My name is Bob McMahon and I’m a children’s book illustrator who works in the southern California area. I’m married and I have a daughter named Tyler and an old dog named Riley. I am agented through Sean McCarthy Literary.
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
There really wasn’t a pivotal moment where I decided to be an illustrator, I’ve always loved to draw from the very beginning. My dad use to bring home reams of paper from his work so I would always have something to draw on besides the walls. In school the teachers were always telling me to stop drawing and pay attention but I just kept on drawing.
In college I worked on the school newspaper as an editorial cartoonist and I even had my own comic strip for a time.
After college I worked in an art store and got to meet lots of working artists and became interested in all the ways there were to make art.
I tried working at a local newspaper as a political cartoonist but they couldn’t pay me so I went into advertising illustration and joined a great bunch of artists sharing studio space in Los Angeles called Group West.
But I was getting bored of doing advertising illustration after a while and was looking for something more interesting and I found the SCBWI and went to the LA SCWI convention in Century City and was hooked.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
My heroes include the artists of the old Mad Magazines, New Yorker cartoonists Chas Addams and George Booth. Ronald Searle and Richard Thompson. In the children’s book world I like Mark Teague and David Shannon and a lot of the British children book illustrators like Quentin Blake, Colin McNaughton, Jez Alborough and Simon James.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I have a B.A. in fine art from Cal State Northridge but no one has ever asked me if I have a degree. In the art world talent is pretty obvious and doesn’t need a degree to get an illustration job.
So in spite of the College degree I’m self-taught really.
How do you keep it "fresh"?
I like to have time set aside to just play with my art without any pressure on how it’s going to look. I use Corel Painter program and it has all kinds of pens, brushes and other tools that let me play with digital watercolors, pastels, gouache, oil paints, dyes and acrylics sometimes all at the same time so it’s really fun to experiment and see what happens. And in that way I can try out new techniques. Painter is a very complex program and after 10 years of playing with it I’m still finding new paints and brushes that I’ve never tried before.
What are you currently working on?
My own picture book dummy right now. I have a nice little break between jobs and I’m trying to do this story that I’ve been thinking about for a while.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
The first thing that comes to mind is “The next one”. But I have done some Jewish holiday books that I’m proud of and also I did some character drawings for The Traveling Wilbury’s album that was never used but I got to meet George Harrison. He was an incredibly nice guy by the way.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
Every once in a while I feel like going back to watercolors and ink. I miss the scratchy sound of the pen and miss the sour milk smell of watercolor paper but then I remember how expensive watercolors were and how I hated cleaning up after a project and the feeling passes.
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
Keep drawing everything and don’t be afraid to experiment.
What makes an illustration successful?
What makes an illustration successful is if it connects in a very personal way with the viewer.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I have a wife and a daughter to keep me grounded and provide balance in my life. If I’m working too hard they will pull me away and we’ll go to a park or the beach and when I get back I feel recharged and ready to work again.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't an illustrator I would have been a..."
I would have been an archaeologist! I love history and old things and wondering how people lived in the ancient times.
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
The Great British Baking Show on PBS. No kidding. Wonderful show that unlike the usual fake drama of other cooking competition shows this one has humor, comradery and very British politeness not to mention wonderfully delicious baked goods that you probably have never heard of. I do need to turn on the closed caption though because their accents sometimes can be quite unintelligible sometimes.