This month we'll be hearing from Austin SCBWI member Mark Mitchell. Mark has been part of the Austin chapter since the very early days, back in 1995, and he's always been generous with his time, his talent, and his friendly smile. He is an accomplished writer, illustrator and teacher, and we're so happy he's joining us here.
Where did you grow up, and did that place (or those places) shape your work? If so, how?
I grew up just about everywhere, starting with my native upstate New York (Syracuse), followed by California (San Jose/Sunnyvale area), on to southeast Alaska (Sitka), then to the midwest (southern Indiana and St. Louis Mo) and finally to Austin to begin my junior year of college at U.T. I've been a Texan pretty much since then.
My brothers and I got used to living in different environments — from cities to cornfields to ocean-fronting wilderness. It was hard having to leave friends all the time, but fun trying on new identities and interests as our family migrated about.
I like to think it opened my mind to the idea of 'many different worlds' — probably a good thing for any reporter, which I turned out to be, as well as an author-illustrator.
Did you always want to be an author/illustrator, or did that come later?
I drew from a very early age, but never thought I'd make money from it. I came across a childhood letter I wrote to my grandmother, announcing my decision to work in advertising because advertisers used words and images in their work to move or influence others.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
Me nearly motionless poised for long stretches in front of my beloved P.C., occasionally getting up to go to the refrigerator or the snack cupboard…
How does your everyday life feed your work?
My wife Julie and I talk alot about books and stories and her massive kids' book library selections. (Since we're both writers and as a teacher she incorporates lots of kidlit in her first grade classroom.) These conversations influence me every day.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud (work and/or otherwise).
I can't really count my two (now-grown) stepsons from a previous marriage as accomplishments, but I'm very proud of them, as I am of Julie's two college-age daughters.
I'm proud of my Western Writers of America Spur Award for 'best juvenile nonfiction book of the year' that I received more than 10 years ago for Raising La Belle, my account of the the 'La Salle shipwreck' for upper elementary grades.
I'm proud that my online course on drawing, painting and children's book illustration that I teach from my website has drawn nearly 500 students, and my classes over the years at the Art School of The Contemporary Austin (Austin Museum of Art) have attracted nearly as many.
What surprises you about the creative life?
Finding creativity at work everywhere we look — not just in writing or making pictures or music, but all around us in nature, our interactions with each other, tools and technology, business and manufacturing and just about every form of problem solving. Creativity is the signpost of life.
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)
When they see one of my watercolor illustrations of say, a historical subject I hope they go right in there with me and happily engage in my game of let's pretend.
Bio: Mark Mitchell has illustrated stories for numerous magazines and 23 books. He is the author-illustrator of three books for young people, The Mustang Professor (a biography of writer J. Frank Dobie), Seeing Stars (about astronomers and the work they do at the McDonald Observatory) and Raising La Belle (about an early colonial shipwreck, the 'La Salle shipwreck' recovered off the Texas coast in 1997) all published by Eakin Press. He also teaches classes in children's book illustration at the Art School of The Contemporary Austin (Museum of Art) and in his online course, Make Your Marks and Splashes. He's married to children's book author and former Austin-SCBWI regional adviser Julie Lake, and is a "charter member" of the Austin chapter of SCBWI.