Like you to meet my new best friend, author/illustrator Kurt Cyrus. Kurt is the illustrator of the newly published book Buddy : The Story of Buddy Holly (Simon & Schuster, 2005) written by Anne Bustard. Although I was already familiar with his work, I just made his cyber-acquaintance this past weekend. How'd he reach such high regard in such a short time? He sent an email and praised my artwork. What "wow!" does for the ego.
Anywho, Kurt is the talented illustrator of 11 children's books, several of which he authored. Three of his recently illustrated books are Sixteen Cows (Harcourt Children's Books, 2002), The Mousery (Gulliver Books, 2000) and Oddhopper Opera: A Bug's Garden of Verses (Harcourt Children's Books, 2001).
As he puts it, "I'm more a drawer than painter," however I beg to differ, he handles watercolor, oil paints and color pencil with skill. And what this guy does with cows! Just check out a few of his book covers.
Through several email exchanges we discussed the book business and soon the amateur journalist in me took over. Here's what he had to say:
Devas T.: I started this blog a couple months ago. But I'm an illustrator, an art guy like you. I have no idea what I'm writing about tomorrow. Can you help a brotha out? Share with me your story behind the story of Buddy Holly.
Kurt: When the editor sent me Anne's manuscript, she said she thought we should view it as simply the story of a boy discovering his passion for music. The boy turns out to be Buddy Holly, but it wasn't to be treated as a biography. SO, that's how I approached it. I tried not to blatantly screw up the historical record, but I didn't get anal about it either.
As the months went by and I worked on the pictures, the text continued to be revised, with more historical details being added, I assume at the editor's urging. By the time I finished the illustrations, the emphasis of the text had shifted somewhat away from the "story of a boy" to something more documentary. The art director even deleted a puppy from one of my finished pieces because someone discovered that Buddy hadn't yet got his puppy at that time.
That's a long way of saying that we never fully settled on how we were going to approach this book. We might have had a smoother operation if we'd taken more time and published it a year later. But I loved reading about Buddy Holly, and soon found myself even more fascinated with the characters around him than I was with Buddy himself. It was fun to go online and find out what became of some of his early pals. I also enjoyed fitting together pieces of the puzzle from different reference materials... what kind of car the band drove to their early gigs, with the bass fiddle strapped to the roof.
I just hope Anne is happy with how the book turned out. She worked very hard on it.
Devas T.: You have a way with animals and a keen eye for anatomy. I love how the humor and personality of the cows shines through on the cover of SIXTEEN COWS. I would assume you raise cows, you've captured them so well. How did you approach the subject?
Kurt: For drawing animals, I start out in my thumbnails sketching the animal from my imagination, in the position that works for the story. Then I look for reference photos. They never seem to match the angle that I'm drawing, so I gather as many photos and diagrams as I can find, and study the animal's anatomy so I can rotate it around to the angle I want. That's all. I don't go to the zoo and climb in the cages, or raise mice. I'm pretty lazy about it.
Devas T.: I work mostly in oils, working 3 to 5 paintings at once. Any more than that overwhelms me. I need to see that after a couple days I've made some progress. What process do you follow for producing multiple illustrations?
Kurt: One whole wall of my small studio is rigged for hanging my works in progress. I have 3 wires stretched across the wall, with small clothes pins strung on the wires, so I can hang three rows of paintings to dry, or just to keep them safe and out of my way. So, basically the whole book is hanging on that wall. That way I can jump from one painting to another as the mood strikes me, or if I have a certain color mixed and want to use it up. So there's never a logjam. But I don't soak and stretch my watercolor paper. I just use it loose. That makes a difference.
For oils, I have a home made drying box, with a 75 watt light bulb for heat, and 4 wooden dowels with clothes pins for hanging pictures to dry. It amazes me how quickly oils will dry in that box. And when I need to trace something, I remove the wooden lid, slap on a piece of plexiglass, turn on the light bulb, and it becomes a light box.
Devas T.: Thanks Kurt. I enjoyed this exchange. Keep up your great work!
Kurt and Anne Bustard will be signing their book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly at Book People, 603 North Lamar Blvd. in Austin on April 9th.