season 1, episode 7: tao nyeu

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Conversation started 14 July 2014, 2:35 p.m.


Welcome Tao!

Thanks a lot for joining us. This is definitely one of the episodes that Erin and I have been most looking forward to. We love your books and know them inside and out. We’ve read Bunny Days to large groups of people. Your books are important to us personally, but they’re also just plain Important with a capital “I”. We do our best to inform both friends and strangers of this fact whenever we can. Here’s a photo of Wonder Bear being used as a writing prompt for kids here in Ann Arbor at 826 Michigan.

Wonder Bear

But despite how well we know your books, I’m pretty sure we’ve only actually met in person once, briefly, at a book signing in Los Angeles. So there’s a lot we don’t know about you. I’m not sure exactly where to begin. I guess to start I’d really like to know what, if anything, you’re working on right now.


Hello! Yes! We met at the LA Book Festival in 2012. You both signed my copy of Amos McGee for my daughter. Is it terribly bad that she doesn’t know about it? She’s read the library copy, but I just can’t bear to see her manhandle “her” book. A few more years… (she’s only four, sheesh).

Right now I’m working on sketches for a book by Kate McMullen. I just started this project, but before that I was hacking away at my own book for…a long, long time. It’s still in the draft stage. I’m still trying to pin down that somthin’ somthin’ that it needs. Progress on the book was definitely hampered by the emergence of my second kid. The family/work life balance is not something I’ve mastered yet. The kid stuff has definitely taken over, but I’m doing my best to elbow in the work stuff as much as possible. I ask other people how they do it, and they’re like “oh, I work during their naps and after they go to bed, blah blah blah.” Really? When they nap and go to bed, so do I! I love to sleep. Can’t get enough. Love it love it love it.

So yeah, working on my book for so long in bits and pieces here and there has made me wonder if I was beating a dead horse. And then Kate McMullen’s project came along and it was a breath of fresh air. It’s been great to switch gears and think about something else. This is my first time illustrating for another author and it’s been really interesting being in a different head space. Like, how do I make it mine, but it’s not mine? And it’s soooo nice having the manuscript all worked out. I like to write my own stories, but sometimes it feels like torture. I don’t want to be all complainy, but I find it SO hard. I mean, really, I just want to draw, man.

I don’t know if you remember, in a short email exchange after we briefly met, you mentioned that you’d like to write a story for me. I was so mortified (in a oh-my-god-is-he-serious good way) that I froze up and didn’t know what to write back. And then time passed in a is-it-weird-to-write-back-now-after-so-long way, and I felt awkward writing back. And so I never did, and had regret. And now, I say, um….yes? I think motherhood has helped me lose some of my shyness, or maybe it is just way past my bedtime right now.

So that’s that. What are you guys up to?


Yeah, I hadn’t forgotten that you never answered the do-you-wanna-make-a-book-together question. I have a tendency to corner people and ask them uncomfortable questions. It occurs to me now actually that an appropriate alternate subtitle to this web project could be: Phil Stead Corners Busy People and Asks Them Uncomfortable Questions, Adding to Their Workday; Erin Agrees to Participate.

Persistence is one of my best (and my worst) qualities as a person, so I actually did some more detective work after your bout of silence. I asked around and got answers like: Tao really prefers to illustrate her own texts, and Tao works very slowly so…

I had no problem ignoring the first answer, and the second answer was fine by me—Erin works very slowly, too. So now that I’ve got you on the record we will definitely do a book together. My schedule is jammed up for a while, but don’t worry, I will not forget. Another of my worst qualities is that I never forget anything. It can be a burden. Someday in the not-too-distant future I will drop a manuscript on your doorstep.

As for what we’re up to, the answer is: a lot, and probably too much. A few weeks ago I was sitting, trying to figure out why this job feels so hard lately—specifically the art-making part of the job. Then I started counting on my fingers and realized that I currently have seven (!) projects going at various stages of finish. It was so much easier When Erin and I each had one book to work on and a whole year to do it. Here are two crummy photos taken in poor lighting of art for a book I’m finishing up this month (hopefully):

Skunk mammoth

I’m experimenting with monotype printing and cardboard printing for this book and I’m having a really great time doing it—at least when I can find the time. Monotype really suits my natural mark-making tendencies. And cardboard printing is just plain fun. It’s high-brow and low-brow at the same time. I’d wanted to try it since seeing some original art from Blair Lent’s, The Wave, at the MAZZA Museum in Ohio.

Blair Lent the wave

Are your new projects screen-printed? And do you have a printing studio in your home?


