Author-Illustrator Spotlight: K.G. Campbell

© K.G. Campbell

KidLit411 is delighted to present to you the award winning author-illustrator, K.G. Campbell! K.G. is the author-illustrator for his award winning picture book LESTER'S DREADFUL SWEATERS, TEA PARTY RULES, and the THE MERMAID AND THE SHOE and is the illustrator for the Newbery Award winning FLORA AND ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo!





Thanks for joining us, K.G.! Please tell us about your background and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

As a child, my single most defining characteristic was a facility for drawing. And a knack for concocting stories wasn’t far behind. Everyone, myself included, assumed I’d wind up at art school.

For various reasons still unclear even to myself (perhaps the ghoulish specter of the proverbial starving artist), I took a more academic route (Art History at the University of Edinburgh) and wound up putting down the pencil for twenty years. In that time I was an assistant buyer at a swanky London department store, a trainee tax consultant at one of the Big Six accountancy firms (I know, I know; I wasn’t even good at math), and a Hollywood interior designer.

So, returning to that adolescent passion was a distinct, conscious decision on my part. Maybe it was an increasing awareness of my own mortality, of the limited number of years allotted to each of us. But I knew that if I didn’t at least reach for this particular dream, it would be a death-bed regret.



You burst onto the kidlit scene in 2012 (with LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS), and have followed with three books in quick succession. How long did it take you to get from the notion of illustrating for children to seeing your name on a trade book? (Or, in other words, did you experience overnight success, a long hard slog, or something in between?)

Well how long it took rather depends on how you define the starting point.

Like so many others, I thought writing a picture book would be easy. I was submitting manuscripts to the slush pile for years (I think my very first dates to the late 90’s) before it dawned on me to actually take a creative writing class.

But after I did, I realized that my work revealed an ignorance of the industry, and that I had some learning to do if I wanted it to appear professional and have a chance at success.

© K.G. Campbell
It took 4 or 5 years I’d say from that point, of conferences, workshops and writing/illustration classes before I secured myself an agent and a 2 book deal with Kids Can Press. I could have maybe, maybe arrived at my destination more quickly, had I not been juggling (like most of us) a full-time career and the other commitments demanded by life.

The nature of the beast means that any author’s first book will make their arrival on the scene seem “sudden.” But in my case no, it didn’t happen overnight I’m afraid. The good news is that dedication can eventually pay off, and here I am.


How did you learn that FLORA & ULYSSES had won the Newbery Award, and what was your first reaction? Is the process for illustrating a novel similar to illustrating a picture book? 

Well I am still a kidslit newbie. I’ve never been a teacher or a librarian or a book seller. I don’t even have kids. So hard though it may be for most of you to believe, I had no idea when the Newbery/Caldecott awards are announced.

K.G. Campbell tweets about illustrating FLORA & ULYSSES
I live on the west coast and happened to arise rather late that day, so was way behind the curve. My email and voicemail were unusually filled with people conveying their warmest congratulations. But I had no clue what for.





I called my agent first (as there were several increasingly “energetic” messages from her), and learned the incredible news.

My initial reaction was of course, unbridled elation. But I confess (and I can say this because I’m not the author), I wasn’t that surprised. When I first read the manuscript I understood immediately that it was something extraordinary. An extraordinary story by an already extraordinary author. Does that make it extra extraordinary?



But then, I was a devoted DiCamillo groupie, so take that highly subjective opinion for what it’s worth.

I did know with absolute certainty however, that for me, illustrating this book would be the opportunity of a lifetime. And in that, I was not wrong.

The process for illustrating any book is essentially much the same. Determining what parts of it - what words - are to be illustrated. Character studies. Revisions. Sketches communicating composition, content and pose. Revisions. Clean, detailed drawings with facial expressions. Revisions. Final art. Revisions (sometimes)!




How does illustrating your own stories, like LESTER’S DREADFUL SWEATERS, TEA PARTY RULES and THE MERMAID AND THE SHOE, differ from working on someone else’s stories?

One word. POWER! Evil leer.

