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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

John Lechner is an author, illustrator, animator, puppeteer, and designer. His newest books, The Clever Stick (read my review here) and Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril are in bookstores now. Some of my favorite works of his are linked or pictured below.

Froggy in moonlight, ink and watercolor

He Was Me – an animated film about the inner child in all of us. Lechner directed this film with artwork by Peter Reynolds.

An ink and watercolor study of the endpapers of Lechner’s book, A Froggy Fable. This is so simple and pretty, the blues of the image illuminated by the white crescent moon.

For more about John Lechner, visit his website, including his new blog, The Untended Garden, where he muses on books, art, and nature.

Who are your greatest creative influences?

I’m inspired by illustrators like N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Maurice Sendak, Bill Peet, and Hergé. Also a wide variety of writers, from Lewis Carroll and Sid Fleischman to Tolstoy and Melville. Also by filmmakers Charlie Chaplin, Jim Henson, and Hayao Miyazaki. They all managed to create very personal works that resonated with a larger audience.

What five artists and/or writers, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?

I would have loved to meet N.C.Wyeth, who was so enthusiastic about life and art, and a great teacher. A few other amazing people to meet would be Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, Jim Henson, and Hayao Miyazaki.

Has there been a classic children’s story you’ve ever wanted to provide the illustrations for? Which title?

There have been many, especially classic adventure stories like Robin Hood, Peter Pan, and The Jungle Book. Often illustrators capture the visual style of these classics but they miss the spirit of the stories, which is even more important.

You work in a variety of media, including films, books, interactive games, etc. Do you have a favorite? How do you choose which medium is best to tell a story?

I enjoy working in all media, they all have their appeal. When I think of a story, I picture it in my head and usually it appears in one particular medium or another. Some stories are best told with words, others with pictures, others with music and movement. Usually the story chooses the medium, if you let it.

What projects are you currently working on? Can you tell me anything about them?

I am currently working on an interactive story, combining the elements of a book, a film, and a game. I’ve been working on it for over a year, and it’s completely different than anything I’ve done before. I’m also writing a novel, and continuing my web comics.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Illustrators should focus on their art and keep at it. It’s not something that you learn in art school and then you’re all set for life, that’s really just the beginning of your artistic development. It’s a lifetime of working and improving and developing your style. Draw what you like and have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. You can’t stand still as an artist, or you stop being one.

What’s your favorite animated movie?

I don’t have a single favorite. Though one that inspires me a lot is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Miyazaki. It’s older and a bit rough around the edges, but it’s such a powerful piece of storytelling, with amazing characters, complex themes, and brilliant direction. (I recommend the subtitled version.)

With a great deal of animated movies relying on CGI-animation, and gaining big box office, do you think we’ll see a demise of the traditional hand-drawn film, or even just the traditional style, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and the animated sequences in Enchanted? Do you believe the upcoming release of The Princess and the Frog, might bring a resurgence of the traditional style?

I think there will always be hand-drawn 2D animated films. The reason audiences stopped flocking to them wasn’t because computer animation was better, but because the stories were becoming stagnant and over-produced. Pixar succeeds because they focus on story first, not demographics or marketing. I think traditional animation is due for a comeback, but only if the writing is good.

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve been drawing all my life. When I was in first grade, I wrote and illustrated my first book about sailors who get swallowed by a whale and escape through the spout, and I’ve been writing and drawing ever since.

Has there been any medium you’ve wanted to work with, and haven’t yet?

Not really.

Where did you go to school for art? Did you receive any special training?

I went to Carnegie-Mellon University, where I studied art and creative writing. I took courses in drawing, painting and printmaking. But it took a long time after that to develop my style in both art and writing.

What’s one thing you want your art and/or writing to do for a child?

I would like my work to inspire the imagination, to make children think creatively about the world around them, and hopefully encourage them to tell their own stories.

Do you remember your favorite books as a child?

I loved Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World. I also loved Babar, Curious George, and all the Bill Peet books. As I got older I liked Sid Fleischman, Edward Eager, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.

You recently had two children’s books released, The Clever Stick, and Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril. When both illustrating and writing a book, what’s your process like? How do you begin? Do you sketch first, then write, or do both in tandem?

When I come up with a story for the first time, I don’t think of the book at all. I simply write down the story, maybe with a few sketches. Once I’ve decided to turn it into a picture book, I’ll do a sketch dummy. Then another. Then another, each time revising the text and trying to make it better. When the words and sketches are as solid as they can be, I’ll do the final illustrations. (Though I still might change the words even then!)

If you could live inside any children’s book, which title would it be and why?

That’s a difficult question, because some of my favorite books I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in. If I had to pick one that would be fun, I think I’d choose The Hobbit. It’s got great characters, magical places to explore, elves, dragons, and just enough danger to be exciting — what more could you want?

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