Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview #6: Adam Rex

We recently had a chat with family-favorite Author-Illustrator Adam Rex!  We love his picture books -- love 'em, love 'em!  You might remember we reviewed his great book "Pssst!" last year (wow - by random chance, exactly one year ago).  Last week Mr. Rex was kind enough to spend some time video chatting with the kids over Skype.  Face to face!  (Or face to... faces).  It's something I'm sure we'll remember forever, and we're excited to share the conversation now with you.  Thanks again to Adam Rex for a great interview!

(Portrait of Mr. Rex by Gracie)

Dad:  Before the interview, why don't we highlight some of Adam Rex's books.  I think the "Frankenstein" books are probably his most well-known.
Lily (age 7):  There are a whole bunch of Frankenstein books.
Dad:  A whole bunch?
Lily:  Well, actually there are two.
Isaac (age 11):  "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich" and "Frankenstein Takes the Cake."
Gracie (age 9):  Actually, it's called "Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Other Stories You're Sure to Like, Because They are All About Monsters, and Some of Them are Also About Food - You Like Food, Don't You - Well, All Right Then."
Dad:  So the titles of his books are even funny.  To the opposite extreme, one of his other books is called "Pssst!" which has to be the shortest sound you can make.  It doesn't even have any vowels in it.
Isaac:  Or it could be the longest sound if you go, "Pssssssssssssssssssssssssssss..."
Dad:  I guess it all depends on how many S's you put in there.
Gracie:  The Frankenstein books have a whole bunch of different little poems, and they are all funny.
Lily:  The first Frankenstein book is poems about monsters.  And food.
Gracie:  The second one is about monsters getting married.
Isaac:  And food.
Lily:  It is a book of funny-ness-es.
Dad:  Did anyone have a favorite poem from these books?
Gracie:  I like the one about Frankenstein and his wife-to-be.  They are meeting the wife-to-be's parents and making all the preparations for the wedding.
Isaac:  My favorite story is "Off the Top of My Head."  It looks like a blog of the Headless Horseman.  He tells about what is going on in his life.  He's trying to find a new head because his pumpkin head is getting old and moldy.
Lily:  I like "Zombie Samba."  The zombies are chatting.  But they can't really talk.  So they just say "Mambo."  They get all excited by a word sometimes.  They freak out.  And sometimes they just dance all over.
Isaac:  And the pictures that go with the poems are all in different styles, even though they are in the same book.  One looks like comic strips.  One is black and white like it was done on scratchboard.  One looks like cut paper collage.  And it's funny because there are even little poems in the pictures.  Like, if someone is holding a newspaper, he even writes tiny funny poems on the newspaper in the illustration.
Dad:  Thanks guys!  And now it's time to share your interview with Mr. Adam Rex:

