultimate for sketching (on the iPad) when I’m doing school presentations and for taking notes.

JC:   Favorite TV Show?

RJW:  I am not currently watching TV. But I loved LOST until they wrote themselves into a goofy ending.

frontispiece from "Tom Thumb"

frontispiece from "Tom Thumb"

JC:   Favorite Books?

RJW:  The Idiot, Treasure Island, Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows, War and Peace, Grapes of Wrath, Life of Pi, Alexander McCall Smith’s books, especially 44 Scotland Street, the Harry Potter series, George MacDonald’s fairy tales, everything by Beatrice Potter, Shaun Tan’s books, William Joyce’s books and apps…

JC:     Favorite Movies?


Tom Thumb's teacup tub

Tom Thumb's teacup tub

JC:     Favorite Music?

RJW:  Bach, Handel, Satie, Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Blues, Global, Eastern European folk dance music, Russian sacred choral works, Santana, Khaled, Ry Cooder, Andrea Bocelli, Ravi Shankar

from "The Waterfall's Gift"

from "The Waterfall's Gift"

JC:     Favorite Fine Artist?

RJW:  N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Motherwell, folk artists

from "Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shapeshifter", an epic poem by James Dickey
from “Bronwen, the Traw, and the Shapeshifter”, by James Dickey

JC:     Hero/heroine?

RJW:  My folks, my kids, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Jesus

JC:     Bookmarked Websites?

RJW:  http://5preciousthings.blogspot.com/

JC:     Worst Habit?

RJW:  Chewing fingernails, coffee

JC:     New Year’s Resolutions?

RJW:  Finish current book project on time or in this century

JC:     One Thing You Can’t Live Without?

RJW:  My wife, Susi.

Susi and Richard Watson

Susi and Richard Watson

JC:     Talent You Wished You Possessed?

RJW:  Floating in the air

JC:     Best Gift Ever Received?

RJW:  Carrot bread with money baked inside

JC:     Mantra or Saying You Live By?

RJW:  Love one another.

JC:     Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

RJW:  Projects simmering: dinosaurs, aliens, fairies

dinosaur illustration for SCBWI National Newsletter

dinosaur illustration for SCBWI National Newsletter (click to enlarge)

JC:     What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

RJW:  I have dropped a lot of boulders on my big toe. Poor toe. I’m sorry.

This art was created for the restoration of wildlife habitat, and the creative education of children.

This art was created for the restoration of wildlife habitat, and the creative education of children.

The original painting was auctioned in February 2011 to benefit five schools in Jefferson County, Washington. Cards are available through this website: http://www.swanschool.net/plantathon.html

8 responses to “Q’s and A’s for You and Me, with Richard Jesse Watson

  1. helpfulannalisa

    Funny…my favorite color is yellow and I am still a loud talker today. It is a color that screams JOY or BRIGHT…remember that book “Yellow” and the page of yellow consuming everything…overwhelming?! I think illustrators and authors for children need that kind of Yellow passion to be creative and successful. Yep, I still love yellow (and being loud).

  2. …and Mary would know.

  3. RJW– color blind? You must mean color blindingly beautiful. And a poet’s gift for words.

  4. From all the wonderful comments I heard after, I was SO sorry I was unable to attend Richard’s presentation. Now, if only an editor would ask him to illustrate one of my PBs.

  5. Thank you Jill! Nice to meet you. Beautiful work you do, too!

  6. What a great interview full of so much fun and information!

    I always enjoy stopping by here to see what’s new. I gave you a little blog award at Art on the Page! http://artonthepage.blogspot.com/

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