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
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
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
MY FIVE FAVORITE THINGS!
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.”