Thursday, October 18, 2012

Q&A with Stacy Innerst

Our very own Stacy Innerst set aside some time to answer a few pre-conference questions for us about his illustration work (and Texas, of all things). In case you missed it, Stacy will be leading one of our breakout sessions at the Western PA SCBWI conference on Saturday, Nov. 10. Details on the conference and the registration form can be found here:

Make sure you take a good, long look at Stacy's award-winning work on his site: Trust me.

SCBWI: Most of your picture books (I guess except for The Worm Family) are non-fiction. A couple questions: First, do you figure they’ve pegged you for a good non-fiction illustrator because of your years of editorial work? And second, do you really care?

STACY: I think that has something to do with it. When I took my portfolio to Harcourt, all I had were editorial pieces to show the editor. Some of them were pretty dark and conceptual. She saw something in them, though, and said she'd look for the right project to come along. Two years later I got a book. I've done a little bit of everything, though most of the books are strictly defined as non-fiction. M is for Music is an alphabet book, obviously, but there is a great deal of fiction in the pictures I made for it. Levi Strauss is a tall tale, not really a biography. My editor likes me to push the non-literal boundaries in the illustrations and the authors that I've worked with are very creative non-fiction writers, so there is always space to be imaginative. So, no, I don't really care. I'm up for anything.

SCBWI: So the names Kathleen Krull and Tony Johnston come up a lot with your picture books. Are they represented by the same agency you work with or was that a Harcourt editor’s idea?

STACY: We are represented by the same agency (Writers House) but I had done books with each of them before I had an agent there. My Harcourt editor did the first pairing when I illustrated Kathy's book (M is for Music) and Tony's (The Worm Family).

SCBWI: Is that a Texas Longhorns baseball cap you’re wearing on your author page on Amazon? Ouch.

STACY: Long (boring) story. I grew up in New Mexico where the hatred of Texas runs deep. A popular bumper sticker in NM read: "If God wanted Texans to ski he would have given them a mountain." Anyway, I ended up moving to West Texas for a job and I discovered, to my astonishment, that I really liked the people there.

I'm not a Texas sports fan or anything but the Longhorns  "branding" (pardon the pun)—burnt orange color and steer head—is, in my opinion, among the very best anywhere. The artist/designer in me really appreciates that. The odd thing is, every time I wear that cap, perfect strangers give me the "hook 'em horns" sign on the street. Texas fans (and foes) are everywhere apparently.

SCBWI: You’re so prolific. How many hours a day do you spend just on making art? And, how much of the business side of illustration are you able to leave to your rep?

STACY: It varies depending on what the deadlines look like but I try to spend at least a few hours a day making something. I pretty much do all of the business myself, except for negotiating contracts. My agent reaches out to art directors and editors in NY and I do the email blasts and mailings and sourcebook ads myself. I'm doing both editorial illustration and kids books so I'm staying pretty busy. In addition, I've pulled out oil paints again and am trying to do more personal work. I had put that aside for a long time, but I've found that I really need to do things just for myself in order to not blow a gasket.

SCBWI: When you work on the things that “keep you sane,” what do those things look like?

STACY: Oddly enough they are kind of a combination of figurative and abstract. I can't seem to do anything that doesn't tell a story of some kind but I really admire abstract expressionism and always have. I love the surface of paintings and the expressiveness of paint. Illustrations are by their nature flattened out once they go through the printing process or are scanned and digitized, so I like to work on paintings that are objects in and of themselves, and retain the sense of having been made by a human.

SCBWI: You said you like to use tin as a surface for your illustrations and you used denim for Levi Strauss. What’s the oddest surface you’ve thought to use?

STACY: Well, the most ill-advised surface that I've used was a wall at my middle school when I was thirteen. The police were not amused. Neither were my parents.

The most challenging was painting on football helmets, I think. I painted custom helmets for a charity auction that the Steelers were having a couple of years ago. That shiny curved surface threw me for a loop at first, but I figured out how to make the paint stick and I think they were pretty beautiful in the end. I did one for Hines Ward, one for Jerome Bettis and one for Jeff Reed.

Also, I did some paintings on roofing tar paper many years ago. I don't know where they are now and I'm not sure I want to know—maybe under some shingles somewhere.

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