Don Tate is the award-winning illustrator/author of more than 40 books for children, trade and educational. His books include: Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, featured in the New York Times Holiday Book Review, She Loved Baseball, Ron’s Big Mission and Sure as Sunrise, just to name a few. I’m happy to report that Don is also the debut author of It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, a New Voices Honor winner.
Don’s illustrations are lively and bold. One element I love about his work is that he doesn’t have one signature illustration style, which is typically frowned upon in the business. Each book he’s illustrated has it’s own unique look and feel. That’s amazing!
In his spare time Don is a contributor to The Brown Bookshelf, a site designed to highlight and build awareness of the African American voices writing for young readers and is a member of the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels a group of Texas-based authors and illustrators, each bringing their unique talent to the kid lit community. From what I understand, Don is the resident Scoundrel. And if all of that isn’t enough, Don works as an illustrator/graphics reporter for the Austin American-Statesman.
What percentage of your illustration process relies on technology? While 100% of my illustration work involves technology at some point, I’d say that about 70% of the actual process involves technology along the way. I’m an old-school illustrator, so I do enjoy illustrating with natural media. And I could let go of technology if I had to. But I don’t. Technology makes my work quicker, easier, smarter. If I create a watercolor illustration for a book, I might work out several color comps first in Photoshop. If I’m in the middle of a painting and not quite sure what direction to take, I might take a digital photo and work out the problems in Photoshop before I proceed. Most educational publishers these days expect art to be delivered electronically, email or ftp. They don’t care so much if the art is generated on the computer (although some demand it), but natural media is expected to be scanned, color corrected and delivered ready to go.
What applications do you use? Several. Mostly Adobe products—Photoshop and Illustrator. But I’ve used Flash, several 3d programs (they keep changing and buying each other out), Freehand, Painter, Poser 3d, many others.
What digital tool would you never want to do without? My computer. More specific? My digital camera, Wacom, scanner.
What is your favorite aspect of using technology in illustration? I spend a lot of time illustrating in a newsroom. I can’t really spread out with my oil paint and color pencils and I don’t think my colleagues would want me to. Technology allows me to create illustrations without the mess of natural media. And I can make changes much easier.
The downside is that technology seems to speed things up, but not necessarily in a good way. The illustrator, whose always worked under tight deadlines, is expected to deliver art much faster now. And if you’re not an illustrator who utilizes technology (yes, I know of a few), you may not get work. And the technology is constantly changing. A couple of years ago, I decided to upgrade to a new computer. That also meant getting all new software, printers and scanners, which wouldn’t work on my new computer. My new computer is only two years old, and already it’s time to upgrade all of my programs.
What projects in the children’s market are you currently working on and how do you plan to incorporate technology? I’m working on several traded picture books and a series of chapter books. Again, all of the projects involve technology in some way. With the chapter books, I created line work with pen and ink. Then I scanned in the lines and added grays and texture in Photoshop. I delivered final art as grayscale tiffs.