September 19, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #41: Tim Miller

It took months, but we did it! Author-illustrator Tim Miller and I finally had a chance to talk about his books, which are not only growing in number, but growing in acclaim, too! Today we're mainly talking about Moo Moo in a Tutu, but since one of my favorite books right now is Margarash, we're talking about that, too! Check out Tim's process for creating beloved characters like Snappsy and Moo Moo (I can't say Margarash is beloved, but he sure is memorable!).

About the book:
A cow who wants to be a ballerina? Are you for real? This is a hilarious, one-of-a-kind friendship story between an adventurous cow and a very loyal duck that will have you quacking up all the way through and applauding for more.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Tim Miller!

LTPB: Thanks for stopping by, Tim! And on your birthday, nonetheless! 

TM: Hi Mel, thank you so much for having me!

LTPB: Let’s start by talking about your newest book (and your author debut) Moo Moo in a Tutu. How did the idea for this story come to you? How did your characters evolve as you got to know them? How did the story change?

TM: Yes, Moo Moo in a Tutu is my first book that I both wrote and illustrated, and it wasn’t easy at all for me. My biggest challenge was figuring out how to take a basic idea and see the bigger picture of the story and characters. Moo Moo in a Tutu first came to me while I was doodling in my sketchbook. I was just drawing whatever came to mind to entertain myself when the idea to draw a cow ballerina popped into my head, and suddenly I realized I had an idea for a book.

The story and characters really developed over a long period of time through a lot of playful brainstorming. Before I was able to piece together the big picture, I spent a lot of time sketching out (word balloons/text included) all the different situations that I could see Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers involved in together.

The fun of it was contrasting their extreme differences against one another and seeing where that lead. Then, I went through all the different scenarios and figured out which ones were connected and shaped the arc of the story from there.



Through all of this the characters gradually became more familiar to me, and through understanding the characters the real heart of the story clicked. At first what I thought I was driving at was a story about a cow that wants to be a ballerina, but through all the ins and outs of untangling things I discovered what it was really about was the relationship of two friends that are very different from one another.

LTPB: Although your debut was just last year, you’ve already demonstrated that you’re capable of a very wide variety of technique in your books (Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) versus Margarash, for instance). How do you approach the manuscripts you illustrate? How do you decide what type of media to use, and what tone to give your illustrations? How does your process change from book to book?

TM: To be honest, since Snappsy was my first book I really had no idea how I was going to illustrate it. I just knew that it needed to be something whimsical. I was figuring out the look of things as I went along. I basically made the book by drawing everything out with brush and ink first. I also added watercolor by hand, but then I leaned on the computer and used a lot of digital touch-up to help find my way. Almost every finished image is a composite of different hand-drawn pieces that I collaged together and then tweaked digitally. I would say I went this route because it was the best way for me to work around all my inconsistencies and mistakes and maintain control.

With Margarash I opted to do it by hand because I felt the depth and complexity of the story warranted something more personal, intimate, and offbeat. I wanted it dark and visceral because that’s how the story hit me, and likewise I wanted to push the extremes on the look and feel of the characters and their respective worlds because the story is unlike anything else out there.


Aside from nailing down the tone and choice of media I want to use, my process for completing the finished illustrations for a project is generally the same from one book to the next. I start by making thumbnail sketches of the first visual impression I get when reading a manuscript. Then, I put these together into storyboards to see how everything works and make any necessary adjustments. From there, I draw everything out as rough sketches to try and get a better feel for things, and then I go into the finishes. The best metaphor I can use to describe the whole process is that it’s like seeing something in the distance through the fog and gradually working it out until you can see it clearly. I go around in circles trying to refine my drawings and get them to a point where they feel right. I hate that part of getting lost in it, but it’s almost always the case that it’s that part that yields the answers I can’t quite find without doing so.

LTPB: How involved are you in the design of your books, specifically your case covers and dust jackets?

TM: In terms of case covers and dust jackets, I usually give a handful of different concept sketches to get the ball rolling. Then I work together with my editor and art director to refine those ideas. I enjoy the collaborative aspect of brainstorming these ideas as a team. Not only can it be a lot of fun to bounce ideas off of one another, I enjoy when the melding of ideas takes you some place you wouldn’t have found alone.

LTPB: What are you working on now? I know we have the second Snappsy book Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) coming out next month from Balzer + Bray, but any chance we'll see more Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers?

TM: As we speak I’m doing the finishes for a very funny story by Elliot Kalan called Horse Meets Dog, published by Balzer + Bray, Fall 2018. Like the first time I read Snappsy, this thing had me rolling on the floor laughing, and I am having a blast drawing it.

Yes, Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers will be back in the follow up to Moo Moo in a Tutu called What's Cooking, Moo Moo? It comes out April 3, 2018, also published by Balzer + Bray. This time Moo Moo decides that she and Mr. Quackers should open their own restaurant in order to spend a little more quality time together, but things don’t go as smoothly as planned.

LTPB: Lastly, if you could have one illustrator, dead or alive, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

TM: That’s a no brainer, James Marsahall of course! Nothing would make me happier than to see myself depicted as one of his characters, and see how he might spin my story with his brand of humor. 

A million thanks to Tim for stopping by to answer some questions, and a million more happy birthdays for him! Moo Moo in a Tutu published from Balzer + Bray earlier this year!

Special thanks to Tim and Balzer + Bray for use of these images!

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