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15 Minutes With: Aaron Boyd


April 2017

Aaron Boyd in his studio with his dog, Gretel.

Tiny mice in waistcoats, Chinese dragon kites whirling, butterflies fluttering, birds ferrying children through the sky, gophers wearing Eisenhower jackets, and violin-playing frogs populate the pages of children’s books illustrated by Milwaukeean Aaron Boyd. Dramatic stories of children with anguish on their young faces almost don’t need words to explain them. Don’t worry; Boyd illustrates books written by authors who write happy — or at least comforting — conclusions. Smiles replace tears at the end.

Vivid, contrasting hues and mixed media from watercolors to crayons (“Children love crayons,” he says) make Boyd’s work easily identifiable at bookstores and libraries nationwide. “Acuity’s Storybook Year,” his pop-up book that riffs on nursery rhymes, is in the rare books collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Library.

Why are children’s books so important?

I believe there are universal values we can agree on. If you make a kid’s life better, you make your life and the entire community’s better. Kids who love books learn critical thinking — their emotions and intelligence are improved. They will return love to their communities because they learn empathy through books.

Are there other benefits to reading as a child?

Children are encouraged to go places in their imagination. I lived in my head as a kid.


How does a children’s book illustrator get and do work?

The publishing company’s editor has a roster of painters. The editor contacts the illustrator based on their style and the story content. When I start working, I have the author’s words in front of me. My drawings interpret the story. My first steps include sketching and color composition before I pick up a brush or crayon. Most of my book paintings are roughly 3 feet by 18 inches. They will  be scanned in and reduced by  the publisher.

What’s new in the world of illustrators?

Gaming is huge, both digital and actual. I’ve done everything from card decks to board games, plus some video games.

Name some of your books.

In 2016, I published “Calling the Water Drum” and “Melena’s Jubilee.” Earlier works are “Luigi and the Barefoot Races,” “Babu’s Song,” “Janna and the Kings,” the four-book Panda series, “Tiger Woods” and “I Can’t Take a Bath!” Currently, two are in the works. I do illustrations for publications like Spider magazine and Ladybug (magazine). Portraits of people and animals are also an interest. The book at the Smithsonian is the most creative annual report ever or likely ever to be made. Acuity Insurance Company commissioned it.

Describe your artist’s life.

Gretel, my dog, and I walk 5 miles a day in our neighborhood, usually in late afternoon. I work in my studio at night and sleep really late. Some of my characters and animal ideas come from those walks. I always have a notepad for sketching and my camera. I never take pictures without asking permission.


1 The color blue; cerulean is the best.

2  Franklin D. Roosevelt is my favorite president. He commissioned art during the Great Depression. As a student at Shorewood High School, I stared at those giant murals of working men and women. They affected my life.

3  I went to Germany with no plans. Walking around was fascinating. One night, I shared dinner with strangers at a pizza place in Munich; the restaurant allowed dogs.

4  Who doesn’t like Maurice Sendak? I (also) had a chance encounter with Blair Lent, illustrator for “The Funny Little Woman,” for which he won a Caldecott (Medal for illustration). He was from Massachusetts, but we talked regularly over the phone for years until his death.

5  Picasso, (who) said, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.”

This story ran in the April 2017 issue of: