Illustrator Steve Henry
What was the first book that you read that got you excited about reading?
Ribsy by Beverly Cleary (1964) was the first book that really carried me away, probably around third or fourth grade. Up until then I’d read a lot of picture books and enjoyed them – especially Dr. Seuss – but Beverly Cleary’s story was the first one I got lost in. Her characters seemed like they lived next door, and their believable adventures were just a little funnier and more interesting than mine. I followed up by reading everything else she wrote that I could get my hands on at the library. I should point out that these were the original versions of her books with illustrations by Louis Darling. Later editions had different artwork that was, to my eye, inferior. Darling captured the spirit of the Cleary stories perfectly with his wonderfully detailed pen and ink drawings.
What is your favorite thing about illustrating?
I have two favorite things about illustrating that are kind of funny because they bookend the process of making a book. The first comes at the beginning: creating the concept art and storyboards for a new project. Sketching different versions of how the characters might look reminds me of being a kid, doodling on sheets of notebook paper. It’s a playful phase, and I usually have some fun music playing in the background. The storyboard can be a challenge, but most of the time it’s a fun puzzle.
The second thing usually occurs towards the end of production when (hopefully) everything starts to fall into place and the book starts to take on a life of its own. There’s really nothing like it when you begin to see the full realization of something you’ve created take shape – sometimes in surprising ways.
Of course, in between those two experiences there’s usually a lot of muttering and wandering around feeling lost in the weeds. But those two great moments outweigh the frustrating ones… most of the time.
Steve’s picture book debut, Ella The Elegant Elephant, was a 2002 collaboration with then-wife Carmela D’Amico. Released by Arthur A. Levine Books in 2004, it received several honors including the 2005 Washington State Book Award. Three more Ella books followed, as well as a TV series based on the books which debuted on Disney Junior in 2014.
In September of 2000, he joined the Seattle-based Smashing Ideas agency as a designer and was promoted to Senior Art Director in 2006. During his time there he worked on scores of games and websites for children, specializing in preschool and early reader groups. At SI, he had the opportunity to work with a lot of great producers, developers and education consultants on various projects for PBS Kids, Nick Jr., The Disney Channel and Mattel.
In 2014 he changed his last name to “Henry” and left Smashing Ideas to focus on his own illustration projects. Steve has two new books coming out in 2015, with another pair under construction for 2016 (see his website). He does most of his drawing and painting from his home studio in West Seattle.