Interview with Aaron Blecha
Today I am lucky enough to have Aaron Blecha on the blog to talk about his life as an illustrator. He is the illustrator of Dino Wars, a middle-grade adventure book which was published on the 28th of April this year. It is the fist in a series so there is much more to come!
I was also privileged to interview the author, Dan Metcalf, and he has some great advice for aspiring writers – don”t miss out!
AARON BLECHA is an artist and author who designs funny characters, and illustrates humorous books, including the popular George Brown, Class Clown and Shark School series.
Blecha’s has recently authored Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! and Good Morning, Grizzle Grump! by HarperCollins Childrens.
In addition to illustrating children’s books, he works as a character designer in TV development (Disney, Curious Pictures, eOne Family).
Aaron was born and raised (by giant squid) in Green Bay, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1997. After leaving school and bouncing around to Chicago, then Copenhagen- he landed in California. In San Francisco, Blecha worked as an animator and character designer in the animation and toy industries. He moved to London in 2007 and has been freelancing ever since. Today he lives with his family in Brighton & Hove, on the south coast of England.
Find out more about him on his website.
Thank you for joining us today Aaron!
First of all, could you tell us a bit about your journey to becoming an illustrator? Was that what you always wanted to do or did you try different things?
Growing up in the United States in the 80s, I was always drawing various monsters and aliens during the long Wisconsin winters. I was inspired by the early Star Wars movies, the books of Mercer Meyer and Maurice Sendak and anything to do with Halloween. I don’t think I ever thought “I want to be an illustrator when I grow up.” but knew I wanted to be drawing. After moving around a little as an adult and trying different creative occupations (graphic designer, animator), I illustrated my first book almost 10 years ago. But I’m grateful of the journey to get here, because I utilise the skills I’ve learned in different areas in my work today.
What do you do first when starting a new project? E.g. sketching characters, storyboards, etc
The characters are typically the first to be worked out and one of my favourite parts of the process! I try different versions of each character, looking for the best style or which shapes work best. Villains are usually the most interesting characters and the most fun for me to draw.
(Villains are usually my favourite characters too – they are often the most complex and interesting!)
Can you tell us a bit about the process that your illustrations go through from initial sketch to finished illustration?
I first read through the entire manuscript to get a feel of the main story beats and the main characters. I then loosely sketch out ideas for each illustration with a coloured pencil- mostly it’s simple shapes, just trying to get the composition correct. I go through the entire book like this.
I then go over each illustration with a fine point pen, adding character details and fleshing out the backgrounds. I send these to the publisher next. There’s typically some changes to the sketches, once those are completed the publisher gives the go ahead for final illustrations. I print out the pages with the placed illustrations and draw over them on another piece of paper with pen. I scan these in and add gray tones and textures in Photoshop.
Then off to the publisher!
(Wow, what a complicated process – I was already in awe of the skills of illustrators but this has given me a whole other level of respect!)
When working on a book such as Dino Wars, how much communication do you have with the author as you are illustrating?
With Dino Wars and most books, the illustrator and author usually don’t communicate very much. Publishers typically like to keep us separate, just so there isn’t a clash of ideas. I work with the art director or designer and the author with the editor. But Dan and I exchanged a few messages back and forth initially saying we were both excited that I was illustrating his super fun series.
What is the best and worst thing about being an illustrator?
The absolute best thing is that I get to do what I love for a living. My “work” is also my hobby and what I’ve always been interested in. From an early age, I’ve always been drawing so it never really feels like a job. The worst thing is the that the freelance lifestyle can be quite solitary. Also, if I have several deadlines around the same time I need to work long days, late nights and on weekends.
What are you working on at the moment and/or planning for the future?
Currently there is an exhibition
of my work at Hove Museum, titled “Aliens, Zombies & Monsters!”
. It’s an interactive, immersive exploration into how children’s characters and books are created. The exhibition gives visitors a peek into the process behind my work – starting from initial sketches to creating characters and finished pages. An entire gallery is also filled with vibrant life-sized aliens, zombies and monster characters that will be ready to mingle with children of all ages.
It will be showing until September 4th
with several workshops during the upcoming months.
I’m also working away on illustrating the next instalment in the DinoWars series as well as the Shark School books for Simon & Schuster.
Food: Mexican or Sushi
Book: Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
Film: Original Star Wars Trilogy
Thing to draw: Monsters!
Thank you so much for such a fantastic, detailed interview Aaron!
I am so excited to hear about your exhibition so am hoping to visit over the summer. I also have a new level of respect for the wonderful work illustrators do!
Over to the reader:
Did you enjoy the interview? Did you learn something new?
Do you have any further questions for Aaron?
Have you ever though about becoming an illustrator?
Find out more about Dino Wars
Read my interview with the author, Dan Metcalf
Check out my reviews of some other great middle-grade books such as Do You Speak Chocolate?, Ban This Book, Wolf Children or Flower Moon.
Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram
Thanks for reading!