Here is an excerpted Q&A version of the chat. Comments and questions from chat participants are in bold; Ward's responses are in italics. Enjoy!
Welcome to #kidlitart. Thank you so much for being our guest for evening!
Good to be here! Now what do I do? ;)
Tell us everything you know!
I KNOW NOTHING. ha ha
Tell us about the character set here. Is this typical of the way you approach character design?
Ah, yes. This was for an animated project. Typical? I would say yes, with reservations. Meaning, first and foremost, you need to know who your audience is. And if you go through the series, you can see that I originally had the girl much too older. Dunno what I was thinking...
Good point--I'm assuming animation is more "all ages" than pbs?
Actually, I don't think so. Both have specific groups they want to address.
Who was your audience?
My intended audience was for ages 4-8.
So who defines your audience for animation? The client?
Yes, pretty much. It's also known to aim older. ALWAYS.
You mean animation clients skew older?
Yes, but I think the same can be said for pb's as well.
I think there's a need to skew a tad older than your actual audience - kids always want to read up (slightly).
Yes, I agree. I think that's what clients would like to see. Esp in animation.
So, skewing older with illustrations means more complex in color, detail, etc?
No, mostly with subject matter, more sophistication. No necessarily more complex.
Do you find that certain markets let you get more adventurous with character design than with others? Asking because my experience has been that educational markets tend to stay safer/more conservative, for example....
Yes. Some come to me BECAUSE of my different way of looking at things.Most want a different take on some characters. Like the Michael Phelps book, for instance. They liked my b-boy series.
So how do you plan differently for a picture book?
I tend to go more flatter in my look-flattened perspective, etc.
What process do you go through with your characters to get their personalities to come to life?
I go through lots of research. My research phase is extensive. As for personalities, that's just something that I love to do. I've been drawing char stuff since I was a kid. I feel that with character traits, etc. the best advice I can give is to be observant. All the time.
Where do you do your research?
Since I'm majorly influenced by midcentury art/design and kid's books, I have a big library of that stuff Based on what I'm feeling, I'll grab a big stack of books, mags, etc. & just start sifting. I'm also a big fan of Google Images..
Because of my nod to midcentury stuff, I've often been labeled as "retro." Curse? Sometimes.
Why is that a curse?
I've had some people that my stuff looked "too retro." For those who're interested, check out The Retro Kid: Flickr group I started of midcentury artwork & books.
Do you design your characters with shape in mind? There can be some fascinating mental cues w/r/t shapes/features...
Sometimes, but I try not to let a particular shape become THAT THING I MUST incorporate, you know?
How long have you been doing PB's. And what was the biggest adjustment from animation?
My first picture book was done in late '08 and released the following year. I've been animating since '96. Biggest adjustment has been layout of the pages and spreads. Animation & pb's are actually a lot diff than I thought.
How are they a lot different?
There's a tendency to go very stylized in anim: char's backgrounds, layout (comps, etc.) PB's, I've learned to pull back a bit.
When I first started illustrating there was a huge bias against "cartoony" looking characters.
Yes, in fact, I had to cut back on the "cartoony" eyes I had for the Mama Hen in Chicks Run Wild! Originally, I had eyes with pupils, but editor wanted something a bit more subtle. I was fine with that change.
So you find there is still some bias. To me the art today looks much more cartoony than it used to.
I wouldn't want those artists to pull TOO much back on what they're working on, but it's just something I've noticed. Interesting thing, I do see more and more animation artists doing picture books these days.
So what about clothing animal characters? good/bad? when do you NOT do that?
Ha! Well, I was drawing an animal that walks on all fours, and when I put clothes on him, he looked hunched over.
Do you prefer kids or animal characters--which has greater range?
My stronghold is people. Honestly, if you can create & develop BOTH humans & animals very well, you're in it to win it. I'm finding that I don't have much animal designs in my portfolio, & I'm having to do more animals for the (potential) next book.
Are you developing any of your own original pb ideas?
I have two pb dummies, and a few other ideas, but in conceptual stage now.
Noticing any differences with yourself as client?
I'm my own worst editor. ;)
Who are your character design idols? The ones that get you excited every time?
Oh! So many. Where to start... JP Miller, The Provensens, Tom Oreb, James Flora, Aurelius Battaglia, Ben Shahn, Secret of Kells folks..
Nico Marlet is just about the best- imo.
YES. He's amazing.
Some anim artists have that Little Golden Book look down so well, they'll do fun stuff like this.
I've still yet to see Secret of Kells. I really need to get around to checking that out..
It's truly amazing. Be sure to check out The Blog of Kells.
How does color come to you? Do you do a rough color study on ps?
Color is big for me. Sometimes I can just sense what colors I want to see put together.
Thanks @wardomatic (and everyone else too), very interesting.
You bet! Thanks for your questions. Good stuff.
Full transcript below: