Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Super Star Interview: Martin Bruckner

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m happy to be chatting it up with Artist Marty Bruckner! I simply can’t enough of his super fun illustrations of children’s sayings! Marty first started creating these for his Spaghetti Toes Facebook page in 2014 after a funny dinner conversation with his wife and daughter. He has been drawing custom prints for his family and for parents all over the world ever since. His first book I Love You with All my Butt comes out on April 4th, 2017 (That’s today!! Hooray! Congrats, Marty! Buy it here now!) Marty lives in Omaha with his wife Michelle, his five-year-old daughter Harper, and their three dogs. You can view more of his artwork here!


Q: You have a fabulous new book out, I Love You with All my Butt, that is a hilarious collection of illustrated children’s sayings that you have been creating and sharing for many years. Dish with us about how it came to be from inspiration thru creation, all the way to discovery & publication.

A: A few years ago, when my daughter was two, we were having a spaghetti dinner. My daughter, Harper, was goofing around and had begun to play with her noodles. Eventually those noodles had made their way down to her toes and my wife was not having any of that. She playfully, but sternly, said, “Please don't put spaghetti between your toes!” and an idea that would change our lives was catapulted into my brain. I decided to take all of the silly, gross, funny, adorable things that were being said in my home and bring them to life through my artwork. After a few months of me putting all of these illustrated musings onto a Facebook page, people started to take notice. I was soon being contacted by the Huffington Post, CNN, the Today Show, Buzzfeed and many, many more. It was around that time that I started talking to a literary agent and he put my book out there for potential publishers to see. The amazing people at Workman Publishing would soon change our lives once again. We teamed up to create the book and it has been a true joyful experience from beginning to end. 

So sweet! I love the little tools!!

Q: The artwork in your book represents a range of different art styles and looks. Give us the scoop on how your day job as a creative director/freelance designer influences your diverse approach to illustration and typography.

A: I've been a creative director for about 15 years now and started out mainly as an illustrator. I was mainly a pencil artist for the first half of my career but slowly started to acquire different styles. They are all based on the same idea—fun, loose, whimsical almost child-like drawings but I have about five to ten slightly different interpretations that come out to be visually distinct. As far as the typography, I just scribble out my letters right in Photoshop with the brush tool. Some of the "fonts" are super quick and easy and others take me quite a bit of time depending on how I want them to look. 

Q: Art, design and inspiration is a family affair in your house. In what ways do your wife and daughter both inspire and challenge you?

A: They inspire every single thing I do, and more than inspiration, they do half of the work for me either with their words or their ideas. I get stuck a lot and my wife, Michelle, always comes to my rescue. Sometimes I fight her on it, but she's always right. (Don't tell her that I said that!) Harper, my daughter, is now giving her ideas as well and I love it. She'll hear me and my wife talking about what to do and she'll say, “Why didn't anyone ask me what I thought?” It's so sweet and innocent and then she'll go into a five minute rabbit hole of brilliant five-year-old thoughts. 

I will! And I'll play it over and over and over in my brain for forever!!

Q: Last year the world lost a great number of cultural icons and you began creating a series of stunning illustrations of them. Tell us all about how/why you were moved to create them and if/how you see the series continuing.

A: This project really started as me doing something for my wife just like Spaghetti Toes did. When Gene Wilder died it crushed my wife. She has loved him forever and was so sad so I did a little drawing of all of his characters for her. She cried when she saw it, but it moved her. After Carrie Fisher died late last year, I did a drawing of her and put it on my Facebook page and people loved it and thanked me for doing it. It was then that I realized how many amazing people we had lost and I wanted to do a piece for all of them. I got a handful done and reached out to some people I have been in connection with out in the world of social media and Buzzfeed agreed to run all of my pieces. It was such an amazing project to work on and it's something that I would love to do every single year. Movie stars and athletes and musicians and all sorts of public figures mean so much to us and help shape our childhoods and adulthoods and I was just trying to pay tribute to them the only way I know how.

Q: There is a bit of lovely serendipity paired with your own motivation to share and create that resulted in Spaghetti Toes becoming an Internet sensation and now a fabulous book. Talk with us a bit about what advice you would give fellow creatives about daily work habits, inspiration, creating community and success.

