Sunday, December 26, 2010
Pure Creativity: An Interview with Tom Lichtenheld
Rare is the person who achieves legendary status in two fields in his lifetime. There's George Foreman, and there’s Tom Lichtenheld, art director extraordinaire and best-selling children's book author. In the third installment of the 100 Words Artists-In-Residence Series, we talk to Tom about ideas, freedom and his duo-tone hair.
1W: How is making children's books different from making ads?
TL: The ideas come from within, rather than from a client who's paying me to use my creativity to deliver their message camouflaged as entertainment. Of course, I have editors who have to embrace my ideas, but they're not dictating direction from the onset. So it's a more joyful process of pure creativity. And the logos are small. The downside of this freedom and control is that I'm absorbing more of the risk; if my books aren't interesting they don't sell, and I fail.
There are two great similarities between advertising and children's books.
1. A book has to have idea at its core.
2. You're communicating with people at the level of a third grader.
1W: What's the strangest thing a kid ever said to you?
TL: "How do you make your hair two colors at once?" (A little context here; I'm a graying, middle-aged man.) I also get a lot of notes from kids after doing school appearances. One of the gems is above.
1W: First Alex Bogusky leaves the business. Now you. Where have all the legends gone? What's wrong with advertising, fella?
TL: There's nothing wrong with advertising. In fact, I'm more amazed by it through the rear-view mirror. Much to the consternation of rationally-minded corporate leaders, advertising is a mysterious art form they're forced to sponsor; an art that keeps thousands of otherwise useless creative people in groceries while greasing the wheels of our economy. I love it and it's been very good to me. But I've always admired people who have multiple careers and am lucky enough to have found a second one for myself.
1W: Where do you get your ideas?
TL: From watching kids, thinking like a kid, talking with friends about silly little things. And I will often give myself an assignment; a brief. For instance, my recent book "Bridget's Beret" was a self-assignment. After my first five books, I realized I'd not created a narrative story, and I'd not written a book aimed at girls, so I wrote this book. Right now, my self-assignments are 1.) doing a wordless picture book, 2.) writing a book to be illustrated by someone who's a better illustrator than I am, and 3.) doing a book in black-and-white.
1W: What are you wearing right now?
TL: Red sweater from Target and cheap jeans, because the only other people in my studio are cats and they don't give a hairball about fashion.
Thanks Tom! Check out all of Tom's creations and books (they make great Christmas gifts) at http://tomlichtenheld.wordpress.com/
at 6:17 PM