An Interview with Illustrator Jeremy Tankard

It’s a Tiger! is a delightful picture book that deserves to be celebrated two days in a row, so that’s just what I’m doing. Author David LaRochelle dropped by yesterday to discuss reading, writing, and pumpkins, and today I’m excited to share my interview with illustrator Jeremy Tankard. Thank you, David and Jeremy!

Mr. Schu: My first graders and I love your bold and expressive illustrations.  We think David LaRochelle’s text and your illustrations work together beautifully.
Jeremy Tankard: Thank you, Mr. Schu (and first graders!). I’m prodigiously proud of this book. David’s text is what convinced me that I had to illustrate this book: It’s funny; whimsical; smart; quirky; clever; and just plain FUN! The funny thing is that when I started doing sketches for the book I somehow lost all the humor of the text -- largely because David wrote a story in which the book itself is the narrator (which is actually one of the things I liked best about the text). Then I realized that the humor wasn’t necessarily in the appearance of the tiger every time but in the reaction of the reader to the tigers appearance. But since I can’t illustrate the readers reaction I had to come up with another solution: create a narrator who could react instead. Thus I was able to find a fun and humous way to illustrate all those “surprise” appearances. 

Mr. Schu: Why did you use ink and digital media? 
Jeremy Tankard: I LOVE drawing with ink. My father bought my brother and me sketchbooks and pens for a vacation in England when I was about 12 years old. He said something like “real artists keep sketchbooks and draw with pens”. He was partially correct: most artists like to keep sketchbooks. However, they often use pencils or markers or paint or other drawing materials in them. BUT, I learned that drawing with pen is very rewarding. 
The thing about ink is that if you make a mistake you can’t fix it! This is kind of scary when you first start using ink, but after a while you get used to it and you either learn to live with the mistakes and imperfections or you quit and go back to something “safe” like pencils. In my case I learned that those imperfections often give the art a certain quality. And it is strangely liberating when you give yourself permission to live with the mistakes. These days I mostly draw with a brush which is much, much more difficult than drawing with pen. But I like the uneven line it makes and try to find the beauty in all the imperfections.
As for using a computer: I’m quite enamored with the possibilities that the digital environment presents. And I like the ease with which I can make corrections. Perhaps because my ink drawings involve a certain amount of risk I like the control that the computer offers for the rest of the production. So I use the computer to color and assemble my ink drawings into finished art for the book. Also, I LOVE working with bright colors and the computer makes it much easier for me to control the final appearance of those colors as they print in the book. 

Mr. Schu: I like that the child is androgynous. Was this a conscious decision? 
Jeremy Tankard: I’m so glad you asked this. It was a conscious decision, yes. My first attempt at a narrator involved a rabbit, because I thought an animal would be easier -- everyone can see themselves in an animal. Can’t they? Or is it just me? But then I decided that I didn’t like that because really, the tiger would probably just eat the rabbit when it first shows up! So I created a boy. Or I thought he was a boy when I started drawing him. But in the end I opted, quite deliberately, to make that distinction vague. I like that a boy OR girl reading the book is able to see themselves in the character. I have heard children argue amongst themselves about the child’s gender. And ask me! I tell them that he or she is whatever they want. 

Mr. Schu: Which animal was the most fun to draw? Most challenging? 
Jeremy Tankard: The tiger was the most difficult. I LOVE tigers. They are my favorite mammal. Which is kind of funny because I’ve never drawn one before this book. Cats are so wonderfully slinky and lithe and powerful. But of course this is a children’s book so I didn’t want the tiger to be too scary or mean. But he also couldn’t be too cute or cuddly. What the book really called for was a fierce-looking teddy bear -- scary but not by any means terrifying. A tall order, really. I spent the better part of a year sketching tigers of all shapes, sizes and kinds before finally landing on the one that appeared in the book. I’m VERY happy with my tiger drawings. 

Mr. Schu: Did you and David LaRochelle interact at all while you were illustrating It’s a Tiger!?
Jeremy Tankard:Nope! I actually met David when I was doing a book tour for Boo Hoo Bird, and he knew I would be illustrating his book back then. But we had no contact again until after the illustrations were finished. I didn’t want his influence while I was drawing -- he is a gifted illustrator himself and I was afraid that there could be tension if he had one idea in mind and I had another. Especially since I opted to add a whole new character to his story! To be perfectly honest I was afraid that he wouldn’t like my interpretation. Luckily for me he is very happy with the outcome. Or at least he claims to be! You’ll have to ask him. 

Mr. Schu: What’s one of your earliest memories of illustrating stories? 
 Jeremy Tankard: I used to steal paper from my father’s desk drawer, fold them in half and staple them together to make little books. Then I’d write and illustrate my own stories. This began when I was about seven years old. I often wrote stories in which a character would get in trouble or hurt and they would shout “HELP!” Only I sometimes spelled it “HALP!”

Mr. Schu: What are you working on now? 
Jeremy Tankard: A whole bunch of things. My main project is a book I’ve been writing for the last five years that I’m super excited about. I won’t say any more at this point because it’s still very much “in progress”. And I’m writing another book, a longer illustrated thing, that grew out of a sudden inspiration I had. But I can’t say much about it either. And I’ve been offered a couple of other picture books to illustrate. There might also be another Bird book at some point. But time will tell. I don’t believe in writing something unless I’ve got something that I really want to say. 
I have just moved across the country, from Toronto to Vancouver, and am still getting “settled”. I have two children and my youngest (age 3) is having a hard time with preschool and childcare. This means that my work-time has been drastically reduced as I try to help him get comfortable in his new routines. It’s frustrating to have so little work-time but family has to come first. I’m itching to have get cracking on some of these projects.

Mr. Schu: I have a metafiction section in my school library. Do you have any favorite books about books? 
Jeremy Tankard: Well, I thought It's a Tiger! would be one, but with adding the child to the art I created a narrator that I don’t think David imagined. So I’m not sure if it really qualifies as metafiction any more. I love Lane Smith’s It's a Book

I can’t really think of any others right now. Is that bad? I also love Bad Day at the Riverbend by Chris van Allsburg. 

Is that metafiction? It’s very funny. And clever. It isn’t so much a book about books as a book about coloring books. If you’ve seen it I’m sure you’ll agree that it is fantastic. If you haven’t seen it...well, it’s worth a read. 

Mr. Schu: Please complete this sentence: 
Picture books are magical windows that let in the purest of light.

Borrow It's a Tiger! from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops


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