This week we have author/illustrator Roger Roth with us. He comes from a creative family, where his great uncle painted sets for the New York theater at the turn of the century, his mother went to art school (she later became an elementary school teacher) and his dad was a writer. He’s been interested in art since he was young, and actually, by 1st grade kids were paying him to draw their portraits! When he was 15, his parents sent him to Saturday art classes at the Philadelphia College of Art (now called University of the Arts) and he studied under Milton Feldman. Roger says this was very important to his development as an artist and when he published his first children’s book (The Giraffe That Walked to Paris), he dedicated it to him.
When he is not working on a children’s book, visiting a school, or doing an editorial illustration, you can find him at the University of the Arts, where he is a senior lecturer in the illustration department.
His wife Darlene, is a writer and editor, and they worked together on Star of the Week. It’s a story about a girl who resembles their wonderful daughter, Eden and inspired by her story. Roger, Darlene, Eden, and their dogs, Dobo and Drizzle live outside of Philadelphia.
Roger graduated from Pratt University in 1980, with a degree in fine art and has been a working artist ever since. He’s done everything from painting murals in restaurants to illustrating a column in the New York Times (He did that for 4 years). He’s been illustrating children’s books since 1982.
He has written and illustrated two children’s books, both came from real life experiences. He used to work as a sign painter, and the man who owned the company, Clarence, was the inspiration for The Sign Painter’s Dream. He loves to go ice fishing with his friends, Chris, Ed and Rick, so that theme turned up in Fishing for Methuselah.
His editorial work has appeared in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Barron’s and he has also done a lot of work for advertising agencies.
Over the years, his work has drawn a lot of positive attention. His editorial work has been selected for the Best of Newspaper Design Annual, the International Graphic Annual of Advertising and Editorial Graphics, and The Society of Illustrator’s Humor Exhibition. His children’s books are not only gorgeous, but have received many awards, and were selected for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Exhibition. Roger says, “The two things I’m proudest of are that The Sign Painter’s Dream was featured on “Reading Rainbow,” and that Fishing for Methuselah was chosen for a Golden Archer Award by the children of Wisconsin. Awards are nice, but what means the most to me is that kids care about what I do.”
I am going to highlight two books with this post. First is Roger’s new book that just hit the bookshelves a few days ago. You will find some final sketches and the final art for the book. Being from New Jersey and close to boardwalks, amusement parks, and the ocean, I was immediately drawn to the illustrations in this book. Though the pictures could remind you of many places, to me it reminds me of Wildwood, NJ. Then when you factor in that I was one of those little kids who was afraid to ride the monster roller coasters, I can relate to the little boy in the story. I have to have this book!
When I asked Roger what place inspired the illustrations he answered, “My family spends a lot of time at Ocean City and Cape May New Jersey. So I’m pretty familiar with the landscape and that was my inspiration for this book. I also used photo reference (I keep extensive photo reference files). I also search for stuff on the Internet. And I checked out the old wooden roller coaster at Hershey Park when I was there a few years ago.”
Kathy: How long did you spend illustrating this book?
End Papers sketch to final art.
Kathy: Can you tell us a little bit about Pratt University and their Fine Art Program?
Roger: Pratt Institute is in Brooklyn, NY, and one of the oldest art schools in the country. The best thing about going to art school in NY is that you have professors who are working illustrators, and I got to meet a lot of them. It was inspiring. The school’s main focus has always been on the arts, architecture and (formerly) engineering. The school itself has wonderful 19th century architecture. I had a great experience going there and was well prepared for my career as an illustrator.
Here is the research photo Roger used for the roller coaster in THE ROLLER COASTER KID.
Sketch to Final Art.
Kathy: Does any class stand out in your mind as helping you to become the artist that you are today?
Roger: When I was 15, I went to Saturday classes at the Philadelphia College of Art, now called the University of the Arts (where I now teach two classes). I met a wonderful art teacher named Milton Feldman. More than anything, he sparked in me a lifelong enthusiasm for drawing. I dedicated the first children’s book I illustrated, The Giraffe That Walked to Paris, to Milton.
Kathy: What got you interested in illustrating children’s books? How did the first children’s book contract happen?