One more thing…

I had to check with Erin first, but she said it was okay to show a picture from the book she just finished.


This illustration was done mainly with wintergreen oil transfer printing. Wintergreen printing is another high-brow meets low-brow technique that’s really fun. And toxic. I’ll add this how-to video for anyone who’d like to try this at home and kill a few braincells:

(Do yourself a favor and watch till the end if you’d like to see the world’s tackiest and most wonderful art frame.)


Hooray! Let’s do a book! Anytime. I’m always around. Yay!

7 projects?? Wow. Whoa.

I’d never heard of cardboard printing before! Neat! I don’t know that book, The Wave. It looks beautiful. I’ll have to look it up. Tikki Tikki Tembo has always been one of my favorite illustrated books.

For my current project with Kate, I’m experimenting with colored pencils. I think the story calls for a softer look. It’s fun experimenting with a new medium, but also kind of scary. Silk screening kind of feels like my security blanket. It’s very comfortable. Another reason to try something new!

I do have my own printmaking set up. It is an amazing luxury. I used to rent the equipment and studio space from another artist. When she decided to sell her stuff I bought it up and took it home. At the time we were renting an apartment and I was able to set everything up in the garage. Since then we have moved into a house and we are getting ready for a major renovation so all my printmaking stuff is packed up in boxes. It’s kind of sad. But it will soon be set up in all its glory again. If you visit LA again, come over and we’ll have a silk screening party.

Ah yes, wintergreen oil! (Lovely image, by the way.) I learned that process in college. I remember doing transfers in my bedroom and my roommate, who was a bio major, saying, “Um, we use wintergreen oil in the lab where we work in a ventilated booth and wear masks.” The things we do in the name of art. I hope Erin used a mask! Or at least was near an open window. I actually have no idea why it is bad for you. It smells so good…

That art frame looks like a Strawberry Shortcake hat I used to have when I was 5. It was my favorite. Very nice.


A silk screening party sounds nice. Neither Erin or I have ever screen printed. The whole process is mystery to me. After college a friend of mine set up a silk screening studio in a 100 year old pharmacy in Detroit. You can do that sort of thing in Detroit pretty easily. You just need a couple hundred bucks and a desire to live in the Wild West. At the time I was very jealous of both the space and all the equipment involved. Printmaking equipment really gives a person an aura of legitimacy.

I’m wondering, what’s it like for you living and working in L.A.? I’ve been to L.A. a few times now and I’m always struck with how much I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t think I speak the language of California. I get that feeling on the East Coast too, but in a different, slightly less lonely sort of way. Living in Ann Arbor can feel like living on Sesame Street sometimes, and I know over time it’s causing me to lose my big city edge.


Yes, Los Angeles is its own kind of bizarro place. I’ve been here for 7 years now and I still feel like a transplant. We moved here because of my husband’s job. The weather is nice and all, but I do miss the seasons. Before L.A. I was in New York City for seven years and in upstate New York for my whole life before that (except for the first two years in Ohio). We’ll probably live here forever, but I’ll always be a New York State kind of gal. There is a vibrant art scene here, but I don’t know anything about it. I’ve been to the beach only a handful of times. I definitely have not taken advantage of what L.A. has to offer (except for the food). L.A. and I have just agreed to co-exist.

When I first moved here I rented studio space downtown in a place called The Brewery, an old brewery converted into live/work lofts. They have open studios twice a year so I kind of felt connected to the community. But since I had my kids, I’ve been working from home and there are days when I don’t go any further than the driveway. It suits me fine because I am a hermit by nature, but sometimes it’s nice to talk to another person. (Which is why this email exchange is so nice!)

I do miss living in New York City where I feel like it’s easier to be involved in the illustration community. Or maybe I just feel like that because I actually know people there. I like people, I’m just not good at meeting new ones (again, hermitness). In L.A., freeways and traffic can be such big barriers, especially because I am not a fan of driving. I also think about how, if I were still living in New York, it would be much more fun to drop off final artwork in person instead of sending it off in the mail. That is very anti-climatic.

I don’t know if I’ve answered your question about what it’s like to be in L.A. I think, the way I live, I might as well be on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere and my days wouldn’t be too different.

I’ve never been to Michigan. Living on Sesame Street sounds fantastic.


