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The Wonderful World of Children’s Book Illustrator Geoffrey Hayes

I wanted to take the opportunity to do a piece on the magical, wonderful world of long-time, award-winning children’s book writer and illustrator Geoffrey Hayes. Not only was I lucky enough to grow up with his books, but their characters, colors, and complete “worlds” transfixed me and sucked me in, making me love all of what made up the stories. Below is my interview with him, I hope you all enjoy it! 

~Rebecca Conroy

How many books have you illustrated? What are they called?

I’ve written and/or illustrated over fifty books. Some of my more popular titles are the “Otto and Uncle Tooth” series of readers for Random House, the Patrick Brown books (Toon Books) and “Benny and Penny” (also Toon Books.)

Do you write them all too?

I’ve written nearly all the books I’ve illustrated, however, I have occasionally done the pictures for other writers’ stories, most notably “When the Wind Blew” by Margaret Wise Brown and “Thump and Plunk’ by Janice May Udry.


What are your artistic inspirations (people, artists, places, et)?

I have many influences – everything from comic books I read as a child, to movies and adventure stories.

Some of my favorite authors are, Mark Twain, Balzac, Tomas Hardy and Edgar Allen Poe. Contemporary writers I enjoy are, E.L. Doctorow, David Liss, Sarah Waters and Patricia Cornwell.

As for artists, my favorites are: Gustaf Tenggren, Maurice Sendak, Mike Mignola, Russ Manning and Walt Kelly.

How many years ago was your first book published?

My first book, “Bear By Himself” was published way back in 1976.

What awards have you won?

My books –especially my Toon Book titles– have won numerous awards and honors. I won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for “The Big No-No,” have had my work chosen by the New York Times as one of the ten best illustrated books of the year and have twice been nominated for an Eisner Award.

What are your favorite colors?

Wow! No one has ever asked me this. I’m more excited by color combinations than specific colors. For example: I love salmon color with muted olive green, or vibrant pinks and orange with dark brown. When I was a kid, my two favorite Crayola Crayon colors were hot pink and yellow green. I’m also a big fan of purples, especially dark purple with a lot of blue. But when it comes to my living space I prefer neutrals with small touches of color.

What is your process to do a book as an artist?

It varies. Usually, I have an idea and start doing thumbnail sketches of the characters in different situations. Sometimes I don’t even have a theme at first. Maybe I want to do a story about characters lost in the fog, or perhaps a pirate story. As I continue to work the theme sort of presents itself. At one point I’ll type the text or script and work on that. But I’ve also written the text first without even thinking about the art. It depends on the project.

What advice do you have for new, young illustrators out there who feel confused or unseen?

My advice is to just stick to what feels right for you. Publishers’ whims and the market change constantly. To gauge your success by what is currently out there will only lead to frustration. If you are truly an artist, the authenticity of what you produce will mean more than whether or not you are published. These days there are so many alternative venues in which to get your work seen.

How long did your longest project take, and how short did your shortest project take?

I love this question! I have written a book in a weekend; whereas, the Graphic Novel I’m working on took five years just to write. I wrote the first draft of my new “Benny and Penny” book in an hour! Sometimes, as in this case, the theme is very clear and straightforward. One of the reasons my Graphic Novel took so long was because I had been focusing on short works for many years. A longer story has its own arcs and requirements that I had to learn . . . or re-learn.

What kind of markers and paints do you use, or is that a secret?

No. Not a secret. I worked in pen and ink (crow quill) and watercolors for many years. Then, I switched to colored pencils. I’ve never used markers except for line work. I never cared for the look of them. Lately, I’ve been doing my coloring on the computer, although I still draw by hand in either pencil or inks.

What made you start wanting to do the work you do?

Well, I’ve always loved fantasy, so I knew that if I became a writer I’d have to move in that direction. I’m not a huge Science Fiction fan; therefore, children’s books seemed like a natural fit. And I have such fond memories of my mother reading children’s books to me and my brother.

Tell me about your latest project

I just finished a new entry in my “Otto and Uncle Tooth Adventures” for Random House which I think is going to be a terrific book. It will be published next fall. I’m starting work on my next “Benny and Penny” for Toon Books, and then there’s my Graphic Novel. I have the whole thing written and laid out, but I’m debating whether I want to shop it around or self-publish it as an Internet Comic.

Geoffrey Hayes