Illustrator Interview – Russ Cox

Fred Koehler, Emma Dryden and Russ Cox all rocking LASCBWI 2011 (photo courtesy of Hazel)

I met Russ at LASCBWI last summer. Russ is the one not smiling – I think he was just overwhelmed at meeting me, or maybe at meeting the amazing SCBWI faculty! (the other gentleman is Fred Koehler, whom I also plan to interview soon). Russ is part of that illustrious (pun intended) group of artists, Pixel Shavings, some of whose members I have already introduced you to: Hazel Mitchell and Sheralyn Barnes. I think you are going to be wowed by what you see here and inspired to pursue ALL your creative outlets!

  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[RC] Right now I am an illustrator with the hopes of one day adding “writer” to the title. Or world reknown banjo player. Whichever comes first.

  • What’s your nationality and where have you lived and how has this influenced you?

[RC] I was born in Tennessee and even though I moved away from there years ago, my Southern roots are always showing and coming through my work from the goofy things that happened in my youth. Those stories bubble to the surface whenever I do pieces for myself.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

[RC]  As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. I would draw on old paper, with a stick in the Tennessee red clay, the side of the house, on the sidewalks, etc. My parents always encouraged me to draw as well as other family members unless it was their walls that would be my canvas. This continued throughout school. Sometimes I would get out of class to draw things for the bulletin boards or I would decorate classmate’s book covers, notebooks, and clothing. That made me think that this art thing could be a cool gig.

I originally thought of becoming an architect but calculus and physics classes brought me to my senses since I was not very good in those subjects. So I decided to become a designer since the job market was good in the design field. While attending, Pennsylvania College of Art and Design,  I minored in illustration.

After graduation, I worked for a couple of studios before settling down at Dean Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I stayed there for 13 years before the yearning to become an illustration became too great. My years at Dean Design really prepped me for the freelance field. I originally wanted to do editorial illustration but somehow, I wound up in the children’s market. And now, the next step is to venture into publishing.

  • I hear you won a wee prize recently?

[RC] Yeah, I won 3 first place awards for my mother goose poster at the NESCBWI Spring Conference. They were got the “Published”, “People’s Choice”, and “Emerging Artist” categories.

  • How important do you think it is for an artist of any sort to have other creative pursuits?

[RC] Very important. Other interest help expand your creative knowledge and recharge one’s batteries. My second love is music. Whether listening to it, writing songs, and playing in various bands, it is another creative outlet for me.

  • Do you have themes/characters that you return again and again to in your art?

[RC] I have been told that I seem to always include crows into many of pieces. Maybe because our yard is usually full of them. I also include kids wearing Chuck Taylors. I may try to work in a banjo more often.

  • What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

“Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel” was my favorite children’s book. I still love that book. Of course there are the classics by Seuss, Sendak, and Disney cartoons. I also loved the Little Golden Books. The art of Mary Blair, Alain Gree, and Alice & Martin Provensen are important to me. The other things that I loved as a kid we Monster, Eerie, and Mad magazines. The artwork in those magazines still amaze me. They may have developed my love for all things monster and robot oriented.

Oh, I almost forgot about Smith, Gorey and Silverstein. And there is also …

  • What does your workspace look like?

I tried to keep it tidy and organized or I cannot think when it is messy.

 

My standup that I play as inspiration to solve a problem.

 

I keep my banjo nearby to play during lunch or to breakup the day. The closet door has postcards from illustrations that I like. The paper tacked up on the wall is my book that I am working on in the evenings.

 

  • Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them?

[RC] For the Mother Goose piece, I started off with some very quick thumbnails. The concept hit me right off the bat so it was just a matter of working out the composition. This sample was the last batch of thumbnails I did. When I saw the bottom right sketch, I knew this would work. Having the characters face to left gave a since of being in the past but the iPad made it current as well.

The next step was to get the characters developed. Mother Goose was fairly easy since she was the main character but the other two had to work within the concept. I wanted classic characters to be represented. Hickory Dickory made sense because of the “time” moving forward. Humpty just came to me since he represented the fragility of where the market is at the moment. This was the final sketch.

The final illustration was rendered in Photoshop. I tried to paint it in a traditional way but dropping in a base tone which was a dark purple and built the colors on top of it. I also wanted the pencil work to shine though a bit

  •  What advice would you share with an artist fresh out of art school who wants to become a children’s book illustrator

[RC] Do not give up! The business can be very tough and discouraging at times but you must stay with it. One other thing I told my students was to read constantly. Read every and any thing. It is so important to keep feeding the creative side.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

  • What word best sums you up?

[RC] Happy. I have been told that I smile a lot. Oafish would be second. I  am 6’5” and very clumsy so it is very appropriate.

  • If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[RC] Besides Maine, I would have say Ireland. We were there 6 years ago and vowed to go back.

  • What color are you?

[RC] Orange. No Green. No, orange. Okay lets go with plaid.

  • Cats or dogs?

[RC] Cats. We have three running around the studio and house at all times.

  • If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[RC] Hmmm, that is a good question. I would have to go with the first book that I loved as a kid and that would Mary Ann from “Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel”.

Find out more about Russ and his work, here:

Dear readers, I think you will not be surprised to read that Russ’s Mother Goose won those three prizes! I am not sure what I want more, to see Russ’s art in real life or hear him play a gig (especially dressed in plaid!) Thanks for sharing your journey and wisdom with us Russ, and to your publishing success!

32 thoughts on “Illustrator Interview – Russ Cox

  1. Fantastic interview, both of you! That is one hot stand-up bass. Love it. These artist interviews are teaching me so much and widening my horizons. I so appreciate seeing the artist’s workspace, and being talked through the process using visuals. The concept of the Mother Goose illustration is wonderful and the final art just blows me away.

    Thank you!

  2. Wonderful interview! Thanks so much for sharing. LOVE the art! (And the banjo :)) And Mike Mulligan has allays been one of my favorites, and was a favorite of all our kids, regardless of gender. The rhythm of the language is so wonderful… “…up the hills and down the hills til they came to the little town of Poppervile…” :)

  3. I love Mike Mulligan as a kid. I’d check it out of the library over and over. I admire anyone who can play the banjo. My son just started and I see how difficult it is. Lovely work. Congrats on the awards, Russ. Thank you, Joanna for the intro.

  4. Russ, Mother Goose using an iPad is brilliant! Looking at it makes me smile. Congratulations on your awards. And Lancaster is a wonderful place to live. I grew up in E-town.

    Joanna, great interview. I’m learning:)

  5. Wow! What an inspiring interview. Really liked to see his sketches evolve. Understand why Mother Goose won all three categories. I liked how his message was creative and so “now.” Loved the iPad in Mother Goose’s hands. Lots of good advice for wanna be illustrators. Thanks Joanna and Russ.

  6. Great interview Russ! I’m jealous that your studio is cleaner than mine. It was very nice to meet you at SCBWI NE and here’s to your continued success!
    P.S. Still think you should sell us all some great fun tunes for our websites! :)

  7. I love your collection of postcards, Russ. I wanted to see them up close. I do the same thing in my writing space. In fact, at least one on your wall (Kelly Light’s) is propped up on my shelf-as is your postcard from the conference. They provide inspiration as I work.

  8. Awesome, just awesome. I love the your illustrations, the hot-rod bass, and your advice. BTW, my husband can’t work if his space is messy. I can’t work if it’s too clean. To each their own, I guess.

  9. Great interview Joanna!

    I saw the Mother Goose Illustration at the NESCBWI Spring Conference and I was mesmerized by it! I was not able to walk by without it calling out to me. The illustration is amazing. Congratulations to Russ on winning the awards! You are an amazing talent!

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