The Mafia’s resident illustrator, Alison Hertz recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great Gilbert Ford. You may have seen his artwork gracing MG titles such as THREE TIMES LUCKY, ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY, and PETER NIMBLE & HIS FANTASTIC EYES.
Middle Grade Mafia: When you get hired to illustrate cover and/or interior art, do you read the book or skim to get an idea?
Gilbert Ford: I take the weekend to read the book, jotting down notes that may be relevant as I read.
MGM: How much direction do you get from the art director or editor?
GF: They usually tell me what pieces of mine they like from my website when they hire me. Since I am known for reading the manuscripts, I send initial sketches of three or four ideas. The first idea is what they requested and the other concepts are my ideas only for the eyes of the editor and the art director. Then we do the “official sketches” once they have seen my ideas and approved a direction. Sometimes I’m micro managed, other times they give me more space, depending on how much is riding on the book.
MGM: Have you also illustrated picture books and if so, how is that different from middle grade novels?
GF: I have three picture books published and a few in the pipeline. Every picture book is its own beast and often times I find myself reinventing the wheel with each one, depending on subject matter and the age group being targeted.
With middle grade, the stakes are high but in a different way. Sales and Marketing have a tremendous amount of pull over a cover. If the book doesn’t sell, then the illustrator gets blamed for the book’s failure, not the author. So it’s always a struggle to give 17 voices ranging from editor to author to sales and marketing, a cover that we are all happy with. It’s also hard for me to create a new cover that isn’t like one of my old ones, especially if a lot is riding on the book being a hit. Everyone wants a cover like the New York Time’s bestseller.
MGM: Do you have an agent or art rep? If so, where and how did you meet or did you connect online?
GF: In 2007 I was designing and illustrating educational toys for Galison/ Mudpuppy while also illustrating freelance editorial assignments at night. One day I got an email from Steve Malk asking me if I would like to illustrate children’s books. He had found my website at the suggestion of one of his clients. He has represented me ever since.
MGM: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing more of your incredible work in the future.