Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Dean Griffiths

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Dean Griffiths' desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting — or in some cases, sketching, drawing, tracing and illustrating. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers and artists tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

Hoogie in the Middle (Pajama Press) illustrated by Dean Griffiths (and written by Stephanie McLellan) celebrates the often overlooked middle child. Readers will love the adorable Hoogie (a pink monster whose tiny horns and fangs only make her more endearing) and her story of finding her place.

Today Dean shares with us about his newest workspace and its many stations, an amazing gift from Dad and how far he's come from drawing shirtless on the floor.
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In my twenty-seven year journey as a professional illustrator, I’ve had many different work spaces, ranging from dim, mouldy holes to fairly bright, more open ones. From the dark depths of not knowing if I’d ever be an illustrator to the sunny fields of seeing my work in print.

When I first became serious about putting pencil to paper and attempting to capture all the characters and scenes that existed in my head, location was not as important as it is now. I was just as happy crouched over a cheap little sketchpad on the floor in front of the TV as I was sitting at a comfortable desk. Whatever surface allowed me to get down my ideas was the perfect place to be. Somewhere there is a photograph of me as a kid, on the floor, shirtless and hunched over a sketchpad, revealing a fine view of my well-defined vertebrae (whereas now they are obscured by so much middle-aged chunk… anyway, I digress).

My latest space is only a few weeks old, but it is by far the most comfortable I’ve ever had. The space is divided it into tiny, glorious workstations (I use my imagination to make them glorious), and I travel from station to station like a passenger on a train. There is my drafting-table station, my light-table station, my painting-table station and my computer desk area.

The drafting table station is my first stop on the picture book journey. This is where I develop my initial ideas, from rough character sketches and page layouts to final drawings. Many illustrators argue that this is the most important space, and I would agree. A well-honed drawing is the key to a good illustration, and that is why I always tell students to draw as much as they can every moment they can. Draw and draw and draw (draw lots).

When the drawings have been approved by my editor and publisher, they travel to the light table — a magnificent, light-filled tracing table my dad built for me. This is a short stop, where I place the final drawing down, lay the watercolour paper overtop and do the tracing.

From there, it’s east to the painting table, where I fasten the paper securely to a plywood board and lay the colour down. Here, close to the window for maximum natural light, I brush on the initial washes and add countless strokes of coloured pencil for the finishing touches.

That brings us to the computer desk, a station I return to numerous times during the journey. At each stop, I use it to look up anything from a reference for mice feet to the best colour scheme for a monster family kitchen.

Along the journey there are always delays so the editorial conductors can check the baggage and make sure all the characters are accounted for and in their proper seats. Then it’s on to the publisher, the designer, the printer, the distributor, and finally into the hands of readers who are ready for their very own journey.

— Dean Griffiths

Dean Griffiths was a self-taught comic book artist and computer graphics designer before he discovered picture books more than eighteen years ago. Since then, he has illustrated more than twenty-five titles and has garnered a number of awards, including the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Book Prize for Maggie Can’t Wait and the Chocolate Lily Award for Ballerinas Don’t Wear Glasses. Dean lives in Duncan, British Columbia, with his daughter.

For more information about Hoogie in the Middle please visit the Pajama Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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