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Bob Staake is an illustrator/designer who happens to live 35 miles into the Atlantic Ocean but works with clients from around the world. He has created covers for The New Yorker, greeting cards for Hallmark, animation design for Cartoon Network, cartoons for MAD magazine, illustrations for The Washington Post and has over 42 books to his credit. His most recent picture book, 'The Red Lemon' (Golden Books / Random House) was named one of the 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2006.

When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I started working professionally as a cartoonist at the age of 16 in my hometown of Los Angeles. Seems like I have always been an illustrator. I think my career has been punctuate not by one pivotal moment, but by many -- in fact, so many that I have lost count. I guess the biggest step for me was in 2000 when I started pushing aside my more "cartoony" work and began creating from a more design-oriented point of view. I was extremely successful with my long-established illustration style, so I wasn't about to turn my back on it, but I'd say that today probably 95% of my work is 100% digital.

Who or what inspires you?

A long list. Just to be fair, I'll name 10 -- and you can guess at the other 3,759 things that inspire me. Charles Eames, Diane Arbus, solitude, nature, weird toys, mid-20th Century European advertising posters, a library with thousands of books, music, typography, Paul Rand.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I never took any art class past the age of 16 in high school and I went to the University of Southern California on a full journalism/international relations scholarship. I never think about it, but by those standards I was definitely self-taught. Also, being published regularly as a teenager, that was CRUCIAL in my development as an illustrator because it gave me a a much stronger understanding of pricing procedures and technical details. What i learned from that experience was to allow technology to help me express myself visually, not act as some sort of monolithic obstacle.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

I just always try to do my best work -- particularly with regards to my picture books. I'm always forcing myself NOT to do a project the same way that I did the last one -- and to always strive to challenge myself. When that happens, some interesting output can result.

What are some of your current projects?

Right now I'm in the middle of a new picture book for Golden Books / Random House called 'The Donut Chef'. I'm also working on a pop-up book for Little, Brown which is really something else because I have to work so closely with the paper engineers in Asia. Another project that's on-going is a line of kitchenware I've designed -- both the products and the packaging -- everything from teapots to french presses, coffee pots to tea cups. I do a weekly illustration for The Washington Post and in the coming week i have deadlines with MAD magazine, Disney, The Wall Street Journal and a big advertising campaign for a consumer product. It's always pretty busy in this studio.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

I really don't think in those terms -- probably because I never feel like I can sit back and reflect. It's always exciting to see your characters brought to life on the Cartoon Network. You have to smile when you get a New Yorker cover. It's fun when you do a Golden Book and see that trademark gold spine hugging your artwork. When you walk into a Hallmark shop and you can buy one of YOUR birthday card for your wife, that's a unique feeling. When you sit at the breakfast table with your kids and the box of cereal they're pouring features your illustrations all over it, that's kind of cool. I've never really planned anything in my career -- it's all sort of happened.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I have yet to design pinatas. Papier mache, colored tissue, candy, a baseball bat and a blindfold. Now THAT sounds like fun!

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Be honest to yourself, but understand the history of illustration and design. The visual aspects of an illustration are one thing, but the idea and concept are king (particularly with regards to editorial work). Read as much as you watch and nurture your skills as a writer -- because everyone like a thinking artist more than just an artist.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

The symbiotic relationship between the art, the idea and the artist's unique point of view. it sounds simple and pat, but it is sooooo true -- and trust me, I have been doing this professionally for 34 years now.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

I'm lucky because where I am fortunate to live at the beach. That invigorating ocean is only 300 yards from my studio and there are plenty of amazing places for me to walk in this little town on the elbow of Cape Cod. I used to worry about becoming burned out, but that was when I was younger and was going a mile a minute. Today, I just relax and say no to more projects that I ever have in my career. Sometimes I'd just rather build a rock wall, relax under a Hawthorne tree in a hammock or build a bird house than create an illustration. Still the ART of working -- that is by far the thing I love most. I am so lucky to be able to live a creative life. It's also nice that my morning commute is a mere 60 feet from my front door to my studio.

Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."

Rock wall builder who bakes the most kick-ass chocolate chip cookies you've ever tasted and can re-tile an entire bathroom over a three day weekend.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

I don't watch a lot of TV other than cable news. We watch a lot of movies and are complete Netflix fanatics. But okay, I have to admit it: Every Monday night I watch 'Hell's Kitchen'.


Chris Wahl said...

Growing up, your 'Complete book of Caricature' book was my bible. Thanks for that great introduction to the world of caricaturing.

Usiku said...

Creation always returns energy when it is appreciated. Nature is a wonderful giver of inspiration.

Continue to keep the relationship in mind between two art forms.

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