By Sarah Glenn Fortson
This is probably not your first introduction to illustrator and author, Russ Cox. His client list is long and stellar. If you haven’t met him in person, chances are you’ve met his art. I’m not sure how I got so lucky. Partnering with him in the creation of THIS COWGIRL AIN’T KIDDIN’ ABOUT THE POTTY, (Peter Pauper Press, October 2019) has been an honor and a privilege.
Thank you, Russ, for agreeing to answer a few questions.
I was struck by how you, not only absolutely “got” Cowgirl A.K.’s personality, but you made her come alive in ways I had never anticipated. How do you “go so deep” when creating characters?
Howdy partner! Thanks for the interview but more importantly, THANK YOU for such a wonderfully fun story. It makes my part easy when the story is well thought out and executed. I tip my ten gallon hat to you.
I usually read the story once and put it away for a few days so it can incubate in my noggin’. The character, or characters, just start to appear in my head and spill out onto the paper. I will then go back to the story and reread it several times to find the little traits that begin to become obvious from the words. From there, I just sketch and sketch until several versions of the character appear. Many times, they are loosely based on people I know. Each time I sketch the character, they begin to tell me more about them and I start to understand them. That is how I find the depth in the characters and the story.
I try to come up with 3-5 variations that I like and think will work.
The front cover is striking and the back cover, wonderfully bold. Was this a conscious choice based on the personality you were creating?
Yes! A.K. is a bit sassy and very proud of who she is so it was obvious they are the poses she would strike. She is very excited to be on the cover. She told me so and not to mess it up. Has she seen it? Gulp!
In the text there is no mention of a pet cat, yet you added one and I love that you did! Could you talk about that decision?
I like for characters to have sidekicks who help tell the story or move it forward from a different point of few. Animals are perfect since they do not talk like humans but say a ton with their facial expressions and body. I see A.K. having a cat that she takes everywhere, except school, and enjoys it’s company because the cat understands her.
In this story, which illustration was the most challenging and why?
Hmmmm, good question. Since this is a different style than I normally do, the whole book may have been a challenge but in a wonderful way. Maybe the scenes with the horses since I find them difficult to draw.
How did your techniques in this project differ from other projects?
This book is very different from the others I’ve done. I have gone back to painting traditionally with gouache, colored pencil, and pencil.
When I submitted the sketches, the folks at Peter Pauper Press loved the look and feel of the sketches. They wanted to see a quick color study so I did one digitally. They really liked the looseness and energy of the study so that is the style we went with. I was thinking of traditionally painting the book and did a sample but everyone kept going back to the color study. It really made working digitally fun again.
You have a naturally terrific sense of humor. Did you ever consider doing “stand-up”?
Thank you, you are too kind. No, I have never thought about doing standup but I love comedians and what they do. They have the hardest job in entertainment. My kids are super funny and they could do standup or write for tv shows. Their wit is so sharp and quick.
Do you still play the banjo? Maybe, use that in your stand-up routine?
I do still play but not as much any more. I am chatting with some folks about putting together a surf instrumental band in which I would play bass. It has been ages since I picked up the bass. Hopefully I still remember how to play the thing. The strings face front, right?
Could you tell us a little about your school-visit presentations?
Sure. My visits consist of a brief history about me, some samples of my work, The books I worked on, the process, and then some interactive drawing/writing exercises with the kids. For me, it is important to have the kids involved.
What is your favorite thing to doodle?
Robots and monsters and now, cowgirls.
What would you like to tell us that I neglected to ask?
I am 6’5”.
Thank you, Russ! This was so much fun for me. And only a few more weeks until book birthday! …Sarah Glenn Fortson
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