Dad:  Hello, sir!
Adam Rex:  Hi guys.  How are you doing?
Isaac:  We've been waiting for a long time!
Dad:  They've been really excited all day.  You have some big fans over here.
Adam Rex:  That's really nice.  I'm honored.
Gracie:  I'm wondering... do you really have jet skiing giraffes in your backyard?  Because in "Frankenstein Takes the Cake" you said you had a track in your backyard where jet skiers race giraffes.
Adam Rex:  Actually, we had to move them off site because our pool is really messy right now.  We had to move the giraffes to a home... for wayward giraffes... and jet skiers... while we get the pool cleaned.
Gracie:  Hee hee hee...
Dad:  It's nice they have a home for that.
Gracie:  HA ha hah ha!
Adam Rex:  It's weird, right?  Strange, I agree.  But, lucky me.
Lily:  Do you have a special studio place where you write or draw?
Adam Rex:  One of the bedrooms in my house is a studio.  I have my drawing table in there, and a huge bookcase full of books and models I've made.  It's a real mess too.
Isaac:  I made a teeny studio in my bedroom.  It's really just a desk, and all my paints are around the edges.  But the desk is too covered to actually use anymore.
Gracie:  He's got paints there, and he took apart a digital camera, a hairdryer, and an umbrella.
Adam Rex:  Do you like taking stuff apart to see how it works?
Isaac:  I like to take the parts out of things so I can use them.
Adam Rex:  You're not making some kind of digital-blowdryer-umbrella are you?
Gracie:  Hah ha ha!
Adam Rex:  Actually that would be cool!  An umbrella that blows hot air down on you while you are walking around.  So it dries your hair.  And it takes pictures of the top of your head.
Dad:  Get cracking on that Isaac!
Adam Rex:  I can't do stuff like that.  My wife is the one that can build things.  She's an astrophysicist.
Dad:  We just read about her on your blog.
Gracie:  Dad said she goes all the way into the North Pole and sets balloons off to make observations, and does cool stuff like that.
Adam Rex:  That's right.  She's got all these amazing pictures of really far away.  Like a billion light years away.
Gracie:  With a balloon?
Adam Rex:  It was a telescope that hung from a balloon.  But it went really high, all the way to the edge of space.
Lily:  Wouldn't it pop?
Adam Rex:  It was a really big strong balloon.
Isaac:  That's cool.
Dad:  Gracie, didn't you have a question about Mr. Rex and his wife... ha ha ha...
Gracie: (embarrassed silence)
Isaac:  Yeah, ask it!
Adam Rex:  Do you have an interesting question to ask me, Gracie?  You should ask!
Gracie:  Um.  Which job do you think is better?  Sitting at home making awesome books, or going to the North Pole to send up telescope balloons?
Isaac:  That's not how you said it before!
Dad:  Ha ha ha...  She's rephrased it now.  Her original question was going to be, "Who is cooler, you or your wife."
Adam Rex:  I think my wife is definitely cooler than I am.  I think it's pretty amazing what she's done.  I'm not smart in that way.  I think she and I are both pretty smart people, but we are smart in different ways.  Which is great -- we don't step on each other's toes.
Dad:  I wouldn't be able to do my wife's job either.  Taking care of 5 kids from morning to night...  and homeschooling them...  running the show.
Adam Rex:  Do you guys both do the homeschooling, or is it just Mom?
Dad:  One year I tried to take over just one subject, Math.  And it was horrible.  Their education suffered as a result of me trying to help out.  I don't have the skills to juggle multiple responsibilities the way my amazing wife can.  We learned quickly that school works better if she handles it all.
Adam Rex:  What is your homeschooling schedule every day?  Do you guys get up at the same time that school kids get up?
Gracie:  We get to sleep in laaaaaate.
Isaac:  And we only have to work on school until we are done.
Adam Rex:  I bet it doesn't take you guys as long as it would other school kids.
Dad:  And that frees them up for all these other creative endeavors... things they wouldn't be able to do stuck in a classroom setting.
Isaac:  Like, we wouldn't be able to do this interview.
Adam Rex:  Well I'm glad you have time to do those things.  Because a lot of people depend on your blogs for comfort every day.
Dad:  I consider that part of their education too... studying illustrations and writing... and studying books each week for Bookie Woogie.  So I am involved in their education that way.
Gracie:  Which one is your favorite, writing or illustrating?
Adam Rex:  Right now it's actually writing.  I have a bunch of illustration work to do, and I don't want to do it.  I keep putting it off and trying to work on a new book instead.  I think writing is harder for me than illustrating, so that makes it more exciting too.  It's a little more thrilling.
(Lily raises her hand)
Adam Rex:  Yes, Lily?
Lily:  What did you draw when you were a kid?
Adam Rex:  I liked to draw dragons and unicorns.  I drew a lot of fantasy stuff.
Isaac:  I like to draw dragons too.
Gracie:  Oh yeah, Isaac loves dragons.
Adam Rex:  I have a brother who is 3 years older than me.  And when I was 5 years old I overheard him complaining to my mom, "It's not fair -- Adam's only 5 and he can draw better than me."
Gracie:  Ah hah ha!
Adam Rex:  So when I heard that, I decided I was going to be an artist, just to annoy my brother.  I had a problem as a kid...  I thought I should be able to do everything my brother could -- which was ridiculous because he was 3 years older than me.  He was smarter, he was better at sports, he was better at everything.  But I could draw better than him, so I decided at the age of 5 to be an artist.
Isaac:  What is your favorite way to make art?
Adam Rex:  I started oil painting when I was 11 or 12.  And I still really love to oil paint.
Isaac:  I'm 11, and I like to oil paint too.  I just started to do it a little bit.
Gracie:  Oil paintings take forever to dry.
Adam Rex:  Yeah, they do.  I've been painting a lot more on the computer now.  I'm able to paint a little faster that way, and it's nice to hit that "undo button" when I make a mistake.  But I still like using actual oil paints better.
