doesn't look much like spring here in Alaska with piles of snow still
towering over everything, but with all the sled dog races over and promises
of "breakup" coming soon, I'm hopeful. When spring does come here
in the far north, it seems like it is winter one day, and almost summer
the next...just my imagination, I'm sure. It's a time of new beginnings....baby
animals and birds everywhere if you know where to look....and one place
to look is in the contest for this month. Jane Simmons' ducks
are just adorable. The crop of new kids books this month will
give you lots of great reading. There is a boxed set of board
books by Jane Dyer The
Books: A Box of Animal Crackers filled with classic poems and lullabies.
Check out the Sing-Along
Songs by Mary Ann Hoberman and Nadine Bernard Westcott, and that
set comes with an audiotape. If you tweens haven't started Darren
Shan's vampire series, now is the time to start...number 3 of the series,
of Blood will be available soon.
Last month I reviewed the book "Abu and the 7 Marvels" by Richard Matheson, and interviewed Mr. Matheson for the Have You Heard? web page. I was so fascinated by the book and the marvelous art work by William Stout that I asked Mr. Stout to share his thoughts with us on illustrating children's books, and his other projects
Bev: Mr. Stout, you have such a huge body of work...you have accomplished so much in the 30 some years that you have had your work recognized and published; comic strips, album covers, designing for film, movie posters, children's books like ABU and Little Blue Brontosaurus, and your extensive dinosaur illustrations. What do you enjoy doing the most?
William: My favorite thing is painting murals. They're big; they're physical; they typically involve complex problems to solve; and they usually end up on public display. After murals, I like doing smaller oil paintings, watercolors and ink drawings of natural history subject matter as well as fantasy and mystical subjects.
Bev: You have produced a marvelous body of work on the wildlife of Antarctica. Tell us about your trips to Antarctica.
William: I first went as a tourist in 1989, and it changed my life forever. It is the most spectacular place on earth. The color, the diversity of life and the grand scale overwhelmed and ultimately inspired me. I could not face my kids upon my return to the United States without doing something to help preserve this special place for my children and my children's children, so I got involved with the Antarctica Project (www.asoc.org), a Washington D. C.-based umbrella organization devoted to coordinating the activities of various environmental organizations to make Antarctica the first World Park.
I have returned several times since, after being awarded the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program Grant from the National Science Foundation. They allowed me to make scuba dives underneath the ice, camp out in Antarctica's Dry Valleys and climb an active volcano (Mount Erebus). I spent each day making paintings and drawings of the wildlife there and returned with over 125 field studies. I feel very honored and privileged every time I return to The Ice.
Bev: Your illustrations of the cantankerous old Genie in ABU AND THE SEVEN MARVELS certainly captured his personality. What was it like to work with Richard Matheson? Did Matheson offer suggestions and criticism?
William: My original inspiration for the genie was the old character actor William Demarest from Preston Sturges' films and the "My Three Sons" television show. Boy, could he do an entertaining "cranky"! I didn't actually look at any photos of Mr. Demarest; I just tried to visually recall what his characters felt like.
Richard was very kind in allowing me to pursue my own interpretation
of his work. I think that this freedom inspired me to do my best work;
in addition, I wanted to honor Richard and his writing. Richard's only
Bev: Did you do any research for illustrating ABU, other than reading Richard Matheson's text?
William: I always do extensive research, even on my fantasy work. In the genie picture, for instance, all of the birds and animals in that picture are examples of North African and Arabian wildlife. The rickety ship is Arabian in design. All of the characters' clothing was researched. I bought Godiva and See's chocolates to use as models for the witch picture so that the sweets would be authentic.
Bev: Who was your favorite character in ABU?
William: For me it's a tie between the cranky under-achieving genie and the steer-eating giant. I always like my work and concepts to be different from everyone else's, so I gave our genie a third eye. The third eye concept is deeply rooted in mysticism (appropriate for a genie that is several thousand years old, I think) and usually represents second sight or the ability to have mystical visions.
Richard's description of the giant just tickled the heck out of me. I envisioned him quite clearly, popping whole cows into his mouth as if they were popcorn. I couldn't wait to draw him!
Bev: I loved the weeping dragon who was afraid of people and the haggard old flying horse with the buck teeth, the stem of wheat in it's mouth and the bandage on it's ankle. Do you have to do a number of drawings before you get exactly the look and emotion you want in an illustration?
William: That flying horse is one of my favorites, too. I like the fact that the horse doesn't seem to notice there's anything wrong with him.
I always do a series of small thumbnail sketches before I begin each picture in which I develop both the idea and the design of each piece.
Bev: What sort of books did you enjoy most as a child?
William: As a kid you could always find me in the local library deeply ensconced in nature books. I really loved the Herbert S. Zim Golden Nature Guides. I was constantly checking them out, so much so that the librarian told me I had to stop for a week to give other people a chance to look at them. That was one of the longest weeks of my life. Obviously dinosaur books played a big part in my childhood, too.
Bev: What, or who has had the greatest influence on your work?
William: Wow. That's a big question; there have been so many influences on my work. Frank Frazetta influenced me enormously, both with his art and his career path. Jean "Moebius" Giraud is another big influence, as are the children's book illustrators from the turn of the century like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and the Detmold brothers. Russ Manning, Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder influenced me greatly in my art and personally as well because I was fortunate enough to work with all three of them as an assistant. Those are the biggies, I guess.
Bev: You have received so many awards and honors...what is the one you cherish most and why?
William: There are three that I feel very fortunate to have achieved:
1) The National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers
2) Membership in the Writers Guild of America West. I think that writing is one of the hardest professions there is. To be welcomed into this organization by the peers I have had admired for so long made (and continues to make) me very proud.
3) The 2001 Gold Award for Book Illustration from the Society of
Bev: What new projects are you planning?
William: I'm writing and publishing a series of sketchbooks on the great American animal artist Charles R. Knight, collecting his unpublished drawings. The first volume is already out (see it on my website: www.williamstout.com) and I'm very proud of it. Knight is the artist who visually defined dinosaurs for the rest of the world with his magnificent paintings and sculptures.
I'm still working on my (unintentionally) long-term book project which when it's finished will be the first visual history of life in Antarctica. I've also written a live-action Antarctic thriller that my writing partner and I are trying to get off the ground as a feature. I'm participating in a feature-length documentary on climate change and global warming and writing a live-action feature on the war between the early American paleontologists Cope and Marsh.
In the vein of ABU, I've got a series of paintings on my Things To Do list that will depict various scenes from a sequel to "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" that I co-wrote with Ray Harryhausen. We'll use those paintings to try to sell the film. I'm working on two children's books that at this point need to remain a secret. I'm also working on a huge coffee table tome of my collected works. I'm always soliciting for mural work; as I said, painting murals is so much fun -- they're the best! Other than that, there's not much going on!
Coming in May: Interview with Ruth Sanderson (Cinderella)