Thursday, September 7, 2017

Where's Vincent X. Kirsch?

Vincent X. Kirsch's illustration work reminds me of an elaborate version of "Where's Waldo?". Instead of merely searching for one person in his work, the viewer is treated to a whole treasure trove of little secrets. Once could stare at his work all day and not find every little magical thing there is to find in his work.

Vincent has very generously shared his illustration process with us at the end of his post. Be sure to check at the end of this post to see Vincent X. Kirsch's dummies for "Can you Find Pup?" set to be published by Holiday House in Spring 2018. This book's original title was "Where's Diggley?"

Vincent's books include "The Hole Story" Written by Pat Miller and "Noah Webster & His Words"


Dani: What got you started in illustration?

Vincent: Well, I was always an art geek from the earliest days. I started out making art as a kid, even though it was a catholic school where being creative and artistic were not assets. I couldn’t stop.

Then, when I switched to public school, I got to take art classes and my spirit took flight! I studied commercial art at Syracuse University (Editorial and Advertising Design) since my parents were determined that I would not be a starving artist. Once again, I couldn’t stop. I enrolled in a great deal of fine art classes and then was “exiled” to Firenze for a semester my junior year. I say exiled because all my pals were sent to London but my (wise/inspired) advisor knew I needed to be in Italy. During my senior year I got a job art directing ads for a LORT theater called Syracuse Stage. Since there was no budget to hire artists, I did the poster art myself and ended up being pigeon holed as theater poster artist.

Fast forward, I ended up doing book covers and spot illustrations in magazines and newspapers, including a 15 year gig in the New York Times Book Review. All the while, I dreamed of making picture books and chapter books. Finally, quite by accident (except that there are no accidents), an editor at Bloomsbury USA saw my very last color illustration in the Book Review and called to ask if I was interested in doing picture books.

The answer was “YES!”

Dani: Do you plan out every bit of your illustration before you start?

Vincent: I love happy accidents. I work from fairly finished sketches but leave room for improvisation. If a whim comes along while doing final line art, I usually go with it. For my earlier books, my sketches were very detailed and final. Lately, I let happenstance happen. I will rough out an area that will be full of details and then fill a sketchbook page with doodles to fill the space.

Dani: What is the hardest part of illustration for you?

Vincent: Looking at the pile of 32-40 blank watercolor pages, with crop marks and faint pencil lines in place. Sketches ready. For me, getting started is the hardest part. It is an overwhelming idea, not for the faint of heart. However, it only takes one little mark to get me going then I am off to the races. But before that first mark, I will put it off and do a zillion dopey unrelated things and lots of walks with my pup.

Dani: What's next for you?

Vincent: Years ago, Farrar Straus Giroux published a picture book of mine called FORSYTHIA & ME. It was a lovely little valentine of a book about two friends, one of them named Forsythia who does everything amazingly well and the other character named Chester who admires her so! The book was a favorite with so many teachers, booksellers and kids, but it went out of print.

Then, last spring I took at picture book writing class at UCLA. Our weekly class assignment was to take one of our previous projects and totally rethink it: turn it upside down, change everything or change enough things that it is a completely different book, then use “counterpoint”. Counterpoint is when the text says one thing and the art does another. So, I put Forsythia and Chester through the mash up machine. I kept the character dynamic the same, changed their names and went back to a childhood moment with my best friend who inspired the original book. I chose an incident of how she taught me how to climb trees blended with the bittersweet memory of when a childhood best friend moved away. The result was a book called HOW I LEARNED TO FALL OUT OF TREES. It caught the eye of several editors. It is a bit of a tearjerker. It is being published by Abrams for Spring 2019. It really is a project near to my heart. I start the art in a few weeks.

Dani: Do you have any tips for those working on their dummies?


TIP #1: Start small, this way you can make for more dynamic layouts and variety of page layouts. Don’t bother with details until you get the shape of the art right. For example if a book is going to be 10” square. My first sketches are 2” square. Then I enlarge that and do sketches at 6” square. Then I do the art at 8” and it gets published at 10”. I came up with this process since I tended to start getting distracted with details too soon. I do art smaller because I like bolder lines.

TIP #2: Always remember to think where the text is going to go. Art Directors will love you and they will not ask you fiddle with the art later. Print out the text at a proportional size and paste it onto your sketches before final art.

TIP #3: Break the text in unexpected places. It makes the page turns more interesting.

TIP #4: Make yourself a full size copy of the book while you are working on it, you will love being able to experience the page turns and hold a real book.

All art in this post is the property Vincent X Kirsch and copyrighted 2017

Follow Vincent:

And now the easter eggs of all sweet non-hidden easter eggs:  2 dummies for the price of one!

"Can You Find Pup?"
To be published by Holiday House /Spring 2018
For interest, Here is the book that started it all off.
It was originally called "Where’s Diggley?"


  1. Your detailed drawings are amazing, Vincent! Good luck with "Can you Find Pup?"

  2. I love your suggestion of gradually increasing your thumbnails in size as one's work progresses. Makes total sense! This is a step I've been missing. I'm going back to my thumbnails and do it your way. It'll be interesting to see if I like my dummy book better! Thanks for a great article and I look forward to "Can You Find Pup?" Have fun...

  3. Love the art! Thanks for sharing the process!

  4. I absolutely love your whimsy, Vincent! Thanks for sharing your tips. Your dummies are wonderful!

  5. Thank you for sharing your dummy process, and the helpful tips, Vincent. "Can You Find Pup?" looks like a great book. :)

  6. Love your suggestion of starting small and working up in increments, sounds like something I'd like to do. thanks!

  7. Great advice. I love your work, and can't wait to see more of it.

  8. Thank you for sharing your dummies. Love seeing the process.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your dummies, process, and tips - very helpful! I love your illustrations - so effortless, fun, & delightfully quirky!

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  12. Can't believe I missed this one! Your illustrations are fantastic!

  13. Wow, your work is so fun and spirited. I love hearing about your working process and am excited that you were able to create a forthcoming book so dear to your heart! Thank you for all these useful, concrete tips on creating a dummy. They are so helpful!