Kevan Atteberry – Illustrator Interview

kevI have many author and illustrator friends on social media, in the thousands, but some stand out not only for their artistic skill but for their character. Kevan is not only an artist with a deep connection and understanding of little minds but he also a man of courage, compassion, commitment to others and a make-the-most of each moment attitude to life. This impacts me just as much as his books.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[KA] Author/illustrator, or more correctly, illustrator/author. Because I’ve been an illustrator much longer than I’ve been an author. Drawing is hard. Words are a lot harder. So…primarily I work pictures before words. In fact more often than not, a picture I’ve drawn will inspire a story. And sometimes, I may take an evocative illustration and create several sequential illustrations before a story emerges                                                                                                                                                        

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[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[KA] From Texas, moved to Washington State when I was 6 and have the bittersweet experience of living in the same city (other than two years at college 100 miles away) from that time forward. The bitter part is that I have this very limited experience of living only in a white bread kind of town, never experiencing other more interesting places. On the sweet side, I have many life long friends I still see on a regular basis going back to as early as kindergarten. How has it influenced my work? I suppose if anything, it turned me in to a complete sucker for books about friendships.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

pic 3[KA] Hmmm…My earliest recollection of drawing was when I was 4 or 5, isolated in bed with the mumps, and drawing on the lid of a Felix the Cat game or puzzle. Jumping ahead 15 or 20 years, I was a graphic designer for a Fortune 500 company before being laid off and starting my own design company always trying to get my clients to incorporate illustrations in their jobs. I developed kids programs for restaurants, helped design toy and toy packaging, some ed book projects and finally in software and animation. Most people know—and have forgiven me— already that I created Clippy the Paperclip, the Microsoft Word helper back in the mid 90s. At one point he was annoying hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis. But in all fairness, I created the character, not his functionality.

clippy

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[KA] I work primarily digitally. But partly because I just don’t have enough room to work with traditional mediums. But that may change. I hope to turn my whole house (except the bedrooms) into a studio. I mean, hell, I don’t entertain or anything…and if I ever do, they’ll know what they are getting into.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[KA] It’s crazy but every story I write that is not inspired by a drawing, I sketch the main characters as rabbits virtually every time. I don’t know why that is, but suspect it involves some kind of expediency. I don’t have to think too hard about age, what they look like, or even gender. I like the rabbits I sketch and I am pretty fast at them. If I sketched humans, I’d spend far too much time fussing with them and agonizing about what they look like. I also seem to be renowned for monsters. Nearly every book I’ve illustrated has included monsters. I’m not aware of any real themes I return to, but I know I would like to write more about friendships. Friendships found, friendships lost and then re-found, unusual or unlikely friendships, etc.

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[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[KA] I’m working on illustrations for a book that comes out next year called, I Love You More than the Smell of Swamp Gas. Here’s a sneak peak… Shhhhhhhh!

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[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[KA] I didn’t really buy books till I got into high school when I got a job and had my own money. And by that time I think I may have thought of myself as kind of erudite. I had a couple of teachers in high school that really opened my eyes to what was out there. I remember whiling away many hours at a handful of bookstores. I’d read poetry and essays and bought things like Richard Brautigan’s whole library, Edward Gorey’s collections, and in particular a collection Brad Holland’s work (who was my favorite illustrator in Playboy at the time.)

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

pic 6 studio

[KA] It is a mess…Like I said, I am in the process of turning the rest of my house into a studio so this space should open up considerably. This area will be for traditional media and all the noxious supplies and the front part of the house will be my digital studio with all the noxious online stuff.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[KA] I have some  favorite art pieces, plus a couple of my own work, but I don’t have tons of wall space. I also have photos of my wife (who lives in a home with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease) scattered around the place so I never (not that I ever would) forget her beautiful smile.

[JM] Tell us your agent story.

[KA] I love my agent and I love my agent story. Eliminating a lot of details, here it is:

I had written what I thought was a terrific story (Bunnies!!!) in December of 2012. I still had never sold and illustrated a book I had written. But this story was so terrific that I didn’t want to give it to my agent at the time, who had never really gotten my writing. I didn’t want it to languish so I decided to break it off with my agent after the first of the year and get a new agent or try to sell it myself.

