One of my all time favorite picture books is The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, which I wrote about here. That’s Timothy’s! I’m so excited to have him here today and to give you a peek of his latest book, a total delight, The Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling.
Check out this synopsis and see what I mean.
Captain Alfred is sailing home with new ducks for his farm when his little boat is caught in an unexpected and mighty storm. Everything aboard the ship is flung to the far reaches of the sea, including the very special and beautiful duck egg he had nestled safely inside his fiddle case. But perhaps all is not lost: the little duckling stumbles out of his shell and discovers Captain Alfred’s fiddle, floating not too far away in the waves. And when the duckling embraces the instrument with all his heart, what happens next is pure magic. Through an enchanting read-aloud text and beautiful artwork, award-winning author-illustrator Timothy Basil Ering shares a thrilling and fantastical story of a farmer, a gentle old lady, a dancing dog, and one brave, tiny duckling that will warm the heart.
How did you get into picture books?
The foundation to my career as an illustrator was The Art Center in Pasadena CA. I don’t know where I’d be without that amazing training from a melting pot of truly amazing teachers. One of the biggest starts for me just before I graduated was when I caught word that an art director was visiting Pasadena for a day to look at student portfolios. Making that appointment to show my portfolio, which was a soup of all kinds of stuff, was one of those “OMG, I’m so glad I did this!” moments.
The art director, Lynette Rushchak, showed particular interest in the textures I was creating, and in my figure and anatomy drawings. She told me that she was looking for an illustrator that could create aged, distressed, anatomical figure drawings that were reminiscent of old DaVinci drawings. When my eyes lit up with curiosity, she asked me if I’d be interested to illustrate an exciting manuscript she had that was written by author, Roscoe Cooper. Of coarse I was thrilled about the opportunity and was all in! That project was The Diary Of Victor Frankenstein. After lots and lots of drawing, DKink, NY published the book and it was released in 1997. It was the 1st book I illustrated. The project was fantastic fun!
Trying to manipulate paper to give the appearance that the paper was hundreds of years old was part of the project that I really enjoyed, and creating pen and ink, and charcoal drawings of strange experiments and macabre anatomical illustrations was a blast. What’s more is that I illustrated that book on a small 30-foot boat! I had at that time also made a commitment to a 5-month sailing voyage alone with my father on that boat from Florida to Guatemala and back. It was an adventure that I will never forget! Creating art for that book hooked me deep with interest to illustrate more books!
And more books came.
After illustrating 3 more books by different authors, including a children’s pop-up picture book, I became more and more excited, interested, anxious, and determined to see if I could write and illustrate my own book. After hours, days, weeks, and months of writing and re-writing and scribbling and sketching and re-drawing, I was ready to show the work and I pulled off what seemed to be the impossible- getting in the door of a publisher to have a meeting to show the work and my ideas! It was a meeting with editor and publisher Karen Lotz in NY that launched the beginning of a dream. It was a meeting that I thank my lucky stars for every day! With Karen Lotz and Candlewick Press, my 1st book, that I both wrote and illustrated, was published in 2003, and this was the beginning of my ongoing, magical, and SO appreciated adventure in making books with Candlewick Press!
Where did Alfred Fiddleduckling’s story come from?
I had bits and pieces of dead end ideas for a story that I was trying to write around two characters I had imagined. The two characters had great potential that I did not want to give up on. One character was a duck named Alfred that played the fiddle. The other was a duck dog that did not like duck hunting but loved to dance, and in particular, he loved to dance to the fiddle! So, whenever I imagined my two characters interacting out in a marsh somewhere, it made me laugh, but the story just wasn’t going anywhere.
Whenever I hit a wall over and over again when I’m writing or art making, the way I clear my mind from frustration is to go fishing. Lots of ideas come to me when I’m out on the water fishing. So one day, during a “getting nowhere writing day,” I grabbed my fishing rod and hit the beach. I waded across the shallow flats through the water until I was about a ¼ mile off shore standing in waist deep water casting and thinking and relaxing and doing what I love to do when unexpectedly a huge thick white fog bank rolled in off the ocean right to me. I was locked in fog. I love the ocean, and extreme weather, so watching this fog was awesome but more so it got me thinking about a new element in my story! Fog! I had been lost and struggling in my story, and oddly enough, as I stood offshore, in waist deep water, in the fog, things became super clear to me! The fog made me think of mariners from long ago getting lost at sea in the fog, and it made me think of widows. Wow! 3 new ideas! The fog, a sea captain, and the sea captain’s wife were new ideas that immediately began to thread themselves into my dead end ideas and I knew just what to do with Alfred and the dog!
