Voicu Mihnea Simandan: You have been an illustrator/artist for most of your life. How have your skills evolved over time?
Cyd Moore: Yes, I’ve been happily drawing and painting for about 30 years so far! It’s been loads of fun, and I’m grateful that life has been such an adventure! It’s great to have a job that is different every day. In the beginning I did a lot of graphic design in advertising, TV, and newspaper fields, but when I hired agents in NYC and Chicago, my illustration jobs increased. Children’s books became my main focus, and I’ve illustrated over 40 so far.
VMS: Where did the ideas for the illustration of the Stinky Face series (written by Lisa McCourt) come from?
CM: Sometimes I wonder that myself!!! Somehow, when I sit down with a blank piece of paper and a good story, the ideas come. I do not take this magic for granted—each time, I feel as if a gift has been dropped in my lap with a wink and a smile!
When an adorable text like I Love You, Stinky Face, walks in the door, inspiration is easy! Lisa’s words have stirred up giggles and grins and wacky pictures in my head for many years. We have published about 10 books together now. People have told me that the little Stinky Face boy looks a lot like my sons and some students at my school presentations have commented that I “look like my pictures.” I have a friend who is also an illustrator, and every time she draws a dog, it somehow looks just like her husband! We don’t always do this consciously, but surely bits and pieces of artists’ lives weave through every piece of art they create.
VMS: Illustrations are a very important factor in any children’s books. I especially liked your work in Arbor Day Square (written by Kathryn O. Galbraith, 2010). What was your work relationship with the writer?
CM: I don’t always know the authors of the books that I illustrate. I’ve met many of the authors on my books, but I’ve not had the chance to meet Kathryn. People are surprised to discover that I don’t really collaborate with most authors. The author usually submits the story to the publishing house, and then the editor or the creative director contacts me after they agree to publish the story. Even with Lisa McCourt, although we have published many books together, we work independently.
On Willow and Willow and the Snow Day Dance, the author, Denise Brennan Nelson and I sometimes meet and kick around ideas. We live in the same state and enjoy getting together. If we call these meetings “work”, it gives us a good excuse to have coffee or a glass of wine! But really, she does her thing and I do mine.
VMS: Have you ever consider writing your own book too?
CM: I have stacks and stacks of notes, napkins, giblets of paper, and sketchbooks with stories ideas. I’ve always been a writer, beginning with journals, advertising copy, newsletters. But for so many years, my schedule was very full, and I just did not have the time. But, these days, I am motivated to bring some of my own stories to life. I’m working on a few things!
VMS: Everyone seems to believe that children no longer read and, with the availability of affordable e-readers, many believe that, sooner or later, children will no longer want to hold books in their hands. Please comment.
CM: We are all evolving in this digital age and of course there are big changes. I’m loving the iPad and Kindle as much as anyone else— they are especially great for travel. And the creative possibilities are endless with digital. But as a pre-digital graphic designer, I personally swoon when opening a gorgeous glossy varnished cover to smooth white paper printed with colorful images. Holding a book in my lap and having hundreds lined up on my bookshelves at home feels good.
I wonder about children curling up with mommy or daddy in bed with a bright screen,—surely another part of their brain is lighting up! Do you get sleepy when you’re looking at a screen? I don’t. So maybe printed books will be around for a while—at least for sleepy bedtime reading!
Unfortunately, it’s not only the children who no longer read. Many parents are not reading to their children when they are young, so they don’t learn to love books. They don’t learn a lot of things, actually. Like how to speak in sentences or reach logical conclusions. Children learn from practicing—hearing stories read and making conversation with their families. New parents don’t always realize how quickly these early years pass by. The author, Mem Fox has a terrific book about reading aloud to children: Reading Magic. I believe every pregnant mom and future dad should read it before their kid is born—it will change their life and the life of their child.
Technology is very seductive. In the grocery store, adults talk on cell phones rather than their children in the cart and answer emails late into the night and plop their kids in front of screens everywhere, including in their own bedrooms (which I feel is such a bad idea) and in the back seats of their cars. It’s just unbelievable how much time kids stare at screens. I remember being bored in the back seat of the car and having to use my imagination to entertain myself! We actually talked to each other when we were in the car and played games and looked at the beautiful real world passing outside our window. We counted cows and graveyards! If you are constantly and mindlessly entertained, when do you dream?
