Archive for November 14th, 2007

Robert’s Snow: The Timothy Bush Snowflake

November 14, 2007 @ 12:33 am | Filed under:


Hello, Snow by Timothy Bush

This is the final week of the Blogging for a Cure effort to raise public awareness of the Robert’s Snow snowflake auctions. As you know, I wrote a lot about the auctions in this post. The first auction begins November 19th, so get ready to go snow shopping!

Today it is my great pleasure to feature another one of these amazing snowflakes. When the list of participating illustrators was presented to children’s book bloggers a couple of months ago, I zapped back immediately with my request to host Timothy Bush’s snowflake. We are very, very big Timothy Bush fans around here. We quote James and the House of Aunt Prudence almost as often as we do Monty Python. ("When the bear arrived, of course, there were not enough macaroons to go around.")

Timothy is a gifted storyteller, and his picture book illustrations are enchanting. Each page offers a story in itself. Here’s a list of his books. In addition to illustrating his own stories, he has illustrated the work of such kid lit heavy hitters as Eve Bunting and Marilyn Singer.

Those Capital Mysteries he is illustrating are new to me—they look totally up my kids’ alley. I’ll have to check them out asap.

At the top of this post, what you see is Timothy’s Robert’s Snow snowflake. It’s called "Hello, Snow," and it makes me a bit nostalgic for the East Coast winters we so recently left behind.

Timothy was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about his snowflake, his work, and his taste in books and music.

What was your path to illustrating children’s books?

I always loved drawing as a kid, which I don’t think is unusual. Most kids draw when they’re little. They just give it up as they get older. I had this great teacher in fifth grade who gave me extra credit for my cartoon stories. I think she kept me drawing at that transitional age by providing me with an audience and a motivation (I really needed that extra credit). Telling stories by combining words and pictures is pretty much what I’m still doing.

How did James in the House of Aunt Prudence come about?

I had a meeting with an editor to show her some stories I was working on. She wasn’t much interested in the stories but liked a piece in my art portfolio of a very small boy sitting in a very large, fancy chair. She suggested that I try writing a story about him. JAMES was the result.

Who are your favorite children’s book authors and illustrators?

I think in this field, you get to have two sets of favorites: the old ones you loved as a kid and the new ones you love as a fan of the form and as a practitioner.

In the first category, pride of place goes to Bill Peet, the first author I can remember looking for by name. The easy, loose-elbowed energy of the drawing—an animator’s way of drawing, I later recognized—captivated me. I sent him a copy of my first book when it was published and of my most prized possessions is the letter I got back from him thanking and encouraging me. There were lots of other books and book creators, of course: the manic quality of PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go echoes pretty loudly in my action scenes and there’s no getting away from Dr. Seuss. But the Peet books—unslick as they are to contemporary eyes – were special to me in a way that nothing else was.

In the second group, well… where to begin? So, so many people working now are doing such beautiful work. The spectrum of styles is probably bigger right now than it’s ever been and the level of accomplishment within those styles is extraordinarily high.

Where do you work? What is your studio like?

I work at home, which is a tiny, tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. I’m on  the third floor, on the back of the building, which means I get a view of the gardens between my building and the houses on the next street. If you’ve ever seen the movie Rear Window you can imagine the sort of what it looks like. For an urban setting, it’s very quiet and pretty. People can never believe it but New York City is a major stopover for migrating birds in the spring and fall. I get dozens of species coming through. Checking the trees and identifying what I find is always a nice little work break at those times of year.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what kind?

Everything. This work can get solitary, so I like to keep a wide variety of voices around. This week’s playlist has included Bollywood soundtracks, Handel operas, medieval chants, The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, some hardcore, arty hip-hop a friend gave me and an audio book of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography. And it’s only Tuesday.

What was the inspiration for your snowflake?

I thought it would be interesting to take the basic snowflake shape I was painting on and repeat it a bunch of times to make a snow scene. In the same way that one snowflake in winter isn’t all that exciting, my one little painting isn’t that big a deal. But a whole bunch of snowflakes at once is cause for celebration, whether they’re outside the window of my building or inside the window of my computer screen. So my piece is kind of an illustration of my feeling about the whole Robert’s Snow project.

The boy on your snowflake is alive with joy and wonder. I’ve seen that expression on my own kids’ faces during a snowfall—the upturned face, the utter delight. Were you a big fan of winter as a kid?

One of my earliest memories is a snowstorm in Chicago that buried the whole first floor of our house: we had to come and go through the second-story window. Big excitement, weird behavior, suspension of all the usual rules. What kid wouldn’t love that? New York City in a blizzard is also amazing. Everyone’s out, skiing down the avenues, but the snow muffles all the sound and the quiet of it is incredibly strange and lovely.

Disney has optioned Benjamin McFadden and the Robot Babysitter! Congrats. Anything you can tell us about that?

I got a call from the producer a while back. Her son had the book and it was a family favorite. She wanted to know if the rights were available and a conversation started. We signed the contract back in the early spring. The project is in active development, or at least it was until the writers’ strike began. I’m not involved in the day-to-day part of it at this point, but I did get to visit the studio when we were putting the deal together, which was a lot of fun. They really do run around in those little golf carts. There are some pretty amazing people involved and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

You work mostly in watercolors. Watercolors often come across as soft and dreamy, but one of the things I love best about your work is how crisp, vibrant, and lively it is. Your characters have such personality and every page is crackling with energy. Can you tell us anything about how your unique style developed? Who were your influences? Where did you study?

I never really studied art. I just sort of made it up as I went along. I try to find something in every new project I can concentrate on and learn about: contrast or outline or perspective or whatever. Lately I’ve been trying to explore color in a more systematic way.

What are you working on now?

This week I’m finishing up a magazine illustration, then starting the final art for the latest title in the Capital Mysteries series by Ron Roy. I’m also squeezing in time here and there to bring along a new original picture book, the first I’ve written in ages. That’s my baby right now and I’m crazy excited about it.

Ooh, I can’t wait to hear more about that!

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Many thanks to Timothy for granting me the interview, and to all the illustrators who have donated snowflakes to the Robert’s Snow auctions. Here’s a list of the entire week’s lineup of snowflake features:

Monday, November 12

Tuesday, November 13

Wednesday, November 14

Thursday, November 15

Friday, November 16

Saturday, November 17

Sunday, November 18