Interview with Debut Author/Illustrator Megan Hobby-Kauffman

Megan Hobby-Kauffman is a freelance illustrator-author currently based in California. She values imagination and creativity in her work and in the world around. Megan loves building a narrative from the first sketchy nuggets of an idea that travels out of her head and into her sketchbook. She also enjoys creating unique color palettes to help tell stories. She values simplicity coupled with strong ideas- something she strives for with all of her work. She primarily works in screen print but she loves playing around with all kinds of media. Today, I’m welcoming author-illustrator Megan Hobby-Kauffman to speak about her inspiration for books as well as receive a preview of her debut picture book HOW THE WORLD WORKS. It’ll be published in simplified Chinese in Mainland China, by Yeehoo Press.

Can you give us a short introduction to HOW THE WORLD WORKS? 

HOW THE WORLD WORKS is a story about finding your passion and purpose in the world. The story was born out of my own search for passion and purpose. I wanted to encourage children (and adults!) to have patience with themselves and try lots of things to find the thing that you really love to do and then use that thing to make the world better. It is my hope that this book will give encouragement for people to be curious and really look at all the exciting things there are to do in the world and to understand that every person’s passion is a gift that they can share to help others along. 

What inspired you to create HOW THE WORLD WORKS?

I was inspired by my own journey and path toward figuring out what my purpose is in the world. Everyone has to go on that journey and it’s easier for some than for others but its one of the most important things you’ll ever find out about yourself.

What was the creative process of HOW THE WORLD WORKS? Are there any difficulties you met and how did you overcome them during the process?

The biggest difficulty that I had with How the World Works was distilling the message that I was trying to get across with the story. It took a lot of rewriting and redrawing to make sure that I had the message of the story totally nailed down. I think initially I was trying to say too many things with the story. It was after I really did some searching to figure out exactly what the message of the story was that it started to come together in a satisfying way. 

How many books have you created? Which is your favorite and why?

I have written and drawn many stories (at least 20-30) however, HOW THE WORLD WORKS is my first published book. My favorite story is always the one that is growing in my imagination. There’s something magical about an idea that is growing into being a full story. There’s so much possibility and excitement about what it can and will be and how it will lead me forward into putting it down on the page. 

What is your typical day like when you’re creating a book? 

I am a busy Mom of two little boys so I take my work time when I can get it. Usually I work at night after my kids have gone to bed but any time that I can possibly carve out during the day I jump into my studio and go to work! When I’m making a book this schedule gets more intense and I stay up later at night and work all weekend while my husband hangs out with our boys. 

How do you start a book project? When do you know it is ready and finished?

Every story starts as an idea in my head and I usually have to leave it in my head for a while so it can simmer. If I jump in too quickly I get frustrated because the idea hasn’t had time to get a little personality to it. Once the story idea is at least somewhat formed then I can jump into my sketchbook. I start with character sketches. The creation of a book happens in steps: there’s the idea, then sketchbooking, writing, rewriting, making a dummy book, doing full sized roughs of the pictures and then making final artwork. I go back and forth between these steps to make sure the story and pictures are working together and doing what I am intending them to to. There is usually a feeling that I get when it’s time to let the book go out into the world. It’s like the story says, “Ok now, if you do anything else to me then you will ruin all that we’ve worked toward.” Then I know that it is time to let others see it and tell me what they think. 

What comes first, the story or artwork?

The story idea comes first usually but before I write the story down I’ll start sketching. Then I’ll write. Then back to sketching. Then another rewrite. I go back and forth, so really both the story and the art are born at the same time. The words help me see the pictures more clearly and the pictures help me see the words more clearly.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

Characters are entirely developed through playing around in my sketchbook. I try to play around with drawing them until they have the personality and characteristics that say that they belong in the story I’m creating. Plot is often developed as I rewrite the story over and over again. I start with a general idea of plot but the tweaking as I rewrite is what makes it (eventually) successful. 

What do you like most about being a writer and/or an artist?

Making something beautiful or interesting that wasn’t in the world before I made it! To me, creating things is the highest calling of humans. At the basis of everything- it is what we were put on the earth to do. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books? 

Probably learning that the story is king. If something is not good for the story then it has to go, no matter how much I love it. For example, in the early drafts of HOW THE WORLD WORKS there was a little character that I had made up and I loved him so much. I tried and tried to make a spot for him in the story but he just wouldn’t fit in. I was so sad to have to take him out but I had to for the good of the story. Perhaps he has a place in another story. 

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? 

I wanted to be a writer! I tried looking into other careers when I was a teenager and in my 20’s but the desire to write and draw just never left. 

Do you have multiple books you’re working on at the same time? If so, how do you handle different projects simultaneously? 

I often have at least two projects going at the same time. I actually really like having a couple things going at the same time because I can take breaks from each project and work on the other. When I switch to working on a different project I have to sit down and give my full attention to reading it over and really looking at the pictures so that I can remember the feelings that go with the story and get my imagination switched over to being immersed in a different project. 

How do you describe your art style? And how did you find your art style?

I would describe my art style as playful and whimsical and influenced by a printmaking aesthetic. I love texture and I love to use limited colors. I found my style after playing around a lot in the printroom at Cambridge School of Art. Once I hit on screenprinting I was hooked! I love all types of printmaking but screen printing is my favorite. For How the World Works I especially loved playing around with layering textures and colors.

Are you open to illustrating other authors’ books? If so, what kind of stories are you most interested in?

I would love to illustrate other author’s books. I love the idea of having a combined effort of an author and illustrator to create a special vision of a story. I really love stories that are whimsical and magical or stories with a lot of heartfelt meaning in them. I love illustrating journeys and friendships and the quirky notions that people get! Also, I love drawing plants!

Do you have any suggestions to help fellow artists become a better writer-illustrator? If so, what are they? 

Write and draw as much as you can! The more ideas, words and drawings that you get out on paper the better they will become. Also, try new things. Don’t be afraid to make something ugly! Explore different ways of making art, use different materials, use unconventional materials- paint with coffee or mud, try collage, printmaking, work with geometric shapes to make a picture. You will find interesting and beautiful things inside of yourself that you didn’t know you could make! 

Thank you Megan for sharing your inspiration and your journey as an author-illustrator!

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