Dad:  Did you have someone teaching you oils as a kid, or did you just teach yourself?
Adam Rex:  I signed up for an evening class taught at a framing store.  Not only was I the only boy, but I was also the only person under the age of 40.  So there was me and a bunch of middle aged ladies all in a class together learning how to oil paint.
Gracie:  Ahh hah ha!
Lily:  I have another question.  Why do you do all the different styles in your books.
Adam Rex:  I have a certain way I naturally draw.  But I love other illustrators' work so much.  So sometimes I see an artist and I think, boy, it would be great to try to draw like that - I've got to give that a try.
Dad:  We do that with Bookie Woogie, don't we...  Each week we try to draw and take inspiration from a different illustrator.
Gracie:  Your pictures in "Pssst" look totally different than the pictures in "Small Beauties."
Adam Rex:  That's a really good example, thank-you -- a perfect example of something that needed to have a different style.  "Small Beauties" was more of a serious story, and it was based on true events, so I really wanted it to have realistic beauty to it.  I think I would have insulted the story if had made it look too cartoonish.
Lily:  How do you get out of drawing backgrounds?
Adam Rex:  Ha ha!
Gracie:  You paint no backgrounds in "Pssst!"
Isaac:  But it still looks awesome!
Gracie:  You even get out of making backgrounds in the Frankenstein books.
Adam Rex:  That's tricky of me, isn't it.  And you are right...  I'll admit it...  that's on purpose.  I try to get out of doing backgrounds.  I thought, man, if I have to paint a detailed zoo in the background of every one of these pages I'm going to go crazy.  But the important thing is whatever you do, you just make it look like that's what you meant to do.  Even if you make a mistake, you go back and make that same mistake a couple more times so it looks like you planned it.
Dad:  Do you have an example of that?
Adam Rex:  In college if I was inking something and I accidentally dropped a spot of ink where it wasn't supposed to be, I'd drop a couple more spots of ink so it looked like it was my style.  You can get away with anything if you make it look like you meant to do it that way.
Gracie:  In "Tree Ring Circus," we thought you printed out the tree each time and then just painted the characters over top.  Because the details on the tree are exactly identical on each page.
Adam Rex:  Yep.  That's right.  That's another good example of how I cheat on my backgrounds.
Gracie:  HA HA ha ha ha!
Isaac:  It's a smart idea though!
Adam Rex:  I did one pen and ink drawing of the tree.  I scanned it into my computer and had that printed out really big -- 25 or 30 inches tall -- over and over and over again.  I thought I would go nuts if I had to paint that tree over and over.
Dad:  Now, these kids here are aspiring oil painters.  But I know nothing about paint.  I'm a drawer.  Even my color work is colored pencil.  So do you have any painting tips for them?  Can we pick your brain?
Adam Rex:  One thing is to be really aware of the warm and cool colors.  Obviously reds and yellow and oranges are warm colors, right.  And cool colors are--
Gracie: Blues and purples.
Adam Rex:  Yeah.  But you can also have warm blues and cold blues.  And warm reds and cold reds.  The best way to mix colors is to always mix the warm version of things with other warm versions.  And cold with cold.  Otherwise if you mix warm and cold together, everything immediately turns to this brown goopy mud.
Isaac:  That's good to know.  I've had colors turn the opposite of what I wanted them to be.
Adam Rex:  And I started out painting pretty thin too.  I didn't goop it on all that much.  When I got too thick I started having problems with things getting muddy and ugly.
Isaac:  I have one more question.  How do you get your drawings to have good shading?  I've been having trouble with that.
Gracie:  Yeah, you have perfect shading.
Adam Rex:  Well thank-you.  I always try to make the lines of the shading follow the contours of the object that I'm drawing.  I don't go in there and just start scribbling in shading.  I almost act like I'm sculpting the thing.  So if I'm shading a ball, then I'm making the shading follow the curves of the ball.
Isaac:  Oh I see.
Adam Rex:  I'm trying to make every single line not only tell you whether something is light or dark, but also make every single line tell you what shape that thing is.  That's something I learned as I got older.
Dad:  Well what do you guys tell Mr. Rex?
Kids:  Thank yooooooou!
Adam Rex:  Thanks guys -- Lily, Gracie, Isaac.  It's been really good talking to you.
Dad:  Any last words, or are we all wrapped up?
Lily:  Wzeeeeeeeeeee.....
Dad:  We're very thankful that you took the time to talk to us.
Adam Rex:  That's a pretty good last word -- that scream of Lily's there.  I like that.
Dad:  Lily usually dissolves into incomprehensible noises when she's done.
Lily:  Ha haw ha!
Adam Rex:  Yes, I'm like that too.

zombies at the zoo, by Lily

a crow carries away the headless horseman's
pumpkin head
, by Isaac

Frankenstein and his bride, by Gracie

Author/Illustrator: Adam Rex
"Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich" published 2006: Harcourt
Like it?  Find it


Anonymous said...

This is the coolest blog ever! I'm a first grade teacher and parent in PA, and you've totally inspired me. Keep up the great thoughts!

Kelly Polark said...

Extremely entertaining (and informative) interview, peoples and little peoples.
Well done!

Surfer Jay said...

Cool interview. You kids are lucky to talk to a stuperstar. Rex mentioned that he often draws in varying styles for different books, which I just found true in Dirty Cowboy. I just got it, and the drawings of that boy are sweet. First thing I said was, 'hey it's norman rockwell!' In quality, and style. Good book.

Nina Crittenden said...

Such a fun interview! I think the Edgar Allen Poe poems are my faves! Adam Rex=Cool

Unknown said...

hey, do you guys know about the Reading Reptile? It's in Kansas City (!!!) and with your interest in kids books you should make it a destination--check out

Deb Chitwood said...

I think your family is having way too much fun! Rock on!