I’ve discovered that Ann Arbor really suits my needs as a creative person. One of the things I like most about living here is that everyone we know does wildly different things for a living. We have a very supportive community here, but in a general, non-specific way. There aren’t any other children’s book makers in town. In our circle of friends we’ve got chefs, bus drivers, coffee roasters, bookstore owners, nuclear physicists, home builders, cheesemongers, professional track athletes, classicists, engineers, and teachers. Today I saw a friend who spent his morning dismembering cadavers for the medical school. When I lived in New York I think I had a tendency to only interact with people that did exactly what I did for a living. I spend too much of every day thinking about bookmaking already so I really think it’s good for me to talk and think about cadavers, wormholes, and Tunisian cuisine when I’m out around town and bumping into people.

I’m curious, do you have any favorite bookmakers, past or present? Usually I can look at a person’s work and sort of predict who they might be most inspired by. I can’t seem to do that with your work though. It exists a little bit outside of trend (this is a compliment in my world). Your art has a kind of cheerful Yellow Submarine vibe, but without feeling old-fashioned or deliberately of any specific era. I have a very hard time describing it to people.


I think I am heavily influenced by my past. When I think about the aesthetics that I like today I can find connections to the things in my childhood. I have a theory that one of the things that shaped me was 70s bedsheets. How can you not be when you’re wrapped in them every night? They have bold patterns with flat colors and that’s the way I like to do things. I still have some of them.


As an adult I realized that at least one of the sheets was by Marimekko of whom I am a big fan. There was also a textile that my mom hung in my bedroom when I was a kid. She recently told me that it is also from Marimekko. Now it’s hanging in my daughter’s room.


My favorite childhood books are also a huge influence. I never let them go, even when I was supposed to be “too old” for them.


Not surprisingly, they are almost entirely devoid of human beings and are generally cartoony. It was only until I was in grad school for illustration that I really started looking at illustrator names. I realized that the books I was being drawn to as an adult were also the illustrators of my favorite childhood books (i.e., Mary Blair, the Provensens, Gyo Fujikawa). My all time favorite is Richard Scarry. There is so much to look at and he is so so funny. I never get tired of his books. He is also a master at making up great names. That is something that I really envy as I have no skills at that. It is evident in my books and in my past. I had three hamsters all named Hamster. And then I had those Yok-Yok books. They are just weird and magical. I wonder if they could be published today.


And the third thing to add in to the mix is Asian art. I grew up around a lot of Chinese art and children’s books and as an adult I fell in love with Japanese art.



My bedtime stories were all from a collection of books called Journey to the West. It’s a Chinese story about a monk (riding a white horse that used to be a dragon) making a trek to India accompanied by the Monkey King, a Pig-man, and another weird dude. The pictures were all black and white and very graphic. One of the first graphic novels you might say.

Nowadays, I’m always looking at stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. So much from that era just feels right to me.  Some of my favorites are Brian Wildsmith, Barbara Cooney, Pat Hutchins, Roger Duvoisin, Leo Lionni, and Dahlov Ipcar. And then there is Quentin Blake, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, John Burningham, Jean de Brunhoff, Tomi Ungerer,  Marije Tolman, Isabelle Arsenault, Beatrice Alemagne, Elena Odriozola, Chih-Yuan Chen, Suzy Lee, Holly Hobbie, William Steig, Maurice Sendak, Lisbeth Zwerger, Wolf Erlbruch, Serge Bloch, Michael Sowa, etc. Basically, everybody. And textiles. I love textiles, especially from the 20s.

I think that about sums me up. Does it all make sense now?

What were your childhood influences (aesthetically speaking)?


In the Eric Rohmann episode I talked a little bit about my love for cowboy art. But the art I probably spent the most time with as a kid was from this book:


For some reason or another this book ended up in my house when I was 8 or 9 years old. I was completely fascinated with the photo-real depictions of animals in nature.



I spent hours working on large scale pencil copies of these two images:



I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of any other piece of art as I was of those drawings. My moose drawing actually scored me an invite to attend a school for the gifted over summer vacation. I declined because, obviously, that is a horrible way to spend your summer. But still, it was nice to be asked.

I still love this elephant painting by Bateman:


That elephant painting is 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide! Someday I’d really like to see it in person. Eventually I lost my fascination with photo-real work, but my love for animals and my tendency to look for their personalities (and their stories) has stayed with me. The last few weeks I’ve been reading the Autobiography of Mark Twain. He wrote this regarding his daughter Susie:

Apparently Susie was born with humane feelings for the animals, and compassion for their troubles.

I really identified with that statement. I think I was born with compassion for the troubles of animals. And I think that that predisposition has really made my work as an adult look and feel and sound a certain way.

What about you Erin?


