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Keith Graves is the award-winning author and illustrator (and sometimes just the illustrator) of many hilarious picture books for children, including Chicken Big, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance, Three Nasty Gnarlies and Too Many Frogs. Keith’s first middle-grade novel, The Orphan of Awkward Falls (it’s spooky and funny, and loaded with creepy illustrations), debuted in October 2011. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Nancy and twins Max and Emma.

10.23.12

Illustrator
Keith Graves

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BFA in graphic design and an MFA in illustration.

Have you always been able to draw or was it a skill you learned in college? I’ve been amusing myself with art supplies since I was a small child. I drew my bike when I was in first grade and realized I could do a kind of magic trick. I knew I was good when a caricature I drew of my math teacher got me sent to the office. From then on I was a rock star with my pals.

What was your first paid assignment? My first paid assignment was an ink drawing of a tree for a local newspaper. I tried to make it Louvre-worthy and threw in a bit of every technique I knew: toothbrush splatters, washes, stippling and anything else you could do with ink. It was a mess.

Which illustrator (or fine artist) do you most admire? It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll name three: Carravaggio, Dali, Big Daddy Roth.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an illustrator? I’d be a short order cook at Waffle House.

From where do your best ideas originate? I honestly have no clue where ideas come from. They may be leakage from a parallel universe or a side-effect of eating too much Mexican food. I do try to write each one down in my notebook before they disintegrate.

How do you overcome a creative block? When I have creative block I eat a banana and stare out the window until it passes. Usually by the time I begin to drool something has popped into my head.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new assignment. I always think a new assignment will result in THE GREATEST PIECE OF ART KNOWN TO MAN. That never happens, but it’s what gets me out of my hammock in the morning.

Do you have a personal philosophy? My personal philosophy is that if I get through the day with a nice ratio of smileage-to-frownage and I don’t poke out my own or anyone else’s eye, it was a successful day.

Do you have creative pursuits other than illustration? Like everyone else in Austin, Texas, I play in a rock band (The Javelinas). And I cook delicious chicken wings.

What music are you listening to right now? Bach. I’m not kidding.

What’s your favorite quote? “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying.” —Woody Allen

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Don’t forget this is supposed to be FUN.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? Acrylic paint will not wash out of your clothes.