August 2020 Featured Illustrator
John Hare spent his youth in Kansas drawing comic strips about snakes, making spoof yearbooks to entertain his friends, and writing stories about a crime-fighting crocodile. At some point, he decided he better actually do something for a living, so John earned an associate’s degree in graphic design and got a job as a production artist at a sportswear company. There he worked his way through a comically bizarre work environment to become art director. Art director tasks included rescuing hummingbirds, fixing broken pneumatic presses, and playing lots of Unreal and Marathon. Later, he moved to Kansas City and worked as a freelance graphic designer. One day, John picked up a brush and painted a scene for his son’s nursery. That’s when he realized he still wanted nothing more than to bring stories to life. John now lives in Gladstone, Missouri, where he is fortunate to work from his home studio when he’s not corralling his two boys or tending to the biological needs of small animals.
How did you get started in illustration? What is your background?
As a kid, I loved drawing. I was constantly making comic strips and writing stories to entertain myself and my friends. But when it was time to go to college, being an illustrator began to feel like a risky long shot, so I got a degree in graphic design. I worked as a production artist, an art director, and ultimately I started my own design business… but the whole time I was still drawing and writing stories. Then in 2007 as my wife and I were expecting our first child, the economy began to tank and I began to lose my clients. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. So while trying to figure it out I painted a mural for the baby’s nursery, and it struck me that it was time to quit fighting it and make an honest attempt at being a professional illustrator. But first I had to get my wife’s approval since we’d be taking a financial hit. To my surprise, she said, “I think you can do it”! It was slow going at first and I’m pretty sure I pushed her patience to the limit, but one by one legitimate jobs started coming in and when I got my first book deal, she had a bottle of champagne waiting! Since then I’ve just been trying to keep it fun and keep the momentum going!
What is your preferred medium, method of working?
I prefer working in acrylic paint for final art. I like the quick drying time – it works well with my “screw it up then fix it” technique. I also really love working fast with pencil or ink, but I mainly use that for getting ideas down in sketch form.
How did your style and technique develop?
This is going to sound weird, but I’m really far-sighted. Like Piggy from Lord of the Flies farsighted. I could seriously start a fire with my glasses. When I first started painting back around 2005 or so, I would take off my glasses and try to paint in a way that I could see the image even when my eyes were terribly out of focus. I don’t know why, I just found it entertaining. Most of the paintings ended up pretty bad but it really taught me about values and shapes, shadows and highlights. Before most of my art was very comic strip-ish. Lines with fill. It really helped to break me out of that. I’m not sure if that’s where my style came from but it’s probably an ingredient in the soup.
What do you find the most challenging in your work?
Staying focused and getting momentum. There is a part of me that wants to procrastinate in every way possible before a project. Every little distraction feels so important when I’ve got a job to do. Once I finally get working and build up momentum, the project takes on a life of its own… but then it’s hard to get me to do anything else.
What would be your dream project? Or what was your favorite project?
So far I’ve had to pinch myself with every book I’ve worked on. But I know what you mean and I’m not sure I know the answer… which I like to think means my favorite project is yet to come!
How did you get signed with Book Stop Literary?
When I decided to pursue illustration, I put together a dummy book of a story I wrote called “Lloyd, Floyd and the Great Train Crash” in an attempt to get an agent. I received a lot of rejections with positive feedback, but Kendra (with BookStop) actually gave me “the call”. The call was a rejection, but she really went over what she thought the hang-ups in the story were and invited me to fix it and resubmit. I think she was surprised when I did just that, and that’s when Bookstop offered representation.
Do you have any art supply-type tips you can share with us? Paint, paper or software that you love, a favorite art store or website to buy supplies or a new product that you’ve tried, etc.?
Cover your computer desk in carpenters paper and you never need to have a scratchpad nearby when you’re taking notes while editing, taking calls, or doodling. Also, if you haven’t done it yet, do yourself a favor and get some nice paints. For some weird reason, I wouldn’t allow myself to use nice paints until I got a book deal. Before that, I was using Liquitex Basics for everything. (To be fair, they did the job just fine!). When I got a contract and started using nice paints, I began to wonder what the heck I was thinking. Also, Artist and Craftsman down in the Crossroads of KC is an awesome art supply store.
Any words of advice for those just starting out in illustration? What do you wish you would have known sooner in your author/illustrator career?
Three things come to mind. 1st, find a good critique group. 2nd, never trust your first sketch no matter how brilliant you think it is. Come up with several. The first may end up being the best, but prove it to yourself. Finally – and this is something I need to remind myself of every day – don’t take yourself so damn seriously.