You know, I really don’t know. One of the reasons I might not be sure is that this whole week I haven’t been thinking very clearly. Phil has come down with a pretty bad summer cold and I have the spousal hypochondria that accompanies it.

All I did as a kid was try to copy pictures and draw animals. I figured out how to draw Disney characters, but never mastered Calvin and Hobbes, unfortunately. When I got a little older, I just tried to draw as realistically as possible. I learned that that was a bore for me, but that came much later.

I was a very active kid who was obsessed with horses and dance. I danced pretty seriously for 17 years (thanks, Mom, for paying for it and driving me all over the place). When I decided to pursue art and go off to college, I struggled with the idea of whether or not I was really supposed to be an artist. I can be pretty analytical, while keeping a certain reliance on magical logic in my thinking. For a long time I just could gel all of the hours I spent devoting to dance with this idea that I should pursue drawing. Not to say I was supposed to be a dancer. I am 5’2” at best and I lack the body for it. But I knew I loved it. Drawing was more of a struggle.

In the past few years, though, I think I finally figured out how all of the time working on minuscule movements with your muscles has influenced my drawing. I know posture. When I am drawing well, which is not all the time, I think I have a pretty good understanding of how people and animals move and carry themselves. I try, anyway.

I mentioned being obsessed with horses, which is still true. I went to a horseback riding camp as a kid. During the afternoon when we had free time, all I would do is barn chores. I could have gone swimming or done crafts, but I just wanted to be quiet with the animals. I still have that desire and it is probably the most influential part of my personality on my own work. If I could only draw people being quiet with animals while the world goes by them, well, then I’d be alright.

I’m trying to think of a question, but I am actually terrible at keeping a conversation going. Small talk is even worse for me. Once I get past weather, I’ve got nothing.

Anything on your mind? I’d like you to make a small series of early readers. I’m not trying to be bossy—I just think you’d be good at it.


Oh, I hope Phil feels better soon. This is not a good week for health. My 2 year old got a sudden high fever on Wednesday morning followed by a seizure. I called 911 for the first time which felt surreal. Suddenly there are 6 firefighter/paramedic guys in my house, we take a ride in the ambulance and spend the day at the hospital.

I think if my daughter (she’s 4.5) knew the details of the day she would have been very jealous. What could be better than a ride in an ambulance, and all the apple juice and cartoons you could ask for? She did actually call me (with assistance) to ask that I bring her back some stickers. I had to tell her that I was at the hospital and they don’t have stickers like they do at the doctor’s office, but I could bring her some apple juice. She was satisfied with that.

After all that, he’s totally fine. I now know that sometimes little kids have harmless seizures with fevers just to scare the pants off you. He still has a fever that we’re keeping in check with meds. So I feel like I’m in a holding pattern waiting for his fever to go down, hoping we don’t have another seizure on the way.

Ummm, too much information? Sorry. You’ll probably want to skip this portion of the conversation from the episode. This is just what’s up with me this week.

Let’s hope the weekend is healing for everyone!


We are actually familiar with the terrifying child fever seizure. Our nephew had one when he was younger. It’s true that they are fairly common, but c’mon. I know that tiny immune system is just trying to figure stuff out, but perhaps it could try something less horrifying.

I’m sorry about your week. Hope everyone feels better and feel free to start the creative talk whenever that fever breaks.


I hope this week turns out better for you and the family, Tao. When you feel like things are back to normal go ahead and hurl a question our way and we’ll pick this thing back up.



Yes, everything is all good now. Thanks. I hope you are better too?

I am terrible at this. Can I ask you to ask first?


Ok, then. I just asked Erin: What should we ask Tao? and she said: Ask her what her biggest worries are (work-wise). We are both worriers by nature, so I like this question.


That is a good question. Yes, I have worries, and I don’t like to think about them let alone say them out loud! So I have been a bit delayed in writing back. For the first time I am illustrating someone else’s story. What if, when it’s all done, they don’t like it? Then I would feel awful. Someone has trusted me with their baby and I better take good care of it. With my own projects, I just have to satisfy myself. It’s a different kind of pressure, one I am more comfortable with.

Is it time to bare all of my insecurities? I worry that I’ll make a terrible book, even when I try my best. I worry that I will fade out of existence. I worry that I will have no more ideas. I worry that I’ll never make another book. I worry that having a family has sapped me of the energy to do good work. I worry that no one will want to work with me again. I worry that every book I do will be my last. I worry that no kid will ever choose my book from the library (isn’t that a sad thought?). I worry about being a disappointment. And on and on and on. I can’t say that I believe in these worries 100%. Otherwise I would be paralyzed. But, you know, they’re always kind of lurking around in the dark corners of my mind.

