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 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.
“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!”
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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
JC: When you are teaching, what is one thing you tell your students?
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”.
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.
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?
JC: Favorite Gadget?
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)
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.
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?
RJW: WHAT ABOUT BOB, GROUNDHOG DAY, THE DREAM TEAM, THE CATS OF MIRIKITANI, GLADIATOR, MASTER AND COMMANDER, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, WAKING NED DEVINE, TREMORS, etc.
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
JC: Favorite Fine Artist?
RJW: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Motherwell, folk artists
RJW: My folks, my kids, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Jesus
JC: Bookmarked Websites?
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.
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
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.