Sunday, October 11, 2015

STUDIO SPACE: Jeffery Ebbeler

For the last 15 years most of my work has been for children’s publications. I’ve illustrated over 50 picture books, as well as numerous e-books, and early readers. I’ve been focus lately on writing as well. The first book that I wrote and illustrated Click! came out this year. I also write and illustrate the monthly comic series Nestor’s Dock for Ask Magazine, which is a kid’s science and nature magazine. It’s a 2-page comic about Nestor and his 3 friends, that relates to the monthly topic of the magazine. I started my career as an art director for 6 years in the children’s book dept. at Publications International in Chicago.

I grew up in Goshen and Loveland OH, and I attended Moeller and The Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Location: Anderson, Ohio
What’s coming up: I have a gallery show of my work at the Eva G. Farris Gallery at Thomas More College. Nov 5-24. Opening reception Nov 5th 4-7 pm. Gallery Talk Nov 16th  1:15 pm.

I also recently did an interview for a show called booknotes on pbs. Here is a link to watch it.

How did you get your start as a professional artist?
I’ve been doing random freelance art jobs since I was in high school. I drew caricatures at King’s Island and at private parties. I’ve painted murals at schools, churches and in homes.  I worked for several puppet companies performing, sculpting and sewing marionettes. I’ve done theatre and concert backdrops, engineered pop-up books and sculpted paper mache package design. My wife and I moved to Chicago after college and I answered an ad in the paper for an art assistant job at a publishing house. I worked there for 6 years, working my way up to art director.  I mostly did design work at that job but I was occasionally able to contribute an illustration. Gradually I built up a portfolio, and after several years of freelancing evenings and weekends, I made the leap and quit my job to freelance full time.

Describe your work.
I’ve worked with many different authors and I do my best keep every book that I work on different. I try to build a unique world and characters based on the stories, and I always try to add some back-story and humor to the illustrations. I really enjoy researching the specific type of house, furniture, clothes for the characters,  and I especially like when I get to illustrate a story about a specific culture or time in history that I’m unfamiliar with.

Tell about your workspace.
My family and I live in a 3-bedroom split level house. My twin daughters Isabel and Olivia, who are 6, share a room and I use the extra bedroom as a studio. I imagine that as they get older I may need to find a new space. I have 2 large tables in an L shape with a flat file underneath. I tape each painting that I’m working on to individual boards and paint in front of my computer. I like to have references material on my screen as I work. I’m usually working on a bunch of projects at the same time, so the room tends to get pretty cluttered. Many stacks of sketches and notes. I try to keep all the paintings on the boards and laid out where I can see them, so the book stays consistent.

What are your favorite materials digital and traditional?
Most of the work I’ve done has been acrylic paintings on paper. I like Golden Open Acrylics because they stay wet a lot longer. I have always painted next to a computer, and I often piece together and rework my sketches digitally. Over the past 10 years, more and more publishers are requesting that I do my own scanning rather then sending the art to them for scanning. If I’m scanning my art, I typically do a certain amount of retouching and reworking to my paintings in Photoshop.
In the last few years I have started experimenting with a digital art style for the e-books and readers that I work on. Those projects tend to have  much quicker deadlines, and a few of my editors have let me experiment with different styles. It’s still kind of a hybrid. I’ve been taking sections of color and texture from my paintings and piece them together in Photoshop to make the final art. I haven’t taken the leap into a completely digital picture, but I think I’m getting close.

What’s your typical workday/work session like?
I have been very grateful for my agent’s (MB Artists) hard work. She has kept me consistently very busy. I usually work from 9-5 or 6 in my studio and then after my kids are in bed I set up a card table in the living room and work from 8-12 while my wife and I watch tv. Every once in a while I have to pull an all nighter. I try to work as few weekends as I can. It’s always a challenge balancing time with my family and all the looming deadlines. One of my favorite things about working from home is that I’ve been able to spend so much time with my kids. When they were toddlers, we had a plastic fence that was meant to be used as a gated off play area. I set up a desk in it so I could watch them without them being able to reach my paints. They called it the Daddy cage. Now that they’re older, they often come into my studio after school and draw with me.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated as you work?
Ideally it’s the excitement of a new project, and the anticipation of seeing your latest work in print. I’m trying my hardest to make each new project better than the last, and I often stew over my books and see all of the things I wish I would have done better.

