Interviewed by Jill Bergman
Patrick Loehr is a professional artist and educator living and working in the Denver area. As author and illustrator, he has had two children's picture books published by Katherine Tegen Books, Mucumber McGee and the Half-Eaten Hot Dog, 2007 and Mucumber McGee and the Lunch Lady's Liver, 2008.
Patrick is currently the Chair of the Art Department at The Community College of Aurora in Denver, Colorado.
Please visit his website at www.patrickloehr.com
All images are copyright by Patrick Loehr. Please do not use them without written permission of the artist.
J. Congratulations on having your second book published, Mucumber McGee and the Lunch Lady’s Liver.
P. Thank you.
J. Mucumber seems to have terrible luck with foods. I was wondering if he was going to have a third food adventure?
P. Well, Hopefully he will, but I don’t have anything in the works right now. I just took a new job as the chair of an art department at a community college here in Denver, the Community College of Aurora.
J. Congratulations! So do you have any other children’s books you are working on right now? Or, you are probably too busy with the new job.
P. Yeah, I am really busy right now. I’m just about ready to take on another project with a writer from New York but it’s more for teenagers or adults. Almost like a graphic novel but there’s not a lot of text. I guess you could think of it as a children’s book for adults.
J. That sounds really exciting.
Let’s see, I was wondering, have you personally ever tried liver cake?
P. I did. My grandmother used to make some very special dishes with liver. I don’t know if she ever called it liver cake, but that’s where I got the idea from. I can’t say that I agree with Mucumber, in that I didn’t think it was particularly delicious.
J. Actually, I have tried liver in a lunch line before and I was nearly as frightened as Mucumber. But, it’s what they were offering.
P. Yeah, sometimes there aren’t a lot of choices.
J. I was also wondering about Mucumber’s pet. He seems to have a lizard friend?
P. That’s right, he’s a lizard. He could be an iguana but he’s not anatomically correct so I don’t know exactly what he is. He’s some sort of reptile.
J. Does he have a name?
P. Well, my editor and I refer to him as Mr. Lizard. But I don’t have a name for him established. That might pop up in a future book.
J. You do a wonderful job of combining realistic, sort of spooky looking settings with very stylized people. I was wondering if there were lots of experiments that led to this.
P. Yeah, definitely. I sat and went through a couple of sketchbooks trying to figure out a style of character, of figurative illustration, that went well with some style of environmental illustration. There’s actually a lot of photography in some of the background images. And then I work it over in photoshop and make it look more like watercolor painting.
J. I was guessing that you used a few different techniques in the illustrations. Can you tell us any more about some of the steps you go through to create a finished piece?
P. Sure. They all start off with a pencil sketch. Then, I’ll scan the sketch and break it into layers. And for the backgrounds I’ll usually use some photographic elements- maybe it’s textures, or clouds for the sky. Sometimes I’ll take a photograph of a room and use that as a reference to paint on top of in photoshop. Typically there are a lot of layers in my images.
J. Well, you get some really neat effects. And I love the way the characters pop forward from the background.
J. Also, your writing is great. Your rhymes are really fun. I was wondering if these books started out as text, or ideas for illustrations, or if they grew together at the same time.
P. It started out with a character idea for Mucumber. But I didn’t really know what he was going to look like. I was just thinking about his personality. The first book was loosely based on a true story, something that happened to a friend of mine. I was scanning my past looking for something interesting. So it started with the character, and then the story and then the illustration style and everything came last.
J. So, your friend did eat a raw hot dog, huh?
P. Yeah. I came over to his house, I think we were in first grade, and he was very sad and depressed and I asked him what the problem was. And he said, “Oh, my sister just told me that I’m going to get sick and die because I ate a raw hot dog for lunch.”
J. Those evil sisters!
J. I also love the illustrations that you do with stars and birds and everything hanging down in the sky from strings. Those are really nice. Are they going to evolve into a book?
P. I would love to, at some point. In those, I was borrowing from folk illustration. And I wouldn’t mind doing a book in that style, something kind of surreal and strange.
J. Yes, they’re really moody. Actually a lot of your different styles have an interesting mood to them.
P. Oh, thank you.
J. I have another question, has teaching art students influenced your own work?
P. Yes, definitely. Teaching college is fun because the students are so clued in to new and interesting things, and visual culture, so they share those with me and inevitably those things end up inspiring me in some way. I actually learn a lot from the students.
J. They probably bring a lot of good energy.
P. Yeah, definitely, it’s a lot of fun. And they’re very creative and funny. They think of things differently than I do, which is really neat.
J. You also have a new and interesting looking book, Illusive Conclusions and Simulated Fabrications. Could you tell us a little bit about that book?
P. I’m in an MFA program right now and I’ve spent a lot of my efforts in that program doing a bunch of narrative illustration. It’s all kind of experimental. And when I was finished with it, I wanted to do something with the 40 or 50 pieces. So I basically bunched it all up in a collection and published it myself through blurb.com as an on-demand book. I’ve gotten some good feedback on it. It’s definitely a non-traditional approach to narrative work, but it’s a good contrast to the children’s books. It’s much more adult oriented.
J. Yeah, I can tell. But I guess you are an adult after all.
P. That’s right. Most of the time I am.
J. Yes, those of us interested in children’s books have a lot of that kid spirit in us, too.
Well, I’m really excited for you about your new job.
P. Oh, thank you. It’s a lot of work right now. Hopefully it will mellow out here in a few months because I miss doing some of the artistic stuff that I used to do on a regular basis.
J. Right, you have to carve out that time.
P. Yes, definitely.
J. Good luck with everything, Patrick and thanks for talking with me.