All of the same checks and balances are in place. Marketing might have some input regarding the age-appropriateness of character or style, or the commercial appeal of the cover. The art department might express concerns about design and printing technicalities: page breaks, cropping, image/text layout etc. Editing might have me revise sketches based on any number of story-telling concerns.

But on the whole, I enjoy a greater sense of autonomy. There is no other creator involved, so no one’s expectations to fulfill other than my own.



Spread from THE MERMAID AND THE SHOE


What projects are you working on now?

I am currently illustrating a Candlewick picture book titled ALIENS GET THE SNIFFLES TOO by Katy S. Duffield (FARMER McPEEPERS AND HIS MISSING MILK COWS) due for release next year.

I’ve also contracted with Random House to illustrate a 2016 picture book,  WHO WANTS A TORTOISE, by Dave Keane (JOE SHERLOCK)) and another the following year, WEE SISTER STRANGE by Holly Grant (THE LEAGUE OF BEASTLY DREADFULS).


from THE MERMAID AND THE SHOE © K.G. Campbell

And I’m also deep into my own first middle grade novel (maybe younger YA, not quite sure yet). The working title is A SMALL ZOMBIE PROBLEM, so anyone who knows me can figure out roughly what direction that has taken. I haven’t sold it yet; still cleaning it up with my agent before getting it out there. But I’m excited about it.

So, a pretty full plate for the foreseeable future.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?

Educate yourself in your craft of course. Hone your skills and be as good as you can be.

But educate yourself too in how that craft may be applied to the kidslit industry. Let me repeat that word: Industry.




Remember that while publishers are peopled by the educated and discerning, they are not art galleries or museums. They have bills to pay. Big ones. And as such, they have no choice but to cater to the marketplace. So know that marketplace.

Is what you create something that can sell? If not, figure out a way to re-package it in a way that still expresses what you’re all about, but is more accessible to others. The more realistic and practical you are about your product, the quicker you’ll find a buyer for it.


© K.G. Campbell



What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Well I was born in Kenya, but I think probably most people know that by now. My Scottish parents were living and married there, during the last gasps of Empire. Then I happened.

How about the fact I can’t whistle? No idea why. I’ve been trying for, well, a long time. But nothing!

Anchovies on your pizza – yes or no?

Absolutely yes!

That another person even thinks to ask the question makes me feel so much less alone!

Ha! Thanks so much for joining us today, K.G.!





Keith G. Campbell was born in Kenya, but raised and educated in Scotland. He graduated with a Master’s degree in Art History from the University of Edinburgh. After trying on several careers, Keith eventually returned to his early passion of writing and illustrating stories. He is now a full-time author/illustrator and lives in California. You can visit his website, www.kgcampbell.com.

10 comments:

  1. Love the advice and your work! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Fabulous advice to know the industry and adjust to make your product marketable!

    Keith, great blog! Love your illustration style. Dark is the new light - at the end of the tunnel.

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  3. As usual, I will immediately fall in love with people who like anchovies on their pizzas! LOL!

    This: "dedication can eventually pay off" -- I'm tattooing that on my arm so I can see it every time I sit down to write or draw (or, every time I DON'T sit down to write/draw and I really should be sitting down to do so).

    And finally, the half-shaved squirrels...OMG! I love them. I'm inspired to go out and capture one of our too-many squirrels and shave it.

    Thanks for this awesome interview, K.G. and KidLit411!!

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  4. Thanks so much for the interview, Keith! You're the best!

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  5. Great interview! Glad you picked your pencil back up after trying other careers. Congrats on all your successes!

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  6. One of the spreads in Lester's Dreadful Sweaters is a personal all time PB favorite! Thanks for the inspiring interview!

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  7. Great to learn more about K.G., kidlit411 have a great taste in children's authors and illustrators as well as pizza :-) I admire how K.G. decided to follow his dream realistically, educating himself and learning more about the industry. I am looking forward to the new books!

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  8. Absolutely inspiring! Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Love this interview! Love seeing all the sketches, too.

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  10. Loved your writing in this interview!

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