I’ve been collecting children’s books for many years and I think that is still my biggest source of inspiration.

Other times it’s fear of deadlines and keeping clients happy. Some of the projects I’m happiest with came out of last minute panic.

What is your dream job?
I think in many ways I am doing my dream job. I guess my biggest hope is that one of my books will really take off in a big way. I had the opportunity to work on several series of books including a series of 4 books about a mouse. That was one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on, because I got to develop and expands the characters world with each book.  I would love to have a character that becomes successful enough that I could build on it over many books, and of course become a cartoon series, movie, and line of toys.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
 I keep a notebook but it’s mostly to write down ideas. I usually sketch on loose typing paper. Most of my sketches start of with a bunch of loose scribbles that I end up throwing away. Whenever I try to work in a sketchbook I tend to tighten up and try to make everything look to perfect because the drawing is preserved in a book. I feel like I can be freer and more creative on loose paper.

Process from sketch to final: 


What do you listen to while you work?
I get distracted by music so I usually like to listen to someone talking. Either pod casts or audio books. I go through about 4 or 5 audio books a week.

What are you reading/listening to on Audible?
I download audio books from the public library. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot British writers who do fantasy/sci-fi with a kind of absurdist humor mixed in. I just finished all of the 40 some Disk World books by Terry Pratchett. I also like Jasper Fforde, Robert Rankin, Jim Butcher and Neil Gaimen. I try to mix in some classics and non-fiction history when I can. I like Erik Larson’s books. There are also several series books that I probably wouldn’t have started but I liked the voice acting of the narrator so much that I gave it a try. Anything with Jim Dale or Barbara Rosenblat

Who are your artistic influences?
My first influences were my mom and my older brother. My mom was the art teacher at my grade school. She sculpted the larger that life size bronze crucifix in the chapel at Mount St. Joseph. For many years she sculpted clay busts and portraits. My older brother Jim went to the Art Academy 3 years before I did. It was when we were in college that I first started paying attention to picture book illustrators. Some of my early favorites were Lisbeth Zwerger, William Joyce, Stephen Gammell, and Lane Smith. Over the years I’ve built up a pretty big collection of picture books. I take a bunch of books out before I start a new project to get inspired to try different approaches or color pallets. Some of my current favorites are Chris Van Dussen, Tony DeTerlizzi, Peter Brown, and Adam Rex.
I also get a lot of inspiration from being around other artists. My classmates at the Art Academy, the SCBWI illustrators critique group in Chicago, and the Cincinnati illustrator lunches. I had the opportunity to teach a senior thesis class at the Art Academy and I was blown away by the caliber of work.

What do you do that is not art related that inspires you?
Doing things with my daughters is very inspirational. I’d been making books for kids for 10 years before I actually had kids. There are constantly things that they say or do that give me new ideas and I’m now able to see picture books from a child’s perspective.
I also like playing music. When we lived in Chicago I played drums in variety of bands from rockabilly, brit pop, to honky tonk. I even played in the pit orchestra for a musical.  Any time I get to do a collaborative project whether it’s making music, or working with the puppet theater, I jump at the chance. One of the side benefits to making art for kids is that I get ask to give presentations at lots of schools, library’s and book conventions. It’s easy to loose perspective when you work alone in a studio all day, but when I get out and see how excited kids are about art and books it reminds me of the reasons I’m doing this in the first place.

I have a gallery show at the end of the month and I’ve been collaborating with several friends and local artists on pieces for the show. I have been working with a glass artist and a welder to build a model of the bird lamp character from my new book Click!. I have also been working on an animated video piece with musician and composer Jonathan Guilehurst.

What is your favorite color?
Orange. I start every painting with an under-painting of yellow ocher and red oxide. It gives all the edges an orange glow, and I love the way it plays off the other colors.

How can we get best follow your art online/on social media?
I try to update my web site as often as I can. My agent also posts new work on her site I’m also very grateful to Christina Wald for posting things for me when I have news to share.


  1. Great interview, Jeffrey!
    I've been really enjoying your work over the years, and it just keeps getting better. Congrats on your first foray into writing!

  2. ...oh, and that spread with the bird's eye view of the house and dock is fantastic!