Meet the Artist August 24, 2020

The new Suess - The energetic and exuberant work of Andrew Joyner.

Andrew Joyner is an acclaimed Australian illustrator and author of fantastically whimsical children’s books. He was recently commissioned to illustrate and complete an unfinished manuscript of Theodor ‘Dr. Seuss’ Geisel discovered in a dusty box in Dr. Seuss’s attic. The resulting book, Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum — A Canter Though Art History was entirely illustrated in Procreate.

Hi Andrew, where are you based and how long have you been drawing?

I grew up in Mannum, a small town on the Murray River in South Australia, and I now live with my family in the Adelaide Hills. I’ve drawn all my life – I was one of those kids in class who was known for their drawings. Yet, I never studied art beyond year 10 at high school, and never really considered it possible that I could make a living from drawing. But I was always drawing - whether it was cartoons and illustrations for the student newspaper while at University, or posters and artwork for friends’ bands while I worked in a record store (and also the occasional tattoo). Then, sometime in my late 20s when I was miserably grinding through a PhD in English Literature (now long abandoned), I decided to actively seek work as an illustrator. I always had lots of encouragement to pursue art, from my wife Beck especially, but also from my parents, family, friends, even teachers. I still remember in grade 6, when I told my teacher that I wanted to be a doctor or a scientist, he said, “There are plenty of doctors and scientists in the world. You should be a cartoonist.” Thank you Mr Bevan!

How did you come to illustrate the last Dr Seuss book?

Cathy Goldsmith was Dr Seuss’s art director for the last ten years of his life and, until her retirement last year, handled the publication of his work for Random House. She was looking for someone to work on Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum just as my own picture book with Random House, The Pink Hat, was published. I don’t think of The Pink Hat as particularly Seussian, but Cathy saw something in my work which she thought would be ideal for this lost Dr Seuss book.

Although I didn’t know any of this until well after the book was completed. My first contact was when Cathy got in touch with my agent Kirsten Hall (Catbird Agency) and asked us to sign a non-disclosure agreement before she could present us with a possible project. We signed immediately and I then spent 24 hours wondering what it could possibly be. When it came through - a PDF of a manuscript for an unfinished Dr Seuss book with these amazing pencil sketches, all about his theories on art - I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

A spread from 'Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum - A Canter Through Art History'

You really captured the effortless yet energetic style of the good Dr. Was it intimidating to pick up where he left off?

From the moment I was asked to do the book, I tried to ignore (or supress!) the gravity of the project. And Random House and Dr Seuss Enterprises were great and very supportive. Cathy and the editor of the book, Alice Jonaitis, told me very early on that that they weren’t after an imitation of Dr Seuss - they wanted me for my work. So I was given quite a bit of freedom. I think it helped that I was working on it in secret - outside of Random House and Dr Seuss Enterprises, no one knew about it.

I also think Dr Seuss is nearly impossible to imitate. Of course, you can create a copy of his work, but it’s hard to transplant the energy and exuberance that is so fundamental to all his pictures. I did begin by copying some of his drawings (especially the few pictures he’d made of horses) but more as a kind of channelling or immersion, an attempt to glimpse a bit of the world through his eyes. I looked at a lot of his work and paid particular attention to the way he composed his illustrations on the page - the wild angles and curves and framing. But I grew up with his books too, and from a young age I learnt to draw by looking and copying, so I think maybe his influence was always part of my work.

A Procreate time-lapse from 'Dr Seuss's Horse Museum'

You’ve said you enjoy drawing on Procreate with the pencil because ‘there is no real gap between your sketches and the final art.’ What did you mean by that?

Most illustrators I know want their final art to have the same energy and spontaneity of their very first rough sketches - that sense of an idea just effortlessly appearing on a page, or that wonderful feeling when your drawing seems to be running ahead of your thinking. How each artist goes about that is very personal though, and for some it can just be through drawing with a particular pen or ink. For me it’s working on an iPad in Procreate. I can go from a quick scribble to a fully developed scene on the one ‘digital’ page. When I worked primarily on paper - pencil roughs and brush and ink finals - it always felt like I was starting all over again when I moved from roughs to final art. In Procreate it feels more like one continuous process. But as I said, it’s very personal, and a lot of it gets down to mindset. I guess with the iPad and Procreate I enjoy the total freedom to make mistakes, and there’s something in Procreate’s usability that feels very natural to me, almost like I completely forget about the technology. In fact, it now feels so natural that when I’m visiting a school and drawing at my easel - analogue style! - I’ll even tap the paper with two fingers when I draw a line I don’t like.

Your children’s book The Pink Hat was inspired by the Women’s March of 2017. What inspired you to use such an adult topic for a kid’s book?

