This month we're hearing from author/illustrator Jeff Crosby. Jeff is an artist, a writer, a full-time teacher, a husband and father (also full-time), and an owner and tender of various animals. In short, Jeff is a busy man, but he still finds time for his craft and his talent is evident in starred reviews and numerous awards. It's always fun to see how our various and sundry members connect their dots to get from there to here, and our chapter is so happy Jeff's dots have led him here today.
Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?
I grew up mostly in the Houston area but my formative boyhood years were spent in New Iberia, LA where I clambered through sugar cane fields, climbed massive live oaks, and did lots of drawing. It was a small town and the library and civic center would have juried art shows for all ages. My parents started entering my artwork in them when I was pretty young. I won a lot of ribbons and trophies and that success really encouraged me to keep on drawing and painting. In the third grade, I started taking art classes and continued to do so all the way till college.
Did you always want to be an illustrator, or did that come later?
I knew I wanted to be an artist from a very early age but I didn't really know what an illustrator was till I got to college. My major was graphic design but I took a couple of illustration classes as electives and really enjoyed them. After college I tried making a living as an illustrator and designer but floundered. I ended up going to the MFA Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and that's when I knew illustration was my calling.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
A very busy person. As an illustrator/author, my work day never ends. There are always multiple projects to work on whether they are paid jobs or self promotional pieces. And on top of that, there is all of the grind work doing book keeping, correspondence, marketing, etc. Then on top of that, is all of the work I do as a full-time teacher at Texas State University. I spend two long days a week teaching and then another two days grading and prepping. My evenings and weekends are mostly spent with my family and our animal menagerie, but even then I work for a few hours after my daughter goes to bed or on Saturdays while she watches cartoons.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I have a very supportive wife. Shelley does the same work as I do so we are always talking about our art and the writing. Teaching college design and illustration classes also makes me a better artist because I'm inspired by the students' work and am forced to think about art in new ways.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
My proudest creative accomplishment was co-writing, -illustrating, and -designing Little Lions, Bull Baiters, and Hunting Hounds: a History of Dog Breeds with my wife, Shelley Ann Jackson. It was the first book either of us wrote. We had to do a ton of research for the writing and the art. We painted over a hundred illustrations for it while caring for our new-born daughter. And It took us over six years and a lot of false starts before we found a publisher for it. It is a treasure of a book and should be in every children's library.
What surprises you about the creative life?
Even when you think you have achieved a certain amount of success, you can suddenly find yourself starting from near the beginning again. I guess it's a bit like playing the board game, Chutes and Ladders. Whoops! You've landed on "Editor Maternity Leave", slide all the way back down to "Look for a Publisher".
Your work is like a gift for your readers. When they open it, what do you hope they find? (you can talk about a particular story, or your work in general)
I hope they find something that's funny or interesting. Something that they want to run and share with family or friends. Something that will enrich their childhoods.
Jeff has been a freelance illustrator for the past twenty years and is a graduate of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts. In March 2014, the latest picture book that he wrote and illustrated, The Rockabilly Goats Gruff (Holiday House), was launched to great reviews by Kirkus and Booklist. He is also the author and illustrator of Wiener Wolf ( Disney-Hyperion 2011), which was selected for the Texas 2 X2 Book List and the Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award. With his wife, Shelley Ann Jackson, he co-wrote and co-illustrated two award winning nonfiction books for Tundra Books: Little Lions, Bull Baiters, and Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds (2008) and Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos and Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds (2011). He lives in Austin, TX, with his wife, Shelley, their six year old daughter, two wienie dogs, five chickens, fish and frogs. He also teaches graphic design and illustration in the Communication Design program at Texas State University.