Q&A: David Wiesner

The award-winning author and illustrator talks to TFK about his new book

Oct 08, 2010 | By TFK Kid Reporter Lucy Corlett
COURTESY CORLETT FAMILY

Look at the work of three-time Caldecott Medal winner David Wiesner, and you'll see that books don't always need words. You may know Wiesner for his wordless books, including Flotsam, Tuesday and Sector 7. He has also written books that have words, such as The Loathsome Dragon and Hurricane.

This week, Wiesner came out with another book called Art & Max. It is a funny story about two lizards—one who is spunky and immature and one who is controlled and professional. Like all of Wiesner's books, Art & Max. is full of colorful illustrations. Wiesner also uses dialogue to tell the story. Each character's words appear in a different typeface, so you always know who is talking. At a bookstore near his home, Wiesner talked to TFK about his work as an author and illustrator, and about the process of creating Art & Max.

 

TFK:

What is your new book Art & Max about?

DAVID WIESNER:

Art & Max is about two lizards named Arthur and Max and their exploration of the creative process. Arthur is an artist, and Max wants to be an artist. Max is full of incredible amounts of energy and lots of ideas, but doesn't really have the discipline yet to apply that. Arthur goes through quite a transformation, and I think both of them learn something from the encounter: to be open to new ideas and possibilities.

TFK:

Where did you get the idea for Art & Max?

WIESNER:

I have basically done all of my books in watercolor. I love watercolor, and I found new things to do with it. But after I did Flotsam, my previous book, I felt like doing something different. I started thinking about what else I could use. When I was a kid, I painted with lots of different things. We had lots of art supplies in my house—oil paints, pastels, colored pencils. As I started to think about that, I sort of had a flash of an image of a character painted in some sort of opaque (thick, not transparent) paint, and then [the paint] cracking and then falling off. Underneath is the character, only now it is drawn in soft, powdery pastel colors. And then the pastel gets blown off, and the character is now in watercolor. And then the watercolor gets washed off, and all that is left is a line drawing. I thought that was pretty neat.

TFK:

Where do you look for inspiration?

WIESNER:

It's a mysterious process. Ideas present themselves sometimes, and sometimes I get ideas through drawing. Mostly it's through drawing. There's some kind of connection between my brain, my arm, the pencil and the paper. It's when I draw that I really start to see how different things connect to each other. I'm looking at the shape of one thing, and it reminds me of something else. That happened with my book Tuesday. I saw a frog on a lily pad, and it looked to me like a flying saucer. That's when I saw it flying around, and that was my story of flying frogs. There is one little thing that will suddenly click, and the story grows out of that.

TFK:

What was your favorite book as a kid?

WIESNER:

There is an animal book by [Alice and Martin] Provensen, which we had in my house and that I loved. My sister and I would read it all the time. I met Alice Provensen and had her sign the book. That was pretty cool. The book was neat because it had longer stories, shorter stories, and it even had a few story pages without words. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that was the reason I started doing wordless books, but maybe it had something to do with it.

TFK:

Your earliest books were wordless. How do you feel about using words in your books?

WIESNER:

I will use whatever the story needs. With Art & Max, I probably could have found a way to do it wordlessly, but the dialogue between the two characters was as much fun as what they were doing. I felt that it really gave a richer sense of their personalities. So words are a kind of tool. Sometimes I use them, and sometimes I don't.

TFK:

What advice would you give kids who want to become children's book artists?

WIESNER:

Draw all the time. It's not just something once or twice a week at school. For me, it was always more important than anything else. So don't stop. Find a place where you can draw, hopefully a place where you don't always have to clean up, a spot that's always available when you're ready to draw. Don't worry about what other people think you should be doing or what the drawings should look like. Draw the things that really interest you and that you like to draw. Spend the time learning.