Woo Hoo!! I’ve got an incredible new interview for you today. Author/Illustrator Jef Czekaj has given us some super interesting insight into his background, his workspace, and his inspiration. I especially like his timeless advice to aspiring artists at the end of the interview. And did I see libraries mentioned three times? Awesome! I guarantee you will enjoy this interview.
Interview With Author and Illustrator Jef Czekaj (5/1/2011)
Q. How did you get your start in children’s books? Were you an author or an illustrator first, or both?
JC. I loved to draw as a kid. I was shy, and I remember drawing all the time and coming up with crazy little books and comics. I loved Mad Magazine and I drew a superhero parody comic called StupidMan that I thought was the funniest thing ever. I’m fairly confident that it still is.
Once I went to college for some reason I totally stopped drawing. I guess music became my main creative outlet, but also I was somewhat intimidated by the idea of drawing critiques. I took ZERO studio art classes in college.
And then after graduation I had a degree in Linguistics and absolutely zero job prospects, so I just started drawing again. It kind of just bubbled up out of my subconscious. Not as some sort of career prospect, just because I was bored. I drew a mini-comic/zine about R2-D2 playing in a rock band (called R2-D2 IS AN INDIE ROCKER). Eventually an issue of it found its way to then-editor of Nickelodeon Magazine, Chris Duffy, who encouraged me to work on kid-friendly material. He’s a great guy who really went out of his way to get underground cartoonists into Nick Mag.
I drew a comic for them called GRAMPA AND JULIE: SHARK HUNTERS for more than 10 years (there’s an out-of-print collection of some of the strips that you can probably find on Amazon)! Eventually that led to illustrating children’s books and now writing and illustrating them.
Q. What is your workspace like and what tools do you use to create your art?
JC. My workspace is a mess! I have two drawing desks pushed together that, honestly, is mostly a dumping ground for stuff I don’t have time to put away. At this point I do almost all of my work away from my studio space. Coffee shops and libraries are where I do most of my drawing, specifically Diesel Cafe in Somerville.
As far as tools, my set-up is really basic: I draw the line art with a #2-sized brush with ink on bristol. I try not to get too attached to any particular brand of brush or paper because I get too sad and freaked out if I can’t find that particular product. Then I scan the art and color it in Photoshop on my Mac.
I used to have a very specific regimen, but these days I draw wherever I can with whatever I have.
Q. What authors and illustrators have been inspirations to you?
JC. As a kid I LOVED Ed Emberley, specifically this pretty hard-to-find book called THE WIZARD OF OP. It was very different from his other books; it’s a black and white comic that had all of these trippy op-art effects in it. It’s soooooooo good! I would just check it out from the library over and over again.
I was also obsessed with THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone and illustrated by Mike Smollin. Right off the bat, that is the best title for a book ever. It’s a Sesame Street book about Grover begging you not to turn the pages of the book, so, of course, you do. My book, CAT SECRETS, is a direct descendant of that book.
Q. You have written and illustrated several picture books. Any favorites?
JC. I guess the diplomatic answer is I love all of my babies equally. As far as reading aloud to kids, HIP AND HOP, DON’T STOP! is my favorite because it allows me to really ham it up. I’ve made loops of popular rap songs (Salt N Pepa, Jay Z, Lil Wayne, etc) that I play and rap over (poorly, but enthusiastically).
Q. What projects are you working on right now?
JC. Right now I am working on a sequel to HIP AND HOP, DON’T STOP! called YES, YES YAUL! And a top-secret book called OINK A DOODLE MOO.
Q. How can fans learn more about you and your work?
Q. Any closing thoughts or words of wisdom for fans?
JC. When I do presentations at schools and libraries, my main message to kids is that you just need to dive into whatever it is you love doing. Whether it is music, art, animated gifs, or whatever, you just need to do it and not worry about if it’s good or not. I think a lot of kids (and grown-ups too) get really hung up before they even begin a project, worried that somehow they’re not talented enough.
The great thing about drawing is that you don’t need anything fancy. I just draw in junky notebooks that I buy at CVS, just like I did when I was 8-years-old. If I draw a picture I don’t like, who cares? I just draw a new one!