Normally I stay in the water until I catch fish but that day was a day I couldn’t get to my sketchbook fast enough! I jogged through the water, across the beach, up through the woods to my truck and sat in it dripping wet, writing so fast it looked like chicken scratch!
Can you tell us about your process?
I like to experiment with lots of different art making mediums. Which mediums I choose to use depends on the project. For The Unexpected Love Story Of Alfred Fiddleduckling, I used acrylic paint, charcoal, and pen and ink on paper for the interior art. I used acrylic paint on wood and canvas for the book cover. For most of the illustrations I worked on 19” X 24” paper. I created charcoal drawings first, and then painted on top of the drawings. However, some of the illustrations were started with paint first, then drawing over paint, then paint again.
Whatever mediums I use for my art, there will be several layers applied and mixed before I finish a piece. I like to start an image by loosely rubbing, scribbling, smearing, or washing the medium all over the surface that I’m drawing or painting on. I’d say I use my hands to move the mediums around as much as I use brushes, especially when using charcoal. I use charcoal pencils, and graphite pencils but I also love to grind pigment from the pencils or sticks onto the surface I’m working on so that I can rub the pigment, or smear it, and make shapes and forms and marks with my hands.
I’m definitely very inspired by the way children apply art-making mediums. At the beginning of a drawing or painting, I like to move the mediums around quickly to increase the potential for mistakes that can lead to unique things that happen to shapes and forms and colors. I’m always keenly watching for interesting visual things to happen and when they do, I stop to look and react to their beautiful possibilities. To me, mistakes show positive possibilities that I might not have imagined were there when I started. There’s a lot of trial and error, lots of mistakes, and different reactions to my mistakes. If something doesn’t work visually, it’s fun to deconstruct it by erasing or painting over it, and then to reconstruct it again with different color, or value, or size, or whatever it takes so that it does visually work. I also like to glue more paper, or canvas, or wood if needed to make room for more imagery rather than to start over again on a new surface. Sometimes I cut pieces of art from a piece to move it somewhere else in the piece or collage onto a completely different piece.
Below is an example of starting with a charcoal drawing. The paint was applied over the drawing.
Below is the beginning of the application of paint over a charcoal drawing.
Below is an example of starting with a loose painting.
The two drawings below of the gentle lady wearing a gray wool coat are examples of developing a charcoal drawing over a wash of paint, and they show how much my drawings change while I’m developing them.
Below you can see how much my scribbled drawing of Alfred shrunk in size before I started painting him.
The next two drawings below are examples of experiments with paint, ideas, textures, and composition during my process of figuring out these illustrations.
Believe it or not, the image below of this beautiful glob is actually my kneaded erasure that I pinched into a quick reference sculpture of Alfred Fiddleduckling playing his fiddle. I used it to help myself envision and draw the following illustration of Alfred playing his fiddle.
I used pen and ink to create the title text.
Who are some of your story heroes?
When I was in high school, I had a hard time finding books that captured my interest quick enough to keep me pouring through the pages until I read White Fang by Jack London. I love the outdoors, nature, wild animals, and adventure, so I really enjoyed that story, so much so that when I finished that book I remember wanting to see what else Jack London wrote. It was easy to find Call Of The Wild and I loved that story too. Again I searched for another story to read by Jack London and chose Sea Wolf and loved that one too! So, one of my story writing heroes is Jack London.
Another story writing hero of mine is Irving Stone. It only took one book of his to make him a hero of mine. It’s a big book entitled The Agony And The Ecstasy. What kept me into every page was Irving Stone’s wonderful descriptions of the life and times of my favorite artist, Michael Angelo. It was awesome! And Kate DiCamillo is not only a story writing hero of mine, but she also created a story book hero of mine- Despereaux.*
*Which Timothy illustrated! What a pair.
What’s your favorite piece of art in your house?
A single-haired paint brush painting of an owl by an artist from India who paints masterfully with a tiny, tiny, tiny one haired brush!
What’s next for you?
I am working hard on my next children’s picture book, but its waaaaaayy too early to say anything about it except that I’m struggling with fighting the good fight and I think I need to go fishing!
Thanks, Timothy! I can’t wait to see how that next fishing trip turns out.
THE UNEXPECTED LOVE STORY OF ALFRED FIDDLEDUCKLING. Copyright © 2017 by Timothy Basil Ering. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.