A: Just be yourself. If you are good at something and have passion behind it, it will eventually turn into something that can become a huge part of your life. I never really thought that Spaghetti Toes would turn into what it has, but in the back of my head I knew there was something there. The best part of it for me, is that it's 100% a family idea. It would not exist without my wife, my daughter and then me. It has become something that I hope will last the rest of my life and I know it can because I will always have my family with me forever. 

It is, isn't it?! Vanilla with vanilla frosting for me, please!

 Daily work habits is a tricky one for me. I work all day long and then I come home. I play with Harper and our dogs. I help with dinner when I can. I play with Harper some more and help put her to bed and then it's back to work to do Spaghetti Toes. The weekends are tough as well because it's normally two-full-days of work to catch up. Being a dad and a husband, it's really hard to give up so much of that time. I'm lucky in that I work in my basement and while I work, Harper is right there dancing to her music, the dogs are playing and my wife is always there helping me with Spaghetti toes or working on her Etsy shop. . .so I'm never alone and I'm never neglecting anyone. It's hard, especially after a long day of work and play, to sit back down at my computer at 9 p.m. at night, but it's necessary. There are many nights I will sit down with my wife to watch t.v. and relax and before the opening credits even run I get up and walk over to the computer and tell her, “Watch what you want tonight, I can't relax until I finish this project.”

The community that has followed me through all of this is nothing short of amazing and inspiring. I have gotten daily messages for three years now of people telling me funny (and sad) memories from their lives. A lot of people just want to tell me something gross or silly that happened to them earlier that morning. I have parents who have lost children and children that have lost parents come to me to help them capture memories. I sometimes post pictures of Harper or tell a little story about something she's done and the comments that I get are so amazing. 

Ooo! I wonder if the bellybutton fairy grants wishes, too!

 Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: A few years ago I took the day off from my day job. I woke up, took Harper to school, went and got a coffee and came home to work on Spaghetti Toes. Harper gets out of school at 11am so I went and picked her up, and she, my wife and I all went out to lunch. We came home, walked the dogs, went to the park and returned home where Harper relaxed and played and I went back to work. Now, while I still love my day job, that was a perfect day to me. The perfect mixture of "work" and play, because in the end, Spaghetti Toes is far from work to me. It's a visual history of my family. It's memories, both good and bad. It's a chronological list of my daughter's first years and it's something that we will all look at for the rest of our lives and laugh, cry and relish.

Thank you so much, Marty, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We hope your new book is a smashing success!!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Super Star Interview: Shirley Ng-Benitez

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m thrilled to bits to be catching up with my fellow Tugeau2 artist, the sweet Illustrator, Shirley Ng-Benitez! I am a huge fan of her absolutely adorable artwork! Shirley loves to draw! Since ’98, she’s owned Gabby & Co., a design/illustration/handlettering firm and has worked with wonderful clients in the technology, greeting card, medical, toy, design and publishing industries. She creates with watercolor, gouache, pencil & digital techniques and is living her dream, illustrating and writing picture books in the Bay Area, California with her family. You can view more of her artwork here!

Who doesn't love pie?! Especially when it comes with friends!

Q: Expressive characters are at the heart of picture books that connect with young readers. And your characters are SO adorable and convey a lot of emotion! Take us thru how you develop and design a character for a children’s picture book.

A: Thank you Jane, I appreciate your kind words about my characters! 
For picture books, I first start with thinking about the main character’s personality and emotion. If the character is scared, then I start visualizing what it would feel like to be scared. I will do a combination of things before and during my sketching of the character, which include googling images that represent “scared”, and “acting” scared and looking at a mirror while doing so. Sometimes I will ask my youngest to “pose” for me and it’s great to be able to just do a quick free-sketch while she’s holding a pose. I sketch and sketch until a gesture or expression, or the feeling comes through. If it’s for personal pieces, I tend to randomly sketch and move the pencil until something pops up…it’s quite fun when there’s a face or some kind of shape that starts developing into something or someone recognizable! :)

A winter wonderland indeed!

 Q: I absolutely LOVE your black and white pencil sketches! They capture a sense of place and character so strongly, they really tug the heartstrings (so to speak!!)! Dish with us about all things “your sketchbook”: habits, practice, materials, inspiration, everything!

