I actually knew about Tim first through his children’s work with Queens Museum here in New York. Then I fell under his mice spell, or was it pics of swiss cheese and skunks? Whatever, I am a big fan and very happy that I can share some of Tim’s big news here as well (which also happens to include a writer friend). I confess I have a slight bias about interviewing New Yorkers just because I so often get the opportunity to meet them in person before or after the interview!
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[TM] Author/Illustrator works for me! …Yeah, I know I haven’t published my own books yet, but I’m working on it (fingers crossed). In response to the second part of the question, it’s both. When an idea sparks, I throw down thumbnails with captions and word balloons to get at it, sort of like a comic strip.
[JM] Where did you grow up and how has that and/or your culture influenced your work?
[TM] I grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Snohomish Washington. We were fairly isolated and I didn’t get out much. I had a few close friends with whom I would have play dates with, but for the most part I think I learned at an early age how to entertain myself and drawing became part of the package. Although, I don’t really spend a lot of time ruminating about this experience, it’s certainly rubbed off on me in the sense that I get a kick out of drawing a lot of farm animals.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[TM] Garfield was a big thing for me growing up and is really what got me drawing. I got the first book one Easter and thought it was the funniest thing ever. I spent a lot of time copying from it, and then when I finally unscrambled the secret formula of the Garfield shtick it was a game changer. I got a lot of attention from my parents because they were impressed by my clunky forgeries and sang my praise to friends and relatives. Likewise, I became the local Jim Davis hack of my elementary school, and every kid and schoolteacher was begging for an original.
I didn’t branch out into other comic strips until Junior High and High School when I became all about Bloom County, The Far Side, & Calvin and Hobbes. Then, super hero stuff came into play my Senior year. At that point my teenage brain realized I was meant to be a comic book artist so I came to NYC and got my Bachelors in Cartooning at the School of Visual Arts.
After SVA I initially turned my back on illustration because I sucked at it. I had a high level of perfection that I could never live up. All the mistakes I made killed me and I couldn’t bare it. What I did get into though was drawing and painting from observation. I liked that it wasn’t about pleasing anyone else other than myself, and I became particularly fond of making big sloppy paintings. At the same time I became extremely interested in the aspect of really analyzing what you see, and how you can play around with interpretation.
Almost a decade after I got my BFA, I returned to SVA again to earn my Masters of Arts in Teaching. I decided that if I had to earn a living in the world to support myself, teaching art was a fitting way to do it. This eventually led me to serving in the Education Department at the Queens Museum where I work today. It’s the experiences there that I have had in working with children that have basically brought me back full circle to illustration and doing work with picture books. Learning how to play and goof off and look at the world through the lens of a child’s perspective has basically reawakened the kid in me. Likewise, it’s helped me to rediscover that it’s alright to make work that speaks to that, and even better I have fun doing it.
[JM] Squeee! Tim, tell us all about these new book deals!
[TM] I am more than a little excited to be illustrating Julie Falatko’s Snappsy the Alligator (Did not Ask to Be in This Book) for Viking Children’s Books to be released in the Fall of 2015. From the moment I read the first line, I immediately felt in sync with Julie’s sense of humor and I knew I had to do it. I’m very much in the beginning stages of working things out, but each time I re-read the manuscript I can’t help but fall in love with it more (it’s that good)! Basically, I can’t stop cracking up the whole time, which I think is a very good place to be starting from.
Another project that’s in the works is something top secret with Enchanted Lion. That’s all I can say for now, but stay tuned for more details!
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[TM] My preferred medium is ink plus watercolor plus digital hocus-pocus.
[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?
[TM] Big round eyeballs are definitely a reoccurring fix of mine. I’m also drawn to cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, & mice (which some of you may have already read in my Match.com profile).
[JM] Can you tell us a little of your kids/family work at the Queen’s Museum, New York?
[TM] I manage After-School and Family Programs at the Museum. Some of the different programs I oversee are a Sunday Drop-In Workshop, an after-school youth development program called Queens Teens, as well as, a summer art camp called the Big Time Summer Art Thing For Kids. Essentially, the Museum is my playground and I get to orchestrate various off-the-wall projects and activities that encourage participants to reflect on what they see in the galleries as they also learn about themselves in the process. The greatest satisfaction in my job is in seeing the various personalities that you return to programs over the years and see how they grow and change over time.
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is a mess when I’m in the middle of something. It’s unmanageable when I’m stuck. I usually go through a ritual of a major cleanup when I’m stonewalled. I prefer it clean and pristine, but truthfully, it’s always somewhere in the middle.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[TM] The following series of images shows the stages of development I went through to realize the finished illustration for my recent promotional postcard. The image is fairly straight forward depicting a cow ballerina making her stage debut much to the shock of the audience and other ballerinas.
I basically started things out with a rough throw down of the initial idea. From there I worked on doing a loose run through to see things a little more clearly. I drew out the different components on separate pieces of paper, scanned them and then assembled everything on the computer. I fiddled with colors to try to get a good sense of where to shoot for the finish. Next, I polished things up trying not to lose too much of the initial energy of the sketches. When bringing in the final colors, I scan a palette of watercolor swatches that I then used to drop in behind the final composition, and then I tweaked them to get the right pitch. For the last step, I added an overlay of grainy airbrush in places to give it some texture.
[TM] What art do you have hanging in your apartment?
A collection of different cermics by Hanako Nakazato, some vintage hand painted Japanese photographs, some old Japanese textiles, an Alfred Frueh linoleum print of Leo Dietrichstein, a Bruno Mankowski drawing of WWI scene, several Sergio Ruzzier originals, an SVA Poster by David Sandlin, & a collection of postcards from fellow illustrators that I’ve picked up at different SCBWI Conferences over the years.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? What word best sums you up? Daydreamer
If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go? Japan
What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing? Coffee, almonds, & bananas (all mixed together).
Cats or dogs? Meow.
Which literary bad guy do you like the most? Sister Wendy
Where can we find/follow you and your work?
Please come on over to my website and blog to get your latest fix on what Tim Miller is up to: www.timmillerillustration.com
And if that isn’t enough you can even follow me on twitter. My handle is: @TM_Illustration
…And if that’s still not enough, hop on over to Instagram. My username is: tm_illustration
Tim, thank you so much for sharing with us today and you don’t know how happy it makes me that you are to be the illustrator for the lovely Julie Falatko’s Snappsy the Aligator – what a fabulous combo of quirk! I love that you have given us so much detail about your process.