And you?

(You don’t have to answer this in public, but what are all of those 7 projects that you are working on?? I have been wondering. I can barely manage one and it takes me forever.)


I have two main worries right now. The first: I’m finishing the last pieces of art for a book this week and next, and I’m worrying that I’ve made only wrong choices. Part of me likes the art a lot, but it’s a big departure from anything I’ve done before. I’m worried I’ll deliver the whole thing to New York and have them ask me: This isn’t it, is it? So that’s Worry #1. Worry #2 is for the book I’ve got coming out in October. I really like the book, more so than I tend to like my books. It’s not that I think it’s perfect. In fact, I don’t really think it’s my best art. But I believe in the book as whole, and I really think it does some interesting and unusual things. So my worry is that it’ll be ignored. Or misunderstood. Or both. I think this is a really common worry among bookmakers. You had to have been concerned before the publication of Wonder Bear. And Bunny Days too for that matter. No? Both of the those books do interesting and unusual things that could be misunderstood. Or ignored. Ignored is worse.

As for my projects, here’s the rundown. They’re not all active in the studio, but they’re all pulling at my attention in some way.

1. Sebastian and the Balloon. This is the aforementioned book coming out in October. Marketing/publicity stuff is getting going.

2. Special Delivery. This is a picture book that I wrote, illustrated by Matt Cordell. It’s out next spring.

3. The Only Fish in the Sea. This is the follow up to Special Delivery.

4. Ideas Are All Around. This is the experimental-ish picture book that I’m finishing the art for right now.

5. Lenny & Lucy. Another picture picture that I wrote, this one illustrated by Erin. We still have some design and cover concerns to sort out.

6. Samson in the Snow. This is a picture book about a woolly mammoth that I wrote and will begin illustrating soon. I’ve got the dummy done and I hope to start the final art this fall.

7. This last one is technically confidential so I’ll just say this—it’s a really cool project that is causing me a lot of anxiety.

Wow. That really seems like a lot when it’s all written out. I need to slow down soon. Our first few books took 15-18 months each to make. And we had nothing else going on as distraction. That’s the better way.


I just realized, 3 days later, that I only sort of half-asked a question in that last response. I do have a question, but I’m having a hard time formulating it. Maybe you can make some sense of it. Or just ignore it and answer in any way you like…

All of your books seem to come from someplace very pure. What’s been your experience sharing your books—first with editors/art directors, and later with the general public? Do people get it? Is there much interference?


That is a lot of books! Do you have a constant flow of story ideas in your brain? I don’t. Each time I start a new story it feels like climbing a mountain with no trail map. Sitting down and knitting a scarf that nobody needs always seems like a better idea.

Hmmm, concerns about the publication of Wonder Bear and Bunny Days. Well, Wonder Bear was my very first book and I really had no idea about all that stuff that happens once a book comes out. Mostly I was just ecstatic that anyone wanted to publish it at all. Anything after that was icing on the cake. Of course, I hoped people would like it, but I really had no expectations. I suppose I just didn’t know what I was getting in to. I really just hoped it would sell because I didn’t want to disappoint the publisher after they had taken such a leap of faith in me.

Wonder Bear and Bunny Days were bought together by Dial. These were 2 projects I started in illustration grad school at SVA in NYC. They were never intended for publication. Well, Wonder Bear was my thesis project and I wanted to create a “real” children’s book, but half way through the semester that idea was kaput. We had a guest critic come who was a children’s book art director. I was so excited, I thought, this my chance! This is my chance to get my foot in the door! And then the art director was like “interesting…..but it’s oddball, not really for us.” So of course, all dreams were shattered and I decided that since this wasn’t going to be a “real” book I was going to at least have as much fun with it as possible. I figured, if no one was ever going to see it, I might as well enjoy it. So I guess you could say that is the place where my books come from. It comes from “f*ck it, this is messed up anyway, I might as well enjoy it.”

Bunny Days becoming a book was a surprise to me. It started out as an exercise in silkscreening and book making for a class I was taking (taught by the great David Sandlin). I made the story of the muddy bunnies and I shoved that in my portfolio that I showed to Dial. And they wanted to make a book out of it! I didn’t think the story was for kids, but they did. And I thank them for that. I learned to drop that assumption about what’s “for kids” and just do what you do. If I were to base a book on what my 4-year-old liked, it would be about nail polish, dogs with cat faces, and Halloween. I do wonder why you like Bunny Days. To me, it is just another silly book.

