Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meet a Local Children's Book Creator: K. Michael Crawford

K. Michael Crawford is another illustrator who regularly sets up at the Capicons show in Tysons Corner / Dunn Loring. She answered my usual questions last fall.

Mike Rhode: What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

K. Michael Crawford: I create first-of-their-kind Adventure Drawing Books to get kids to use their imaginations in hopes of creating future comic book artists. In the Bazel Lark Series, “The Mystery of Journey Crowne” and “The Island of Zadu,” the reader/artist has to answer clues to know what to draw on the page. The reader/artist decides what the answer will be for half the clues in the book, which gets them to make choices. This is a five-book series and I need to create the remaining three books. It takes me 2 years to create one book to make sure all the clues work and to complete all the drawing work so that everything comes together. I will be starting the next book soon.

With “Batty Malgoony’s Mystic Carnivale” Drawing Book, the reader/artist has to draw in all the carnivale characters. This book gets kids to use their imagination and make choices of what they want the characters to look like on each page.

In “Professor Horton Hogwash’s Museum of Ridiculous” Book, the reader/artist has to draw in all the Museum collection for each themed room or not, because, after all, it is the Museum of Ridiculous. A long as the child is using their imagination they can draw in anything driving the alien spaceships. They can even have dinosaurs driving the ships. I think there is a story there somewhere. Past meets the future. There are also true interesting facts on each page, but be warned, some of them are gross. Not for the faint hearted.
How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

I still do all my art by hand. I pull out the paintbrush, load it with paint and slap it all over the paper, which sometimes it lands on me. I have a good day creating when I look down and see that I am covered in paint from head to toe. I also throw in the kitchen sink when I do my art, so to speak. To get the look I want, I start with the watercolor painting layers of it. Then I add color pencil for texture and definition. After that, I throw in some acrylic and pastels for special effects.

In some of my paintings, I have even used sea salt, plastic wrap and tissue paper to create some cool effects in my art.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in Pennsylvania in a time when we where taught how to use our imaginations. My parents thought I might have trouble spelling the state name, so they moved us to Maryland when I was three with the cows and the chickens. Not much cows and chickens left any more, but we do have lots of deer, groundhogs, squirrels, birds and raccoons that stop by my place to tell good tail or I should say tale.

We had no computer games, video games or microwave ovens when I grew up, (Oh, the horror of it all!) so if you wanted to make a concoction, you had to build it from scratch or the ground up. You had to think up an idea, let it brew, run around the house finding the parts and throw in some elbow grease to get the job done. Some of the creations scared my mother so out in the trash they went. That also explained the funny looks we got from the garbage collectors on trash day. We had to create our own entertainment and we did that by using our imaginations. We didn’t wait to be entertained, we made our own.

Why are you in Washington now? What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I moved from Los Angeles to D.C. for a new adventure. I live my life by adventures. I have lived in a number of different places and look forward to living in a few more. There are just too many good places to live in the world. I also wouldn’t mind trying out a few planets in other universes as well. I am just waiting for them to build that spaceship that will get me there at the speed of light. It would be very cool If they found a “Stargate” on this planet so that we could travel to other worlds.

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

The funny thing is that I graduated from the University of Maryland in Advertising Design, but my college paper was on writing and illustrating children’s books. I only lasted 8 years in Advertising Design and then I switched to Children’s Book illustration and I have been on quite a fairy tale journey since I switched. Four years ago, I noticed that kids weren’t using their imagination so that’s when I created my drawing books. I realized and experienced that if kids don’t use their imaginations they have trouble making good choices and I want them to pick a good nursing home for me.

What makes all this so funny is that I needed that training as a graphic designer, so that I could start my own publishing company, years later, to publish my drawing books. That early career taught how to promoted and market my books and as well as give me the knowledge of printing and publishing them. You always get what you need in life if you just allow yourself to be open-minded about what comes down the road. Sometimes I get things and I scratch my head wondering why I got this at this time, and sure enough some time later or another I will need what I got. It can happen in a few weeks or even take years to see that I got what I needed.

Who are your influences?

I take in everything and then discard the stuff that doesn’t work for my art. I never know when I will get a great idea for my work from some of the things I see and experience.

I always make sure that I have lots of adventures and experiences in my life and all of that goes into my art. It makes my art have layers to it. You can always look at my art and know where I have been lately or what things have had a great influence on me.

Once a famous artist told me that to order to create 3-D art (art with lots of depth to it) you must live a 3-D life, which means fill your life with lots of experiences. The more experiences you have the better your art will be.

If you could, what in your career would you do-over or change?

I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything I have done or experienced in my career and life has lead me to something else great and to a very magical life. Has it all been a wonderful fairy tale? Very much so, yes! For everyone knows, you can’t have good without the evil and visa versa. So just when it looks like the villain will win, happily ever after comes along.

What work are you best-known for?

I have always wanted to put something good into the world, make it a little more colorful, silly, ridiculous, quirky, whimsical, waggish, absurd then when I found it. So far so good with my drawing books. I do want to be best known for doing that and I am working towards that goal. I am not the type of artist who measures where they are at any given time. I just keep moving forward to see what I can do. People will walk towards my booth at comic cons with a stern look on their faces and as soon as they see my art a big smile pops up on their face. That makes me happy.

What work are you most proud of?

I am proud that I can still laugh at my work when I do something totally outrageous and other people get it. I am proud that I have the mind of a five year old and never plan to grow up, so that I can keep creating magical art and books.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

I believe that creating these drawing books has opened the door to what I can create in the future. I have only begun to see what I can create. (Cue the mad scientist laugh in the background. “It’s alive.”) I try to push myself to get new perspectives all the time to see what I can come up with in my art and books. They say we only use 10% of our brain, but I plan to use 110% if I can figure out how to do it. No telling what I can create if given the chance. The brain weighs 3.5 pounds, the skull another 3.5 pounds and I am going to put it to work. No dead weight on my shoulders.

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

I play and act silly. I create art that I throw away, because it doesn’t make sense. I also build something that has nothing to do with what I am working on at the time. For example, I got this idea last winter for a musical instrument and the idea drove me crazy until I started building it. I am still working on it and will be for a while because the idea is very complicated with moving parts and such. This musical contraption gives me a new perspective on creating. No idea what I will do with it when I am done, but it will make a great conversation piece.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

My crystal ball won’t tell me the answer to that, but I keep producing my books and art because I think they are very much needed in the world. Besides, doing my work keeps me out of trouble. I would be out tipping cows otherwise.

What local cons do you attend ? The Small Press Expo, Intervention, or others? Any comments about attending them?

I exhibit at Comic Cons all over the country. Every year, I apply for Comic Con International in San Diego. I have been in that Con for two years. That’s a fun Comic Con, even though it’s more Pop Cultural. I also do Baltimore Comic Con and next year, because it moved to Los Angeles, I am exhibiting at Wonder Con. Each Comic Con has it’s own favor to it. Some cons are more traditional; like Baltimore, MegaCon, Allentown, Then there are some that are more pop cultural like Comic Con International, Garden State, and Steel City Con. There is one thing they all have in common; comic book artists are some of the best people you can ever meet. I have made some really good friends along the way.

What's your favorite thing about DC?

The Art Cultural Places and Museums are my favorite things. I loved the Spy Museum and if I ever need to change careers and I can’t rule England, I found out that I would make a great spy. Talk about a great adventure. Where do I sign up?

Least favorite?

Traffic, but lucky for me I only have to commute to my studio in my house. A few foot steps away.

What monument or museum do like to take visitors to?

The Museums on the Mall. Most people want to go to the Air and Space Museum when they visit.

How about a favorite local restaurant?

Too many good ones to have a favorite.

Do you have a website or blog?

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