Award-winning author and illustrator Diane deGroat has worked on over 150 books — and she can now add one more to her list.
Her latest release, The Adventures of Robo-Kid, takes readers on an inspiring journey of what it takes to be a hero, by telling the story of a child living in the real world who encounters a comic book character. The book touches on topics such as anxiety and explores the courage that it takes to cope with those emotions.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with deGroat to learn more about her books and her career.
What tools does an author/illustrator need in her tool belt? Explore the tools of the trade for a modern illustrator in this digital exclusive clip.
Read the full transcript:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Award-winning author and illustrator Diane deGroat has worked on over 150 books, and she can now add one more to her list.
Her latest is entitled “The Adventures of Robo Kid,” and it takes readers on an inspiring journey of what it takes to be a hero by telling the story of a child living in the real world who encounters a comic book character. The book touches on topics such as anxiety and explores the courage that it takes to cope with those emotions.
I spoke with deGroat to learn more.
Diane deGroat, Illustrator/Author: I was always that kid in the classroom that was “the artist,” you know, growing up, because I always loved to draw and that was my thing. I love to draw and paint and art.
And even at a young age, I knew that I would be an artist when I grew up in some way, shape, or form.
Zydalis Bauer: One thing that I thought was really ironic about your story is that you didn’t grow up as much of a reader. You didn’t really read too many books but–
Diane deGroat: Ooh you’re not supposed to say that! Yeah, I do tell the kids when I visit schools that I was not a reader. I did not like to read. I was a pretty good student, but I only read what I had to read. No, I didn’t like to read.
I liked looking at the pictures. I loved books and I just love turning the pages and looking at the pictures and the art and saying, “Wow, I wish I could do that.”
So no, it was only until much later, even as a grown up where I became a reader and I learned that I had to become a reader before I could become a writer.
Zydalis Bauer: No, and that’s really interesting because I was going to say, after doing 20 years of illustration, you decided to try your hand at writing.
Diane deGroat: Yeah! I thought I knew so much about books and had read so many other authors books to illustrate their stories, I thought, “Well, how hard could it be?”
Well, I found out it was hard, and I found out I was not a very good writer. So, I did all the right things: I took classes, I practiced, I joined a critique group, but most of all, I started reading and reading good books. And that’s how you learn about good writing, is reading good books.
So, I really worked at it to become a writer and it wasn’t easy. Illustration was really easy, but writing — and it’s still hard. It’s not natural for me, so I have to work at it.
Zydalis Bauer: So, this book takes us on an inspiring journey where a real boy — his life is intersected by a comic book hero.
So, tell me more about the book and some of the adventures we will go on within it.
Diane deGroat: Well, it starts out with Henry is the boy and he has some self-esteem issues and is afraid, in this case without giving a lot away, it’s about swimming in the deep water. And he’s afraid.
And also, at the same time, the comic book character we see at the bottom of the book what his life is. And he needs a — he needs a break. His life is boring. So, he climbs out of the comic and ends up right in the boy’s backpack! And comes just at the right time, so that Henry feels that if he’s with him, he could do anything.
So, it’s a matter of, I think, having the right attitude and feeling you could do something with a little encouragement if you didn’t have that before. So — so, I think it’s positive thinking, that would be the lesson in the book. Yes.
Zydalis Bauer: So, you’ve mentioned that when you’re illustrating a book, you are always learning something new.
And being that this style of book was new, and it was a different kind of creation for you, what did you learn about yourself through this experience?
Diane deGroat: Well, it was a totally different medium. If I hold up the book, you can see the boy’s part is a very soft pencil drawing and the comic book part is a line drawing, looks like an ink drawing. But really, it’s not pencil, it’s charcoal. And it’s not a line drawing, it’s digital art in the computer.
So, I’ve been using Photoshop for quite a few years to incorporate it into even my “Gilbert” books. You can’t tell, but there is digital art in there, and also the “Charlie the Wrench Dog” books — there’s some digital art, but you can’t see it.
So — but I love using Photoshop and I love charcoal as a drawing medium. I do a lot of figure drawing and I just love it! So, I combine the two things and I figured out, “Well, this is very different because everyone’s telling me I have to come up with a fresh style.” And I was really getting tired of watercolor, so hey! Why don’t I try this?
So, I was able to combine the charcoal drawings, scan them and put them in the computer and then color it in with digital color and combining the two, and there you have it!
Zydalis Bauer: So, speaking of all this drawing in the digital and the combining, it brings me to one of the most frequently asked questions that children always ask you, which is where do you get your ideas?
And for me, as somebody who’s not an artist, it’s…I always love to ask the question, like, how do you conceptualize these drawings? Where do they come from? What’s your process like?
Diane deGroat: Well, to get the drawings, I first have to get the story, of course! And it is very strange because I wear two different hats. When I’m writing, I wear an author’s cap and when I’m illustrating, I wear an artist’s cap, like I was drawing for somebody else’s book. But in this case, it’s for mine.
In this case, I had to actually do both at the same time, because the visual was such an important part of the writing. So, I would just make rough sketches as I’m writing it. And — and the text is really just dialog. So, really the illustration was much more important than the writing of the story.
But once I had the idea and the story, then I could handle it visually.
Zydalis Bauer: So, you’ve been very open even in this interview about dealing with some challenges, dealing with rejection, trying to get better at certain crafts.
So, how were you able to handle any of that negative feedback and what advice do you have for others when it comes to courage, perseverance and not giving up?
Diane deGroat: Good question! Up until recently, I didn’t have any negative feedback. I’ve always been working continuously for all those years, and it was only after I invested about the last 20 years into the Gilbert and the Charlie books that I — and then when I finished, I realized I was out of the loop. It was much, much harder and the field had changed.
So, it was with perseverance and finally getting an agent also for the first time that really helped me. It’s not easy, and for someone even to break into the field now, it really takes perseverance and I think being knowledgeable with social media is absolutely vital, even if, us old folks we say, “We just don’t want to deal with that,” you know?
We just felt that if your work was good, it would get published. But that’s not the case anymore. You really have to do research, you have to promote yourself, and you have to reach out to your audience instead of just sitting there and waiting for them to come to you. Really important.