"I've never won an argument with watercolor," Jon J Muth admits. The trick, he explains, is paying attention to the medium and working with it instead of against it. Muth begins each day doing giant brush drawings on the floor of his studio to loosen up his arm and generate a sense of "still-pointedness". He then moves to the more specific tasks of painting the pages in his books. For his 2006 Caldecott Honor book, Zen Shorts, Muth repainted one page seven times before it had the exact feel that he wanted. "I don't even know what it was," he says, "but I knew when the page was right."
You can watch the interview below, view the interview transcript, read a short biography on Jon J Muth, or see a selected list of his children's books. (This video is also available on YouTube and iTunes.)
Jon J Muth grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. Ever since he can remember, he loved to draw and paint. His mother, an art teacher, used to take him to museums across the country. At the age of 18 Jon had his own one-man exhibit of drawings and paintings at Wilmington College.
After high school Muth decided not to attend art school because he found their curricula too conceptual. Instead, he rented an inexpensive apartment in Cincinnati and took a job at a frame shop, where he met his first informal art teacher — an abstract neo-Dadaist. Muth later moved to upstate New York to share an art studio with another painter who became an influential teacher. In order to pay the rent, Muth began illustrating comic books. When a Japanese comic book publisher offered him a fellowship, Muth spent three months in Japan, where he studied stone sculpture and sho (brush calligraphy) and developed a love for Asian art and culture.
After the birth of his first son, Jon J Muth felt the need to do a different kind of work that explored his relationship with "this new little being." Muth illustrated a three-year series for a Japanese magazine about a father and son. When an editor at Scholastic saw his work, he asked Muth to illustrate a picture book written by Karen Hesse. Muth's illustrations for Come on, Rain! earned him a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators in 1999. Over the next decade, Muth would carve out a niche for himself by writing and illustrating beautiful and thoughtful picture books such as The Three Questions, Stone Soup, and Zen Shorts. His most recent book, Zen Ties, was published in 2008.
Jon J Muth lives in upstate New York with his wife and four children. Among other things, they enjoy planting trees, riding bikes, and flying kites.