Roger: It was kind of a fluke, really. I never set out to do children’s books, although I always enjoyed looking at them. I was an editorial illustrator (magazines and newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal). I did an illustration of Paris for a travel magazine and the art director of Crown Books, Isabel Warren-Lynch (a great friend to this day), noticed it and asked me if I would be interested in illustrating the Giraffe book. I’ve been doing them ever since. I’m so thankful to Isabelle and Simon Boughton for that opportunity. They were both instrumental in my Sign Painter’s Dream book too.
Kathy: Do you think your location being only a few hours away from NYC has helped you get more work?
Roger: Initially, yes. I lived in New York for many years and when I was working for magazines, newspapers (I had a steady gig at the New York Times for a while) and advertising agencies,it was easy to just pop in and show them my work. But now, as an established illustrator and with technology being what it is, I could be located anywhere. I just happened to end up in the Philadelphia area.
Kathy: Did you do anything special to get the second book contract? Or did that first book skyrocket you into the field of children’s illustration?
Roger: The editors at Crown asked me if I had written any children’s stories. I showed them a really rough version of what became the Sign Painter’s Dream. They worked with me to make it a better story. It was based on my real-life experience as a sign painter and my boss, Clarence. I am still so proud of that book, which was featured in an episode of Reading Rainbow, narrated by Jamie Farr of M.A.S.H. fame.
Kathy: How long do you usually get from the publisher to illustrate a book?
Roger: About 8 months to a year. It took me almost three years to do the illustrations for The American Story (close to 300 illustrations). My family didn’t get to see me much those years.
Kathy: How much input do you get from the art director when you get a contract to illustrate a picture book?
Roger: It depends. I’ve always had good relationships with art directors and I’m good about taking their suggestions. Generally they rely on me to come up with all the concepts and designs. Then they get tweaked a bit back and forth. Suggestions from art directors and editors have often made my work better and stronger.
Once you send in the final art, how long does it take the publisher to bring the book to market?
Usually 6 months to a year, depending on their schedule.
Kathy: Did you belong to a critique group when you wrote your first book?
Roger: Not when I wrote my first book. Later I was a member of the Philadelphia Children’s Reading Roundtable, run by the Philadelphia Free Library. It was always fun to meet people involved in the children’s book industry from librarians to illustrators to authors.
Sketch to Final Art
Kathy: Do you think your illustrations helped sell the book?
Roger: Definitely. Children’s books are a visual medium. Most children’s books rely heavily on the visuals to help tell the story. In fact, some children’s books have no words at all.
Sketch to Final Art.
Kathy: When did you start doing school visits?
Roger: After my second book, around 1992.
Kathy: How many do you do each year?
Roger: It varies. Lately it has been slow given the extreme budget cuts that all schools have been experiencing. Budgets for author/illustrator visits are often the first things to go, which is extremely unfortunate.
Sketch to Final Art.
Kathy: Do you do anything on a regular basis to keep getting visits?
Roger: I usually get visits from word-of-mouth, and of course having new books come out helps a lot. I often get asked to judge art contests, or speak at young authors conferences and generally get visits resulting from those activities.
Kathy: It looks like most of your work is in watercolors. Is that your favorite painting technique?
Roger: All my work is done in watercolor and pencil. I like to retain a little bit of the spontaneity of drawing and watercolor allows the drawing to show through.
Kathy: Do you use a specific brand of paint? A certain type of paper?
Roger: Winsor and Newton paints, Fabriano watercolor paper/cold press 140 lb.
Sketch to Final Art.
Kathy: Do you do anything to the paper before you start painting?
Roger: Sometimes I soak and stretch the paper if it’s a large painting, to avoid buckling.
(See Cover at the beginning of post). This is the second book I wanted to highlight, because this is the book Roger and his wife Darlene created together about their daughter. You can tell it was a real labor of love. I can feel it in every word and every illustration and it conveys so much about the type of family they have. Please note I did not include every illustration in the book, but what is there will give you the gist of the story. I think you will enjoy following the story and it’s fun to see Roger illustrate himself.