For me, the Women’s March in 2017 was a real moment of hope and inspiration, just when I’d felt quite down about where the world was heading. But I didn’t immediately think I could make a children’s book about it. Then a couple of months later, in March 2017, I had an idea for a story about a boy who finds a hat discarded after the march. It was inspired by a conversation with my teenage son about masculinity and role models. But I couldn’t really get the story to spark. Then I sketched a young girl marching in her pink hat and it all seemed to fall into place. Sometimes it takes just one drawing of a character to unlock a story, and that was definitely the case with this girl and her hat (that was the same for my horse guide in Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum). It’s probably obvious that a girl should be at the centre of a story about the Women’s March but I can be quite a slow thinker. Thankfully my agent Kirsten is very good at pointing me in the right direction, too!

I also liked the challenge of taking a contemporary event and translating it into something accessible for children. My hope is that the book captured some of the optimism I felt after the March, and that it gives a child a way of connecting to the feminism behind the March, so that they might sense it as something welcoming and nurturing, even if they are too young to fully comprehend it.

The Pink Hat was published the same year as the Women’s March. How did you write, illustrate and get a book published all in the same year?

That’s very much due to Procreate, as The Pink Hat was the first book I drew entirely in Procreate, from first roughs to final art. I did draw a sample page in brush and ink on paper, but my Procreate drawings just had a lightness which everyone felt worked best. Once we settled on using Procreate for everything it was very quick. I also had tremendous support from my agent Kirsten Hall (she’s also a children’s book author), my publisher at Random House, Lee Wade, and my designer Rachael Cole. Making any book is very much a collaboration and I feel very fortunate to be making books with these people.

You seem very prolific, so what’s next for Andrew Joyner?

I have a few things coming out this year, including a follow up to The Pink Hat, called Stand Up! Speak Up! which will be out at the start of October. It’s inspired by the global youth climate change strikes that happened in 2019, but for this one I wanted to look at what happens after a march. It’s focussed on the same young girl from The Pink Hat and takes her from optimism and joy at the Climate March, to moments of futility and despair, through to community action and inspiring others to join in - to stand up, speak up and show up!

A spread from Andrew Joyner's upcoming book, 'Stand up! Speak up!'

You got some great ‘How to draw’ resources and activities for kids on your site. Do you have an educational background?

No I don’t, but I do regularly visit schools, and I find that all kids are interested in drawing. I love it when a kid is surprised by what they can draw. Actually, Procreate’s also great for drawing with an audience - especially guided step-by-step drawings - and in most presentations I’ll draw both at my iPad and at my easel (with charcoal or graphite on paper).

Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s book illustrators?

The best advice I received was for my very first picture book, The Terrible Plop, written by Ursula Dubosarsky. When I first met with Ursula and the publishers, Ursula told me that she’d like the book to feel like “a surprise with each page turn.” I always think about that, about the physical experience of reading a picture book. To quote the critic Barbara Bader, picture books are a unique form of technology based on “the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page.” Or as author/illustrator/dancer/genius Remy Charlip says, “a page is a door,” and “if a door has something completely different behind it, it is much more exciting.”

Having said that, sometimes when I’m making a book, I like to think of it as something other than a book. So I might think of the book as a kind of toy, or an animation, or a game, or a giant comic strip, or even a little stage play. I always end up with a book, but I sometimes find it easier to pretend that I’m making something else entirely. Some problems are best approached indirectly.

What’s your favorite Procreate feature, and what do you enjoy about using it?

I love the brush engine, but I’m not especially technical, so I mainly use trial and error to get the results I want. But that’s probably why I love it, because it is so responsive and open to trial and error. In general though, I think my favourite thing with Procreate is its general usability and simplicity - the fact that the technology is invisible (or only visible when you want it to to be visible) so I never feel like I’m working with software. It also feels connected to the user’s gestures and hands, to the physical action of drawing and painting, in a very natural and organic way. And perhaps one more: this is quite a minor thing, but when it comes to making books, I feel like I can put the whole book in front of me very easily, just by using the preview mode in the gallery. I can flick through pages to gauge the flow of the story and illustrations and then quickly return to a drawing.

If you could add one feature to Procreate what would it be?

This is coming from a position of relative ignorance, but could there be some way of incorporating some of the randomness of printmaking into a drawing (maybe I guess as a kind of layer effect)? Perhaps this already exists or can be achieved in a few different steps. In general, though, software seems to be all about control, and making controls finer and more detailed. Yet a lot of art is about embracing some element of randomness. I’m interested in incorporating some random or uncontrolled elements into my own drawings and I’ve wondered how an app like Procreate could incorporate that, and perhaps even make it useful and expressive.

Discover Andrew’s wonderful books and illustrations or create something with one of his activity sheets at andrewjoyner.com.au.