Author Interview: Tim Ladwig

Tim has illustrated a number of children's books, two of which, The Fear Not Angel and Psalm Twenty-Three were Gold-Medallion Award finalists. Psalm Twenty-Three and Silent Night were also honored with ABA "Pick of the Lists" awards. Tim serves as a graphic artist for World Impact Urban Ministry Institute and lives in Wichita, Kansas.

Books by Tim Ladwig
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What made you decide to become an illustrator?
Tim Ladwig: I lost an eye when I was eight years old and this affected me in a couple of ways. Because the artificial eye (which replaced the eye that was lost) did not move as well as a natural eye, I had to explain to the other kids how I had accidentally cut my eye with a knife and that the eye that didn't move very well was made of plastic. This, of course, fascinated the other children but made me very aware that I was not quite the same as other kids who had two good eyes. I began to identify with people who were different and often made fun of. At some point it occurred me that these "different ones" had feelings. They felt bad when others made fun of things that made them different. Being aware of shared feelings was a great help in becoming an artist. This allowed me to express feelings I had experienced and, to my wonder, found that others recognized "my feelings" as their own.

Losing an eye also left me with a profound thankfulness for the gift of sight. As an eight-year-old I did not think, "Wow, I'm glad I didn't lose both eyes; it would be terrible not to be able to see at all." But there was some kind of understanding that sight was to be used to the fullest. Almost as soon as I came home from the hospital, I began to draw and paint. It was both something I enjoyed doing and something that bubbled out from inside — and something that my parents couldn't have kept from bubbling out even if they tried. (They were, in fact, great encouragers.)

What's a typical workday like?
Tim Ladwig: I try to keep a scheduled workday — as near to eight hours as I can. Sometimes other duties cut into the eight hours and sometimes deadlines extend the eight hours. But whether I'm fearful about facing that dreaded white piece of paper with no idea what to put on it, or anxious to get back to a painting that has captured my imagination, it helps to have the discipline of workday hours. Something that has helped me is to break up the work of illustrating a book into stages: thumbnails, rough dummy, working drawings, and finished paintings. This makes the process very changeable in the beginning when the visual storytelling is most important, flexible in the middle when the compositions of each spread are important, and focused in the last stage when a certain degree of finish is what you are after.
Do you do any research before you begin illustrating?
Tim Ladwig: Yes, particularly if the story takes place in a different time or culture. I enjoyed working on Silent Night a great deal. It became a challenge to make the dress, furniture, and landscapes all as accurate as possible. Of all the research tools available on the Internet and in the library, I found a photo reference for the original church of St. Nicholas where the song was first sung through my neighbor's hairdresser. (She had visited Austria years before and happened to have a pamphlet with a rare photo of the church.)
What's hardest for you to draw?
Tim Ladwig: Hands and landscapes. I am trying to get better at both.
Do you have any advice for would-be illustrators? What characteristics do illustrators need most?
Tim Ladwig: Imagination and the ability to tell a story with pictures might be even more important than the ability to draw, but I always encourage young illustrators to work on their drawing. If a young artist can draw what he or she sees, this is a great advantage in telling an imaginative story. The artist uses perspective, light, and atmosphere to draw us into the story through a world we are familiar with, and so can take a supernatural twist all the more effectively.
Can you tell us one thing people may not know about you?
Tim Ladwig: I have loved picture books for as long as I can remember, but I didn't try illustrating one until I was 39 (which was still before I married a princess and had 3 wonderful children).