Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mikey Brooks--An Artist and an Author.

From the time man first picked up a stick and dragged it through wet sand, the impulse to recreate the beauty he saw around him hasn't weakened. In fact, since the days of Michelangelo, who had to make his own oil paints, the allure we feel toward all things that are "art" has grown, whether the palette we use is a dictionary full of words, or a computer program that digitally colorizes the uploaded drawing we create by hand. 

I’ve been drawing since I was six when I got special pencils, erasers and a drawing pad for Christmas from my mom and dad. That day became the leading edge of a wonderfully satisfying artistic calling for me, one that developed into a creative writing career. They may not sound related--but they are!

Meet Mikey Brooks, a fellow artist, who has used his considerable artistic talent to illustrate children’s books. 

    I know how long it takes to complete a single painting. I admire this man for completing so many pages to make a whole book, "Lucius and the Christmas Star." Ah, but this wasn't the first book he has illustrated. Mikey worked with Carolyn Quist on "Ocelot Scott" and created wonderful illustrations for her tale. Even more exciting, Mike wrote his own book, "Trouble with Bernie" and illustrated it, too. Talent seems to seep out of his very being.  

 I asked Mikey some questions, to get to know him better. Some of the answers surprised me, others didn't so much.


Me: When did you first discover you were an artist?

Mikey: I’d like to say I knew when I painted a masterpiece at age three, but it didn’t happen that way. I have a grandmother who is an amazing painter that actually was offered a job at Disney—she had to turn it down when she got pregnant with my mother. My father was also a painter.  Growing up my grandmother taught me to use oils and I doodled on just about everything. It wasn’t until a little over a year ago I thought I could actually create art professionally. It all comes down to self-confidence.

Me: I truly believe that artistic talent is passed down through the genes, all we need to do is capture that creative animal and exercise it. My mother helped me with my very first drawing. While she sat by my side, I drew, but then she showed me how to shade the drawing. My brother is an outstanding artist, too. Totally amazing. I didn’t know until a few years ago that my father was a published author—he had a short story published in his high school literary magazine.

I understand that you’re a writer, too?

Mikey: Yes, I am! I actually have my degree in Creative Writing. I have always been a writer. When I wasn’t drawing I was writing. I grew up on my grandparent’s farm in Missouri. We lived about a half hour drive outside a small rural town so our farm was surrounded by thick, dark trees that went on forever. Our nearest neighbor was about a mile down the road so it was very secluded. I used those woods as inspiration for many of the stories I wrote. Now I use my little girls. Their imaginations are enough to fuel a rocket to the moon and back. I write both picture books and middle grade. I have a middle grade series I’m currently shopping around.

Me: A middle grade series? Wonderful! I hope you use your illustrative talent at the beginning of each chapter and have a little drawing like some other middle grade books that shall remain nameless.

Where do you work? i.e., do you have a studio? 

Mikey: I have a room that we call the studio. It’s small but I don’t need a whole lot of space to put down a piece of paper. It does make you feel a little more professional when you have your own place to create in. My girls call it daddy’s room and we’ve almost gotten them to stay out of there when I’m not in it. There’s nothing like leaving something out and coming back to find it has the added touches of a three year old. When I’m not working on writing or illustrating I actually manage a bakery. I design and decorate cakes. It’s fun to have lots of creative outlets.

Me: I made both of my sons’ wedding cakes last year. I’ve been doing that, in an amateurish way, of course, since they were children. My friends still will hit on me for a wedding cake now and then. I’d love to have an actual bakers’ kitchen to work in. I don’t do fondant, though.

Do you prefer crayons to finger paints?

Mikey: That is a great question! I have to say crayons. I don’t like getting messy, I’m a little OCD. My kids on the other hand would gladly handle the finger paints.

Me: I love the smell of Crayola crayons—not the off brand. They smell as wonderful as Play-Doh. Sighs.

How do you do your wonderful illustrations? (I know they aren't done in crayon!)

