Event Wrap-Up: Illustrator Ross Kinnaird: Using Humor to Motivate Reluctant Readers–the Carnivalesque in Illustration
Guest post by JP McCormick, Tokyo, Japan
I am no artist. I haven't even picked up a pencil or a paintbrush since I was thirteen years old, but the writer in me couldn't resist the opportunity to meet famed illustrator Ross Kinnaird at the SCBWI Japan event on November 6. Ross, whose first illustrated children's book, Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms by Dawn McMillan and Bert Signal, won the New Zealand Post's Children's Choice Award in 2003, was every bit as kind, engaging, and utterly hilarious as his books. After all, anyone who draws pictures of butts and bodily functions to the delight of children around the world is bound to be lots of fun–and Ross did not disappoint. He shared with us his professional journey from advertising executive to renowned illustrator of over 30 children's books, and explained his motivation for creating what he humbly referred to as "fart books." Young boys, Ross pointed out, sometimes tend to not read as much as young girls. Using his pencils and watercolors to bring the world of flatulence, underwear, and butt jokes to life, he noticed that these "reluctant readers" took a shine to his off-kilter books and made them their very own. While I kept laughing at his stories, it was clear that Ross had put a great deal of thought and care into his work, and to encouraging all children–even the reluctant ones–to read.
Next, Ross picked up pencil and paintbrush and showed us how he brings his characters to life. He started with a quick pencil sketch of a little pup–he made this look ridiculously easy–and then used watercolor with practiced ease for the finishing touches. Then, Ross showed us some of his original illustrations that had been used in his books–a seagull with some special "gifts" for littering beach-goers and an inside peek into a school for nasty, stinky flies were among my favorites. By the time our evening was drawing to a close, I could hardly wait to try to draw something on my own–anything! A circle here, some lines, a couple of whiskers . . . he made it look so easy. I did my best to keep up with the serious illustrators from our chapter, who of course whipped up fantastic sketches of cats, dogs, and sundry beasts and used the watercolor for those perfect splashes of color. Ross was so enthusiastic that I stopped watching everyone else and doubting myself, and just started drawing. This first attempt at drawing will never see the light of day, of course, but I am very grateful that I could spend the evening with Ross and watch his work come alive. I think I'm going to keep drawing, too.
JP McCormick writes stories for young readers inspired by his travels through the Middle East and Asia.