We are the guinea pig generation for this technology. Our children won’t ever know a world without digital. At some point, we have to start making more conscious choices for ourselves and for them. We have to decide how much we will use technology and how much we will be used by it. If we as human beings want to be happy and whole and connected to each other and to the highest and best parts of ourselves, we must wake up and see what is happening to us.
VMS: You are very active online and maintain an excellent website. How important is it for writers these days to be “out there” on the Internet, interacting with their fans?
CM: I was fortunate to get a website up very early in the game. My baby sitter was also a web designer and she lived with me for a month. Instead of rent, she built me a website! Everybody has to have a website—we just don’t have a choice anymore. If you blog, that’s probably even better. But, it becomes a part time job after a while! I would rather be painting or doing yoga or walking in the woods. Maybe I’ll write a blog about walking in the woods! Then I could call my walks “research!”. People who really stay on top of their site and publish new things often can be very effective. Personally, I sometimes wonder just who has the time to read all of these blogs?!!! But it does create community—far reaching communities and that is very powerful for us all.
VMS: You’ve recently been on a few school visits. What were some of the highlights of these visits?
CM: Each year, I do quite a few presentations at schools and reading/teacher conferences. I travel all over the U.S. and would like to do more overseas travel in connection with speaking at schools. I do a lot of drawing and story telling—the program is quite entertaining. The kids have a terrific day—we all do! I love this part of my job. Meeting the children, parents and teachers who enjoy the books is always such fun. I particularly LOVE to see hundreds of drawings lining the walls of the school hallways. Sometimes they even draw new covers for STINKY FACE, which are usually hysterical. In my studio, a magnet board covers my wall and it’s filled with the funniest drawings and notes from kids. It makes me smile every morning!
VMS: Do you still read children’s books and young adult fiction?
CM: Yes I do. It’s a healthy addiction and thousands of children’s books take up a lot of space in my studio. When my boys were younger, I read many YA novels and they are truly some of the best stories that have become a part of me, actually. For example, The Giver by Lois Lowry is so powerful. I highly recommend this for adults and teenagers—once you read it, you just never forget it.
My daily reading involves 3-5 non-fiction books going all the time, and I read several hours almost every day. I don’t have a TV anymore because it’s so easy to waste away time. I don’t have enough discipline to watch one show and turn it off. I also don’t have enough discipline to read novels! I work from home, and if I start a really great novel, I don’t get my work finished—I just read all day… one more chapter… one more chapter!!!! So I save them for vacations!
VMS: What book are you working on right now?
CM: I am working on a series of kid’s journals for Sleeping Bear Press. And I’m working on my secret project that I can’t talk about!!! I am smiling right now. It makes me happy.
VMS: What is your work routine?
CM: I meditate first thing in the morning, then read and eat breakfast, do some yoga or other exercise, then maybe go for a walk in the woods or garden (my other obsession), and then I get to the drawing table. If I take care of myself and stay healthy and grounded, the ideas flow more easily. So I don’t really separate my life into work and playtime. I believe that those quiet times and playtimes are absolutely necessary for your “work” times and actually apart of it. I get many ideas in the woods! I can sometimes be working until 1 am, depending on how the energy is flowing! I’m very disciplined about working—once I hit the chair, I stay there for hours.
VMS: What advice would you give to aspiring artists/illustrators?
CM: Learn the digital world as well as you possibly can. In and out and upside down. It’s a fact of life and the more you know, the more you will be able to produce and work. Keep your skills updated. The world changes year by year, so online training is imperative. I like www.lynda.com . They have great training that’s always up to date. The good news is that more artists are working on websites and digital books and video games than ever before. If you don’t like digital, and don’t want to work in digital media, I advise that you still learn it. You’ll need a good website to promote the other work that you love to do, and you’ll be more successful if you have some knowledge of that process.
VMS: Thank you for your time.
CM: I’ve enjoyed this interview so much—Of course it would have been WAY more fun for me to fly to Thailand and meet you over tea! Maybe next time!!!
Listen to Cyd Moore talk about her books and school visits:
Voicu Mihnea Simandan
October 28, 2011