Mikey: I freehand them with a mechanical pencil on normal copy paper. Sometimes I keep the image the same, if I want it to have a gritty look about it, otherwise I then transfer the sketch to Bristol paper with micron pens. I paint them through Photoshop. I give a great tutorial on how I do that at http://writtenbymikey.blogspot.com/2012/06/coloring-illustrations-using-photoshop.html . Sometimes I paint in watercolor, like with Ocelot Scott, by Carolyn Quist. Or colored pencils like with Trouble With Bernie.

Me: I hate to admit it, but I have a terrible affection for micron pens . . . and prismacolor pens, and brush markers, and, well, pretty much any other type of art pen/marker colored pencil on the market. (Shush, don’t tell!) I'm going to check out your tutorial. I'm hoping to get photoshop on my next computer (Christmas present, Santa!).

Do you draw from memory or do you use pictures?

Mikey: Both! When it comes to animals I have to do my research. Carolyn Quist, author of Ocelot Scott loves to use animals not very well known. I’m working on a new book for her that features a bongo, a galago, an armadillo, and a snow leopard. All of which I have to do research on, which my wife thinks is cheating. If I’m making something up I give myself the go ahead to do whatever I’d like. I did that with Trouble with Bernie and Bean’s Dragons.

Me: Research is not cheating! A bongo might have two heads, and then where would you be if you only drew one? And the only armadillos I’ve ever seen are dead ones on the side of the road in Arkansas, and certainly they aren’t picture worthy! Ick!

Do you work certain hours each day or when you are inspired?

Mikey: I wish I could work all day long at it—really. I find myself smiling as I work, because I truly love to do it. Unfortunately I have to work my day job first. Lucky for me though it’s early hours. I get up at 3am and I’m off my 1-2pm. My wife allows me time away from the family to work, but sometimes I just can’t say no when the girls want to play.

Me: You’re a good dad, Mikey! 

As the illustrator, how did you work with the author to create a book?

Mikey: It all comes down to thinking of it as a partnership. The book becomes “ours” as we work together. Although I feel the roles of the author and the role of the illustrator should remain separate, so that creativity isn’t influenced, I also believe that communication and compromise is the key to success. We have to have the same goal, and that is to create an amazing book. I feel Jim Long and I accomplished this with Lucius and the Christmas Star.

Me: I agree with you! 

Do you have a favorite illustrator? Mine are Arthur Rackham, Jesse Willcox Smith, (I love her illustrations of children) and Mikey Brooks.

Mikey: *blushing* Thank you! Arthur Rackman has beautiful art. I’m humbled to be next to him. I have lots of favorite illustrators to name a few: Mercer Mayer, Brandon Dorman, and James Owen.

I’d love for anyone to come to the virtual book launch of Lucius and the Christmas Star, by Jim Long at www.writtenbymikey.blogspot.com on November 30th all day long. We will be having a giveaway! To be entered to win a free copy of the book autographed by both Jim and myself just make a comment on the post. 

I have more information on illustration and tips for authors and illustrators at www.insidemikeysworld.com and also on my blog at www.writtenbymikey.blogspot.com. I invite you to look at them both, or just email me if you have any more questions. I can be found on Twitter at @writtenbymikey, on Facebook under Mikey Brooks, and on Pinterest at: http://pinterest.com/writtenbymikey.

My books are available for purchase just go to www.insidemikeysworld.com and click on the picture books tab.

The virtual book launch for Lucius and the Christmas Star will be held on November 30th all day long at www.writtenbymikey.blogspot.com. I’ll have an interview with the author Jim Long, samples from the book, a look at how I created Lucius, and other fun stuff for kids like coloring pages. Also you can enter to win a FREE copy of the book autographed by me and Jim just by making a comment in the post. Hope to see you there!

Me: Thank you so much for letting me take so much of your time. I will drop by on the 30th for your launch! And I hope to someday get my copy of Lucius signed by you, and Jim, too. 


J.J. Bennett said...


Mikey and Brooke said...

Thank you again for the fantastic interview. I had a lot of fun with your questions.

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