Another important lesson I learned about publishing is that it’s about finding that art director/editor who “gets you.” I feel very lucky at Dial. They have been so supportive, encouraging and always help me to make a better book. It’s always been a very positive experience.

When it comes to the general public, I try not to have any expectations. Kids are open to everything, they’ve always been very receptive when I’ve done school visits. Who doesn’t like to sit down and hear a story?

It’s the adults who have the big opinions and you can’t please everyone. Wonder Bear and Bunny Days seem to be particularly polarizing. They either get it or they don’t. And that’s fine with me. I don’t try to defend it. It’s not for everyone. I find it funny that people find it offensive. Didn’t they grow up watching Tom & Jerry? Smurfs? He-Man? The Smurfs are a particularly terrifying concept. It’s all about a peaceful village perpetually disrupted by a crazy man who only wants to do them bodily harm. Sounds like a horror story. Yet, we can’t get enough. If you’re going to take Bunny Days seriously, I think the scariest thing in the book is the goat driving the tractor. I mean, where is he going? How does he know how to drive a tractor? Where did he get it from??? I imagine a poor farmer sprawled out on the barn floor knocked out by a crowbar.

I cannot think of a good question right now. This is a case of, it’s not you, it’s me! I am a real conversation stopper. I always feel bad for the person stuck sitting next to me at a dinner party. I am absolutely the reason why it is awkward.

(if you send me your mailing address, I will send you the muddy bunny book I made in school. That is the fun part of printmaking, you get lots to pass around!)


Tao Nyeu has just revealed the meaning of life. Look no further than, “f*ck it, this is messed up anyway, I might as well enjoy it.”

From Phil (we are in the same room discussing this, but only have one laptop):

Bunny Days is the perfect distillation of the 5 year old mind. At 5 years old you are constantly having to reconcile what you can understand with what you can’t understand. It is perfectly normal at that age to see your best friends get thrown into the washing machine and come out alive.

I concur, since this is a condensed version of our conversation from the last five minutes.

I’ve heard some adults mention that this book is scary, and my reaction tends to be along the lines of “please consider what a child’s actual day to day experience is.” I have resided on this earth for 31 years, and I have not figured much out while doing it. Our readers have often only been here for 4 or 5 years, trying to resolve the life they control (their imagination) versus the life they don’t (everything else that happens).

We like your books because, whether or not you know it, the logic of them seems so honest. You’re not trying to make a book at kids, you’re making an honest book that happens to be for kids.

I didn’t imagine a violent scene with a human farmer, though, so maybe I am missing something. I just figured, worst case scenario, he asked to borrow it.

Oh, also, you make good art.

I am positive I am more of a conversation killer than you are, since I am the worst person I know at talking. Hm.

Isn’t it weird we all get to do this as our job? One thing I have been surprised by (amongst many) is how many illustrators I have been able to meet in the past few years, and how likable they all are. How ’bout that for a bad conversation starter? That question can’t go anywhere.


It’s true, Erin is bad at conversation. But I suspect this is normal for illustrators—and all artists not involved in theater. We did not get into this line of work because we love to hear ourselves talk.

To answer your question from earlier, Tao, I think I do have something like a constant flow of stories, or at least parts of stories, running through my head all the time. It can actually be frustrating because I’ll never be able to illustrate fast enough to make them all real. I am a fast writer and a slow art maker. Sometimes it’s helpful to jam a few stories together for efficiency’s sake. Putting two or three disparate ideas together can make for a more interest final product anyway. Sebastian and the Balloon is a mashup of two stories, one about a ballon and one about a roller coaster. It took ten years before I figured out how to make them go together, but eventually it worked.

I have a vague notion that I’d like to write a story for you, Tao, called Penguinarium. “Penguinarium” is my favorite word. The title is all I’ve got so far, but still I feel confident that you’re the right artist for the job.

Any final words from anyone before we sign off?


This has been super fun. Thanks so much for the invitation. Hopefully we can continue the conversation in person one day. Erin and I can just sit together, not have a conversation and be weird like that. And everyone will know that it’s all good.


Sounds like a plan!

Conversation ended 11 August 2014, 9:52 a.m.

Thank you for reading. In honor of one of our favorite books, Bunny Days, we leave you this morning with one of our favorite viral YouTube videos of the last year. If this video was actually representative of what can be found out there on the internet then the world would be a much better place. Until next time…

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