Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Voices from Our White House: Chris Van Dusen

Artist answers questions about "TR's Family and Friends"- an interview with Chris Van Dusen

Welcome back to the NCBLA blog's weekly feature, Voices from Our White House, a series of interviews with some of the talented contributors to the art and literary anthology Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out, conducted by NCBLA high school intern Colleen Damerell.

Our White House was created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. A collaborative effort by over 100 authors and illustrators, the book is the product of a desire to encourage young people to learn and read about American heritage. For more information, please visit ourwhitehouse.org and thencbla.org.

This week we feature Chris Van Dusen, who has both written and illustrated the Mr. Magee series of books and illustrated the Mercy Watson series written by Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo. Van Dusen's newest book, The Circus Ship, will be published by Candlewick Press in September 2009.

Van Dusen's full-spread illustration in Our White House shows Theodore Roosevelt, his children, and their unusual collection of pets having a good time in the White House; it precedes "Storming Down the Stairs" by Albert Marrin, which is about the plethora of animals and children occupying the house during Roosevelt's administration.

We asked Mr. Van Dusen a few questions about his illustration:

NCBLA: Your picture depicts both the chaos and the fun of living in the White
House with so many animals and children. Did you have a lot of pets growing
up? What were their names?
CVD: I have four brothers (no sisters!) and it seems that we all had pets at
some time, but not the traditional pets you think of. My grandmother was
allergic to fur and pet dander, so we never had cats or dogs growing up.
Instead we had fish tanks and those little green turtles you used to be able
to buy at Woolworth's. At one point, my brother thought he wanted to be a
Herpetologist (that's someone who studies reptiles and amphibians) so we had
Soft-shelled Turtles, Diamond-backed Terrapins, Skinks, and a really nasty
Gecko that used to escape from his tank and hiss at us from the ceiling. It
was quite a scene! My brother didn't name any of those creatures. I guess it
just wasn't the scientific thing to do, but I do remember we had a tortoise
once named "Torty." How's that for originality!

NCBLA: Do you currently have any pets? If you could adopt any kind of animal,
what would you choose?
CVD: Currently we have one pet, a Yellow Lab named "Pearl" and that's
perfect. I wouldn't want any other pets.

NCBLA: The image is busy and brightly colored. I like that the people and
animals have light halos around their outlines which makes them "pop" off
the page-is there a word for that? Who or what influences your style?
CVD: Other people have commented on the "halos" on my work. I don't really
even think about it and as far as I know it doesn't have a name. I just do
it so certain characters or areas stand out from the background.

I've always enjoyed the illustrations of Robert McCloskey and I'm sure I've
been influenced by his work. I'm also a big fan of animation and cartoons,
especially Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner cartoons. I used to
watch those every Saturday morning as a kid. I bet that stuff rubbed off on
me too.

NCBLA: Do you use a computer to "paint" your pictures...or do you really paint
them? What type of paints do you use?
CVD: I don't use any computers to produce my illustrations. I paint all of
my pictures in gouache, which is a water-based paint. It's kind of like an
opaque watercolor. You can use it thick or thin, and the colors you get are
bright and clean.

NCBLA: What do you think would be the most fun about living in the White House?
Where would you spend most of your time there?
CVD: I think the history of the White House would be the most fascinating
part of living there. If I lived there, I'd constantly be thinking about
what President did what and where. To know Lincoln slept in the next room
would be so cool! But since I've never toured the White House, I don't know
where I'd spend most of my time. I'd probably just wander around and admire
the paintings!

For more information on this artist and author, please read his Our White House bio or visit his website.

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