Edit by L. Fernandez
Scott Magoon, Art Director at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children is a Boston man in a publishing industry that finds the time to write and illustrate his own stories. His eclectic sense of style brings heart-warming stories alive.
1. Where do you find your inspirations for your writings and illustrations? Does some of it come from being a father?
Inspiration can come from anywhere for me; I always remind myself that it's a matter of staying open to the possibility. Inspiration is much like anything for which you watch out intently: if you're keeping your eyes peeled for it, you're more likely to recognize it when it comes your way. My boys are definitely a guide for me in making books that kids will love—they are at their most inspiring to me with their expressions and body language and the way they interact with a world that's just a bit too large for them.
2. What is your favorite part of putting a book together? Writing or Illustrating?
Putting me on the spot! For me, I love all aspects of writing (I was an English major, after all) and magic for me comes at the sketch stage where the characters start to come up from the paper and reveal themselves. It's the first manifestation of what the physical book may look like and I find that visual discovery not unlike following a hidden trail in the woods: where does it go?
3. What is it like to be working for a publishing company and also writing/illustrating your own books?
If I didn't love both, I wouldn't be able to do both. I have been blessed to have worked on both sides of the fence for as long as I have with the countless talented people I have—but it means a great deal of time and work as you may imagine. This all comes with a sacrifice for other parts of my life: socially, family, etc. Perhaps most notable, though, is how I still feel as though I'm a bit of an outsider, living in two worlds but never fully in one. That feeling can be liberating or it can be isolating. I like to think this dynamic keeps my inner artist hungry to connect.
4. Can you tell us what your favorite book is that you both written and illustrated? Please tell me a little about your upcoming books?
Man alive! Again—you are putting me on the spot (laughs)! I love all of my books, each for a different reason: one I may like the way I solved the character design; another its the line work I most treasure. Another's colors may work wonders to my eye. I try not to pick and choose my favorites but instead I glean what I learned from each book; its a way of improving for future books. And speaking of which, I have another book with Ugly Fish author Kara LaReau coming from Roaring Brook called Mr. Prickles: A Quill-Fated Love Story just in time for Valentine's day. It's a pointed story about a porcupine who finds his true love. Also, early next year is coming a sequel (well, more like a change in place setting) to Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal called Chopsticks. It's about working together but perhaps more importantly—working on one’s own.
5. What work of yours are you most proud of and why?
My family first and foremost, if I may choose something so unrelated to picture books and my family could be considered 'works.' They certainly are a lot of work, so...hopefully you'll allow me that conceit (laughs). Again, I can't possibly choose one piece of work as they each have tremendous worth to me: technically, creatively and sentimentally.
7. Do you have a regular work time for you to work only on your writing and illustrating? Or do you doodle whenever you have the time?
I work usually 9-5 at Houghton in Boston then work on my own illustration around 10-12 every weeknight; then for a number of hours on the weekends. Working digitally concentrates the actual production-of-art-time in that there's no time spent cleaning up, mixing paints, etc. I doodle, but I really wish I had more time to doodle. My resolution this year was to do more loose sketching and I have fallen WAY short of that goal, sadly. There's always next year!
8. What advice would you give to authors and illustrators just starting? And as art director, what do you look for?
There is a danger in equating success in this industry with "getting published." I think it can lead to a pub-lust so intoxicating the challenges that lie beyond being published are forgotten: The truth is that being published is merely part of the beginning. A zillion other hurdles await. Steel yourself and take a hard look at the other side of being published as you'll need to be 110% in this if you want it long-term. As an art director I always look for something different, I look for excellent character design and I look for heart, humor and thoughtful composition. It also helps to be easy and collaborative to work with.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." Leonard Bernstein said that. I like it.
Watch out for his stories.
I’d like to thank Mr. Magoon for granting me this interview.
For more about Scott Magoon, visit www.scottmagoon.com/