Through the Eyes of Our Favorite Children’s Book Illustrator

children's book illustrator

“If a book is a song performed by a band, the words are the lead singer and the illustrations are the instruments,” says MarbleSpark children’s book illustrator Brad Sneed. “A talented vocalist can sound great a cappella, but add a guitar, bass and drums…well, now you’ve got something!”

In honor of National Reading Day, we went one-on-one with Sneed, the children’s book illustrator who brought to life “Pipp” the mouse from Twas the Mouse Who Saved Christmas and “Felix Featherbottom” from Following Featherbottom. He is the talented artist behind all of the illustrations in MarbleSpark’s line of personalized children’s books.

Sneed has done the art for a number of other well-known children’s picture books including When the Wind Blows by Stacy Clark and The Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Dianne Arnold. He is also an in-demand school speaker and is renowned for his bird art prints and line of products.

MarbleSpark: Tell us about yourself/what makes you tick?

Sneed: I am a husband and father, artist, illustrator, and designer.  I’m happiest when I have a project.  That may be working on illustrations for a book, remodeling the bathroom, or planting shrubs and flowers in the backyard.

MarbleSpark: How would you describe your style? How is that reflected in MarbleSpark’s book characters?

Sneed: My illustrative style is rooted in American Regionalism –principally work by artists, T.H. Benton and Grant Wood.  I like to exaggerate form, and bend and distort perspective.  Of course, this style doesn’t fit every story.  I evaluate the story and adjust the visual style and medium to fit that story’s particular vibe.  That’s why the art for Following Featherbottom doesn’t look like the art for God Whispered Your Name or Every Hero Needs A Sidekick, but it is similar to, ‘Twas The Mouse Who Saved Christmas. 

Following Featherbottom

Twas the Mouse Who Saved Christmas

MarbleSpark: How did you find your style and has it changed since you started out?

Sneed: In college, I tried on different styles –emulating my favorite artists.  Nothing fit until I circled back around to the way I’ve always drawn.  That familiar way of drawing though, was now informed by all the other styles, so it evolved into something new.  I would say that I have continued down this path.  I draw the way I draw, but I’m always poking at the edges of what feels comfortable.

God Whispered Your Name

Every Hero Needs a Sidekick

MarbleSpark: How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?

Sneed: Coming up with art to accompany someone else’s story is a breeze.  When it comes to writing a story, well that’s another matter!  I start by simply trying to pay attention.  Look.  Listen. See. Smell.  One can write about anything.  That doesn’t mean it will be a good story, but it’s a start.  I jot down an idea and then ask questions.  Who is this?  What is he/she/it doing?  Why do they do it?  What happens when they do it?  What if they do this instead of that?  Answering these questions can lead to a story.

MarbleSpark: What are 5 things inspiring your work right now?

Sneed: Birds, birds, birds, birds, and birds.  I’ve always been interested in birds, and recently I’m embracing my bird nerdiness by creating all manner of bird art–bird notecards, art prints, as well as patterns and abstract paintings inspired by birds.  I even have a rather fuzzy idea for a bird picture book story!

MarbleSpark: What is the best part of your job as a children’s book illustrator?

Sneed: My job is a solitary one.  I’m alone in my studio all day, every day (for the most part), which would drive most folks crazy.  I like it.  Also, I like the process of visual storytelling –imagining, developing the pacing and book layout, sketching, and finally, creating the final art.  I guess the best part of my job is the satisfaction I get from creating something from scratch.  It’s rewarding to hold a book, and know I played a role in its creation.

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