When I was starting out, I wish I had felt freer to reach out to artists I admired. I think I could have learned more of my lessons the easy way if I had, plus the creative community is so incredibly generous.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming book releases we should be on the lookout for?
Field Trip to the Ocean Deep (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House) is coming out on September 8th, and there’s more stuff in the works!
Previous Featured Illustrators
Daniel Miyares is a picture book author and illustrator. Some of his books include FLOAT, NIGHT OUT, THAT IS MY DREAM and BRING ME A ROCK! He currently lives in Lenexa, KS with his wife, their two wonderful children, and a dog named Violet. danielmiyares.com
Violet Lemay has illustrated nearly 40 books for children, several of which she also wrote. Her husband’s job as a PGA teaching pro has taken her family all over the world. Her family lives in the St. Louis area, so Missouri is Violet’s home base for me. violetlemay.com
Morgan Hutcherson is an illustrator, graphic designer, and author. Morgan is currently enjoying first-time-homeownership in Maplewood, Missouri with her rescue Corgi Scout, and her long-time boyfriend, Rutger. morganhutcherson.com
Dayne Sislen has enjoyed a career as an art director and an instructor in Design Graphics and Illustration at Maryville University. After retirement, she reinvented herself as a children’s book illustrator. Dayne lives in St. Louis with her husband Don and their wee Scottish Terrier, Ghillis. daynesislen.com
Stephen T. Johnson is an author and illustrator of many children’s books, including ALPHABET CITY, a Caldecott Honor and a New York Times Best Illustrated book of the year. Look for his upcoming book MUSIC IS, which is slated to be published in the fall of 2020. stephentjohnson.com
Heather Hatch is a writer and illustrator. She teaches art classes and volunteers on the board of her local art museum. She lives with her family on an Ozark, Missouri farm with a Big Red Barn and a chicken-coop-turned art studio.
K.L.B. Barsotti (Kate) is a writer and artist specializing in illustration for children, special commissions, fiction (middle grade and below), and poetry. Kate lives in downtown Kansas City, Missouri with three cats, a bundle of rats, her husband and father. snawfus-tracks.com
Jeanne Conway has written and illustrated many children’s picture books. She has also been an art teacher in elementary and secondary schools. Jeanne lives in St. Louis, Missouri. jeanniespaintings.com
Polly Alice McCann is an author-illustrator, critical writing professor and managing editor of Flying Ketchup Press. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. pollymccann.com
Joe Mohr is the author/Illustrator of ROBOT+BIKE=KITTEN: 34 OF JOEM’s POEMS. He is also a cartoonist, dad, hubby and bicycle lover. Joe lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and three kids. joemohr.com
Daniel Wiseman is the Illustrator of over 16 children’s books. Daniel also hosts a podcast with his friend Rob Bennet called REMOTE with Rob & Dan about working remotely. He lives with his wife and two sons in Knoxville, Tennessee. danieldraws.com
Lisa Harkrader is the author of many children’s books, including the award-winning middle grade books AIRBALL: MY LIFE IN BRIEFS and THE ADVENTURES OF BEANBOY. She lives with her family in Kansas. ldharkrader.com
Lynn Alpert is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She can usually be found reading, writing or drawing in St. Louis, Missouri, where she lives with her husband. lynnalpert.com
Kathy L. Perry is an author, illustrator, speaker and publisher at Chicadee Words. A former elementary teacher, Kathy still wants to make a positive impact in today’s youth. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. kathyjperry.com
Ed Koehler is an illustrator living in St. Louis and working nationwide, primarily for the Christian publishing market, creating art for children’s books, curriculum, activity books, and a variety of kid-friendly products. edkoehler.com
Kim Wilson is an illustrator, designer, artist and writer. She runs the Dittmer ArtBarn, which offers year-round art classes for children and adults. Kim lives just outside of St. Louis in Dittmer, Missouri. kimwilsonillustration.com
Karen B. Jones’ illustration work has been featured in magazines, books, and the educational market. She lives in living in Olathe, Kansas with her husband and two daughters. karenbjones.com
Brad Sneed has illustrated more than twenty picture books. He enjoys visiting schools to talk with students about illustrating picture books. Brad lives near Kansas City with his wife and daughter. bradsneed.com
Maja Anderson creates illustrations for greeting cards, apparel, gifts, home decor, memory keeping albums and books. She lives in the Kansas City area. majaandersen.com
Deborah Zemke has written and/or illustrated more than fifty books for younger readers. These include picture books, chapter books, drawing books, early readers, and humor books. She lives in Columbia, Missouri. deborahzemke.com
Phyllis Harris is the illustrator of over 35 Children’s Books. In recent years she has focused more on her writing as well as illustrating picture books. phyllisharris.com