Henry Cole - Illustrator
Henry Cole is an illustrator who has worked on more than 50 books. He has also written and illustrated several books on his own. One of his favorite book topics is nature, which is no surprise since he's a former elementary school science teacher. Below, he talks about becoming an artist with a science brain and no formal art education.
RIF: When you’re starting a book, how do you create the pictures?
Henry Cole: You think about the pictures more than you actually work on them. I sketch page after page of characters to see how the faces and everything work. The drafts are the hard part. The more time you spend on that, the less time you spend creating the finished product.
RIF: Some books you’ve written and illustrated yourself, and some you’ve illustrated for another author. Which do you like better?
HC: It’s very satisfying to create something on your own. The only person who you have to satisfy is yourself, other than the publisher. On the other hand, it’s fun to work on collaborations. Getting other people’s ideas is great fun. If the chemistry is right, and what you’re doing pleases the author, that’s a great feeling.
RIF: You’ve worked with author Pamela Duncan Edwards a lot. Which comes first, the story or the drawings? And how do you two come up with ideas?
HC: Usually the story comes first, and then the illustrations. We’ll be sitting on a plane or at a school and we’ll get an idea for a story. We have a new book coming out about best friends in a fight. We were visiting a school, and it was twins day, where pairs of friends dress the same. We thought it’d be a good background for a story.
RIF: How often do you visit schools to talk to kids? Do you like it?
HC: I visit schools about once a week. It’s great to stay in touch with kids, schools, and librarians. You can’t stay sequestered from kids and write about them. We really love it. We get a lot of energy from it. Second and fourth graders are great ages. They can do so much and they’re interested in anything. Sponge, sponge, sponge.
RIF: You used to be a science teacher at an elementary school. Did you ever think about teaching art?
HC: I never thought about being an art teacher, although I did art all the time as a kid. I was always doing things for people, like birthday cards or signs for the school dance.
RIF: Does knowing a lot about science making art easier?
HC: Being a science major, it’s like having a built-in tool. I can always draw on that, no pun intended.
I like being outside. I’ve spent so much time noticing things, like bird watching and leaf collecting. I’ve done it for a lifetime. I’d like to do more environmental books. If I’m in a bookstore, that’s the first kind of book I pick up.
RIF: You taught yourself to be an artist. Should kids take formal art classes?
HC: I think I would encourage kids to take art classes, but not only if their mommies and daddies wanted them to. A technique class would be good, like watercolor or oil painting – classes on how to use the medium. But only if the kids wanted to. If not, it’s a huge waste of time and money.
RIF: You’ve worked on books with actress Julie Andrews, who starred in “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.” What is she like in real life?
Cole: Julie Andrews is the greatest. Without a doubt, she’s exactly like you’d hope for her to be, part Mary Poppins and part Maria Von Trapp [from "The Sound of Music"].
RIF: What’s your favorite children’s book?
Cole: Charlotte’s Web – it’s the best. It’s funny, sad, teaches a lesson, and has wonderful little pictures. It takes place on a farm, which I love. Fern [the main character] reminded me of my sister. I also liked books about natural disasters.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids?
Cole: Ask questions. I appreciated and respected kids who asked questions. They didn’t do it to get attention, but because they were interested. Kids who didn’t want to look dumb seemed like scared little rabbits. I made a huge deal about kids asking good questions. Be aware and ask questions.
Get in touch with Henry Cole! He can be reached at:
HarperCollins Childrens Books
1350 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019