Kathy: I see you did a book with your wife. Do you plan to work together again?
Roger: My wife, Darlene Friedman, and I did Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles. It was a true labor of love. Our daughter, Eden, was adopted from China as a baby and our book details her experiences through the eyes of a fictionalized character, Cassidy Li. We have received a tremendous response to our book, especially from the adoption community. We have been urged to do more Cassidy Li stories, and have a few in various stages of completion. And we have a bunch of other projects in the works as well. We make a good team because Darlene is a professional writer and editor.
Kathy: How big do you work?
Roger: I usually work at 100% if possible, occasionally larger if I need more detail.
Kathy: Have your materials changed over the years?
Kathy: Have you tried any of the new digital technology, such as Photoshop, to clean up your work or change coloring?
Roger: I see lots of very fine digital work, but I got into art because I love the feel of paint on paper—the tactile aspect of traditional painting. I do not use or even know how to use any digital technology in my work. Many of my students use digital media. I’m not against it … it’s just not for me.
Kathy: Do you have a studio at home?
Roger: I do, which has allowed me to always be there for my daughter, who is now 14. I used to think I wanted an off-site studio, but I actually prefer being at home, near my wife, daughter, and dogs.
Kathy: Do you follow a daily routine?
Roger: I do. I think having a routine is extremely important to people who make their livings as freelancers. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration or for a muse to whisper in my ear. It requires a lot of discipline.
Kathy: When you are not illustrating a book, do you still try to spend time working on your craft?
Roger: I keep a sketchbook and am always drawing and/or working on new story ideas. It’s fun to look back at my sketchbooks. It’s like looking at your like your past life—a visual diary. I plan to give all my sketchbooks to my daughter one day.
Kathy: Do you plan to write and illustrate any additional books in the future?
Roger: Yes, I have lots of projects in varying stages of completion. It’s a very tough environment in the children’s book publishing world right now. It’s been very affected by the economy and technological changes. But you have to keep plugging away. People are still hungry for good stories and good pictures.
Kathy: How did you get your agent? How long have you been with her?
Roger: My agent is Andrea Cascardi with Transatlantic Literary Agency . She’s been my agent for 6 or 7 years now and was recommended to me by a fellow illustrator. Andrea knew my work as she was a children’s book editor with many years’ experience in the publishing industry. As a former editor, her insights are very helpful to me.
Kathy: Are there any marketing things you have done that helped you get additional work?
Roger: Judging contests, going to authors’ events, keeping in touch with art directors, teaching, maintaining a good website, sending out new images, answering requests for interviews such as this one … just keeping myself visible. As I mentioned before, my wife and I did, and continue to do, a lot of our own marketing around Star of the Week, particularly within the adoption community. And I think social media, such as this excellent blog, are very helpful to authors and illustrators. It’s important to promote your own books because you often don’t get a lot of support from the publishers.
Kathy: Do you have any words of wisdom for your fellow illustrators that might help them become more successful?
Roger: Being in the arts is never easy. It’s essential to love what you’re doing and work at it constantly. That’s the best advice I can give.
Look at the left-hand corner of the Cassidy-Li’s poster and you will see the picture that she drew of her birth parents (one of the illustration I left out).
The Voyage to the Pharos by Sarah Gauch
The book below is the one that took the 3 years to finish, since Roger had to do 300 illustrations to complete it.
The Salem Witch Trials by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
Roanoke The Lost Colony by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
The Merman by Dick King-Smith – Roger has done a number of books with this author and they all look interesting.
Below are some random commissioned pieces of art by Roger that I couldn’t resist including:
The above piece was privately commissioned.
From Jacob Two-Two and the Dinosaur
I love these Monkeys. I want to call this piece Abba Daba Honeymoon, but Roger didn’t give it a name or the piece below of the Easter Bunny. Both were privately commissioned work by Roger.
Below is another irresistible commissioned piece by Roger. He calls it Swamp Music.
I hope you have enjoyed visiting with Roger – I know I have. Thank you Roger & Darlene for putting up with all my requests this week. If you would like to see more of Roger’s work, you can visit: www.rogerroth.com Take a minute to leave Roger a comment. Thanks!