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I happened to mention in a comment to who knows who on Facebook that I was in between agents yada yada yada. I don’t know if it was the same day or days later, but I got a friend request from Erin Murphy. I accepted it and told her I had heard great things about her agency and she was complimentary of my art. I thought, “how cool! Erin Murphy knows who I am and friended me!” I have always been a clueless and didn’t think any more of it than that.  It wasn’t till later that day when she sent me an email telling me she knew I was in between agents and thought we might work well together and she was going to be in Seattle the upcoming weekend for BEA or ALA or whatever it was that year, and would I like to meet and have coffee. I was already in talks with a couple other agents but I agreed to meet with her. As soon as I did I knew I wanted her to be my agent. But, not to show my hand or to look to anxious, I reminded her that I was talking to a couple other agents, too, and I would get back to her in a week. That whole week I was kicking myself for not just saying “Yes!!” at the time. But when one week passed, to the very hour, I wrote her back and told her I would love for her to represent me. Paperwork was done in a few days and she got a two-book deal for Bunnies!!! within a couple of weeks. I am well aware that this is not how agent relations are established, and I know I am extremely lucky to be in such an ideal situation. Once in a while the wind blows your way. I will never take that for granted!

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Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                               [JD] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[KA] Oh man, this is a hard one.  I am not well travelled, but locally I have always loved any coastal park. I’m going to say the northern Oregon coast. In particular the Cannon Beach area, mostly because I have such wonderful memories of week long vacations  every year with my wife and boys when they were younger.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[KA] Most of my life I professed a disdain for cats. It was a complete lie. We had a stray come up to the house about 15 years ago and I told my wife if she keeps feeding it it was going to stick around. And I continued to tell her that for the next 12 or 13 years.
Now I am a puppy sitter for my son and his fiancé. He drops his Cavalier King Charles puppy, Marshawn, off at my house each morning during the week, picking him up after work. He is an amazingly fun pup but a HUGE distraction all day long.

dog

[JM] I need a Marshawn in my life. Le Sigh!                                                                  Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[KA] I am fascinated with the 1950s graphics and lifestyles. I collect (casually) magazines that highlight the day-to-day during that period; women’s, home and garden, popular science/mechanix, etc.

[JM] What as your first paid job?

[KA] Seattle Times paperboy.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[KA] Coffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

What Kevan hasn’t mentioned, so I must, is he has a new picture book coming out a week today!!!! If you loved BUNNIES you are going to squeal over PUDDLES (and yes, Declan and the bunnies are back!)

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15 Responses to Kevan Atteberry – Illustrator Interview

  1. Lovely read. My heart went out to him when I read about his wife. His characters are adorable.

  2. Traci Sorell says:

    Wonderful interview, Joanna! I love reading his books and seeing his illustrations. To learn that he maintains such a joyful presence on the page while having such challenges in his non-writing life makes me appreciate his gifts even more! Keep up the good work, Kevan. I’m very excited to read PUDDLES!

  3. Sue Fliess says:

    I love Kevan’s art and this is a great interview. I must admit though, that my favorite part of this interview was learning about the genius behind Clippy. Ha! I worked at a Silicon Valley startup at that time and we were trying to come up with a ‘guide’ to our website. The company held a contest. I studied Clippy and all he did. I came up with a guide for our site and won the contest and an all-expense paid trip for 2 to Hawaii! So, although Clippy was a bit annoying, I have a nice memory of him.

  4. Patricia Nozell says:

    I love how you highlight illustrators & illustrator/authors, Joanna. I find I gain such insights by hearing about the process from the other side of the table. I’m crossing fingers that Puddles will be your PPBF book this Friday.

    • Joanna says:

      Patricia, even though I am concentrating more on my YA novels and not my picture books at the moment, I still love this format and their creators. I am afraid I will disappoint this Friday just because it is endangered species day!!

  5. Hooray for Bunnies!!! and Puddles!!! and Kevan!!!!!!!!!!

    Thanks for the lovely interview, Joanna. And some day soon I hope we will meet, Kevan! So glad that you have Marshawn for company. Nothing beats dog love! Are there dog books coming from you in the future? How about Puppies!!!!! 🙂

  6. This interview really touched my heart! His artwork is fun and endearing. I really enjoyed learning about his process of sketching before writing words. I imagaine with Marshawn, there will be dog books in the future.

  7. Kevan is brilliant and compassionate and kind. And he draws the best monsters. (Because I knew he designed it, I never resented Clippy)
    This is a lovely interview.

  8. Erik - TKRB says:

    That’s a great interview! 🙂 I really like his style.

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