For my next and final #LA15SCBWI pre-conference interview, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caldecott-winning author and illustrator, Eric Rohmann. I first met Eric and his marvelously talented wife, author Candace Fleming, at a Texas Library Association conference. Since then, I’ve come to know Eric and Candace as two of the nicest and most generous people in our business—two of the biggest names in children’s publishing, yet they greet everyone graciously and with humility. Later on, I heard Eric speak about page design and page turns at a Highlights Foundation workshop, and I walked away a better bookmaker having heard him speak.
For today’s interview, I changed things up a bit. Rather than my asking the questions, I put questions out to Eric’s fans on social networks. Here’s what Eric said about social networking, and what his fans wanted to know about him:
Eric: No matter how many times I log into my MySpace page (after the dial-up modem has finally connected) I read about this “Facebook”.
Harold Underdown: Do people still make “Half-a-bee” jokes or have you been able to move on?
Eric: (Smiles) If this is what I think it is, I’d forgotten… But now that you bring it up my facial tick has returned.
Henry L. Herz: Any tricks for creating really voicey characters?
Eric: I always read aloud. Then, I get someone else to read it aloud. Also, write characters you know. I could not write Huck Finn’s words, or the words of a geisha in 19th Century Japan, but I can write a suburban kid in the midwest (or a Rabbit or a boy with a pumpkin for a head…)
Eric: Glorious… It’s been wonderful to make pictures for some of her stories. She appears to have a future in the business. Selfishly, it’s great to have a clever, creative brain consider my work. She is always my first eyes and ears. You know her, Larry, and I think you know she knows her books.
Nick Bruel: Without exaggeration, Eric Rohmann is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. He’s incredibly politically astute and can probably speak with authority on nearly anything. Ask him about his process- what materials he uses, etc.
Eric: (Blushing crimson…I’m particularly conversant about 14th century gender-fluid poetry, the role of giant pandas in the discovery of the atom, and Icelandic-Cuban cuisine (Ice Cube?). Readers, of course, see the finished book— that’s the point– and so they don’t often think about the process. The writer/artist thinks mostly about making the book. When I ask other illustrators to buy or trade their work they will typically part with finished pictures but not the preparatory art that lead to the book. The important part of the artistic life is making something.
Matthew Winner: What’s Eric’s artistic weapon of choice at the moment?
Eric: I use any good 2B drawing pencil and sepia drawing ink. I use Gamblin oil-based relief printmaking ink (intense pigment load!). My oil paint and watercolors are made by Windsor and Newton. The watercolor brushes I use are sable (costly, but last forever). I write in my journal/sketchbook with a TWSBI fountain pen filled with diluted blue-black Noodler’s ink. My wood cut tools of choice are made in Japan by the same workshop that makes samurai swords. WMD, indeed.
Matthew Cordell: Ask him about his pet tarantula. I mean, what’s up with that?
Eric: Gosh Matt, last time we were at your house we kinda lost Betty somewhere in your living room. Good news, the venom only paralyzes. Death is really, really rare.
John L. Bell: He’s notable for having worked in such different styles for different books. He’s no doubt spoken about that, but it’s still fascinating.
Eric: The choice of technique must always arise from the story. When I write or read a story I want to illustrate I try lots of things until I find some way that best and most clearly tells that story. Story is all and everything.
Cathy Bonnell: After so many beautifully successful books, is there one by another children’s book author/illustrator you wish you had done?
Eric: The list is long. I look in wonder at any book that I could not have made but wish I had. The Carrot Seed is perfect; so are Milo’s Hat Trick, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Clever Jack takes the Cake, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes appear to have some connection with the childlike mind that I only dream about. I know why the books work. I can take them apart and intellectually explain their wonders. But I cannot make those books and so they appear to be wrought by magic.
Kelly Milner Halls: Will he ever do another dinosaur book?
Eric: Odd… I have recently been reading books about dinosaurs again. It’s that thing old guys do—go back to what you loved as a kid… (#Rosebud). I won’t make another dino book unless I can find an idea as good or better than Time Flies. Candy and I have a non-fiction book about giant squid next year. Not dinosaurs, but mysterious monsters, big and scary.
Kathy Doherty: Does he and Candace have more books in the making?
Eric: The aforementioned Giant Squid (Roaring Brook, 2016), Bulldozer Helps Out (Simon and Schuster, 2017), and a few other projects I need to talk her into letting me work on. Yes, they are that good.
Gregg T Golson: Can he write a sequel to My Friend Rabbit?
Eric: Every time I read Rabbit to school groups I am confused by just how I made that book. It’s a freaking mystery to the guy who made it! In truth, I’m just as curious about what happened those characters. In my notebooks I have sketches and storyboards of possible stories, but so far they all are lame shadows of the first book. Alas…
Marjie Podzielinski: Favorite media to work in?
Eric: The one I’m not working with at the time. You always try to challenge yourself because hardship makes a better book— but it also makes trouble. When I am making prints I long for the simple, direct process of oil painting and when I’m making watercolors I wonder how much better life would be making prints. The anxiety is killing me. I hope it lasts forever.
Don Tate: Can you give us an idea about what you’ll talk about at #LA15SCBWI?
Eric: I’m going to talk about the language of pictures— how a good picture book uses words and pictures in concert, one feeding and enhancing the other. Pictures in a book are not just decorations but full partners in the storytelling. I’ll also yell at people and complain about stuff, lamenting youth culture and the flavorlessness of supermarket tomatoes.