Two Budding Artists Interview Illustrator Chris Appelhans

There’s a picture hanging on our bedroom wall of a giraffe. It doesn’t look like a giraffe or even have the colors of a giraffe; actually, it looks more like a worm than anything else. However, my five year-old son insists it’s a giraffe, and seeing that he painted it, we hung it with pride. Both of my children, Addison (age 8) and Cooper (age 5) love to draw.  They love listening to a story, but it’s the pictures that make it come to life for them. Even though they can both read, one of our favorite family activities is cuddling up and reading a picture book.

So when they were given the opportunity to interview a famous illustrator—Chris Appelhans—they were beyond giddy. He was an illustrator and production designer for Coraline, an environment designer for Fantastic Mr. Fox, and a visual development artist for The Princess and the FrogThey waited by the mailbox every day for his latest book, A Greyhound, a Groundhog, to arrive.  And yes, they were excited to read the story by Emily Jenkins, but I’m not going to lie, it was the pictures that they couldn’t wait to see.

The book tells the simple but entertaining story in rhyme of the budding friendship between a larger-than-life greyhound and a teeny-tiny groundhog. The illustrations excite the reader with their energy and amusement. And my two children couldn’t wait to get to asking Mr. Appelhans some very important questions.  And by important, I mean, Mr. Appelhans is an incredibly patient and hilariously funny man.

Addison (age 8): So how did you learn how to draw a dog so well in A Greyhound A Groundhog?  When I try, it ends up looking like a mix between a cat and a walrus. 

Hi Addison, I am actually pretty bad at drawing dogs. Usually they look like a mix between a horse and a potato. So I have to keep trying until I finally get a good one. Keep practicing…!

Addison: Do you always draw or paint animals? Do you ever do people?

I like to draw people, they can be as weird and silly looking as any other animal. Especially when they put on fancy clothes and fancy hair and try to look really important.

Cooper (age 5):  Like, have you ever illustrated a book about superheroes? If you could, which one would you pick?

I have never illustrated a superhero book. But I really want to. If I could pick, I would make a book about a superhero who can make other people fart on command. His name would be The Fumigator.

Addison: Back to A Greyhound A Groundhog, which do you like more a dog or a groundhog? Is one harder to draw than the other?

I like them both, but the groundhog is definitely harder to draw. It’s just a ball of fur with eyeballs, but somehow you have to draw it running, and jumping and tumbling

 Cooper: What was the first picture you ever drew? Did your mom hang it on the refrigerator?

The first picture I ever drew was a team of cat detectives. They had binoculars and wore matching t-shirts. My mom definitely hung it on the refrigerator. In fact, I’m 36-years-old now and she still hangs my drawings on the refrigerator.

 Addison: How does an illustrator work with an author? 

We get the manuscript from the author, and don’t usually talk with them much. But a good author writes words that make you imagine pictures and places and characters, so in a way we are working together, even if we don’t talk.

Cooper: Was it hard to draw the pictures for a book that rhymed? 

Yes. But also fun…! It’s fun to read the words out loud really fast and try not to screw up.

Addison: What was your first book ever that you illustrated?

The first book I illustrated was called SparkyIt’s about a girl who gets a pet sloth. I know, crazy right? 

Cooper: I like when the greyhound’s tongue hangs out. 

Me too, Cooper. You and I agree on a lot.

Addison: Cooper! That’s not a question, we’re supposed to ask him questions.

Fair point, Addison.

Cooper:  Oh.  Do you like drawing tongues?

Yes. Well, that was the only tongue I’ve drawn but it was enjoyable.

Addison: Have you had other jobs besides being an artist? Would you ever want to be anything other than an artist?

Right now I’m directing a movie, that’s pretty hard. Sometimes it’s really fun and sometimes I wish I could just sit in my office and draw stuff. But if I could have any job I think I would be a forest ranger.

Cooper: Is your next book going to be about animals? Maybe it can be about superhero animals?

Cooper you’re brilliant. Let’s do it.

Addison: Cooper, enough about superheroes. Geez.

Thanks for the questions guys, I really hope you enjoyed A Greyhound, a Groundhog

A Greyhound, a Groundhog is on B&N bookshelves now!

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