A: Thanks so much Jane! I started my daily sketching about 6 years ago after I attended a SCBWI Illustrator’s Day in San Francisco and heard Amy June Bates speak about her own practices. Her advice to all of us was to “draw, draw, draw, and then draw some more.” I really took it to heart and have found that I really find such relaxation and enjoyment from sketching each day. I use plain white copy paper on a clipboard and use Ticonderoga #2s. 

Through the years, to help provide prompts on what to sketch, I’ve made personal challenges, such as “sketch-a-day-for-a-year-and-post”, or “animal alphabet”; or I participate in Inktober, “the 100 day project”, and “Illo Advent,” which all have stretched me to sketch with different goals in mind. I’ll focus on light & shadow, composition, and more recently, narrative-driven illustrations. 

Inspiration comes from so many sources, but I must say, my daily walks at the park with my dog, Zsofi, help me to clear my head and think through project issues, and other concepts for personal and agent projects. The park is also home to cattle, so it’s been such a treat to see the newest members of the herd every season. Living in California, especially with all of this rain, has made for some beautiful green hills, creeks and cloudy skies and sunsets...it’s been truly wonderful.

So sweet & cozy!

 Q: You’ve illustrated numerous books for children, ranging from picture books to early readers. Tell us all about your favorite projects: one from the past and one from the present.

A: I have to say that my favorite project from the past was Emily Lost Someone She Loved, by Kathleen Fucci, 2015. Kathleen Fucci, wrote a beautiful story, which became an award-winning grief book for kids, and continues to help so many who have lost a loved one.

My favorite latest project is How Do You Say I Love You?—an upcoming board book from Little Simon by Hannah Eliot, which I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating as it introduces very little children to different ways to say “I Love You” from all over the world.

I must say that I have really enjoyed illustrating all of the projects I’ve had the honor of illustrating and have found so many in this industry (publishers, authors, printers, marketers, editors, art directors, book designers, my agent, her staff) who have really been wonderful working with while creating books with purpose. 

Doesn't this just give you the warmest warm fuzzies?!

 Q: In recent years, the movement to inspire, create and support more diverse books for children has become a force. What efforts in the children’s book publishing community would you praise? And what changes would you like to see?

A: I’ve been very inspired by this movement and wish to praise the incredible efforts of Lee and Low Books. From their site, their mission: “To publish contemporary diverse stories that all children could enjoy. We decided to steer clear of folktales since they tended to be about people who lived a long time ago. In contrast, we wanted our books to emphasize the richness of today’s cultures. We also avoided talking animal stories, since there was nothing new we could bring to this genre. And we pledged to make a special effort to work with unpublished authors and illustrators of color.”

I am so honored to be working on their latest imprint of early chapter books called “Dive Into Reading,” which have cast a diverse group of children called the Confetti Kids. Also from their site, I love the message to parents, educators, and guardians: “We also believe that books should inspire young readers to imagine a diverse world that includes them, a world in which they can see themselves as the heroes of their own stories.”

I’d also like to praise the efforts of the We Need Diverse Books organization—and for the incredible resources found there. 

In my personal efforts to share the new Dive Into Reading imprint with my local schools and libraries, I found it very difficult to break through the established bureaucracy of book purchasing in my public school district. The decision to include new books is left to the purchaser, who makes purchasing decisions based on established booklists, which may not have the very latest offerings of diverse books. I’m unsure how much public schools know about where to find diverse books and their interest to include them in their libraries, though I am hopeful that they do and are. Ultimately, I would love to see these books in the hands of all public school children, and it would be great to have an easier method to get the books to them by furthering the need for diverse books and information on where you can go to find them.

Q: What is your dream project?

A: My dream project is actually two dream projects: 1) to author/illustrate a story that resonates and touches people of all ages; and 2) illustrate a Golden Book. Wowee—that would be so amazing!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Sleeping in an extra hour or two at most, then fixing my cup of Peets coffee, I’d open up the blinds to reveal a beautiful sunshiny day in Poipu, Kauai; or the Bay Area, California. I’d work a few hours on my story, sketching, and painting, and then take a long walk with my girls, hubby, and pup; eat a great late lunch or early dinner; and then settle into a painting at night…perfection!

Thank you so much, Shirley, for chatting with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We love your artwork!