How This Bestselling Authortrator was Inspired by His Daughter
By Kristelle Bechayda
Some children, despite their young ages, already know what they want to be when they grow up, but not Jeremy Tankard. Becoming an author of children’s books wasn’t part of his plan when he attended art school at Alberta College of Art and Design, but circumstances eventually led him to publish his first picture book back in 2007.
From magazines to children’s books
Having spent the first five years of his career as an illustrator for several New York magazines and freelance projects, Jeremy has often received feedback on how his works are greatly suited for children’s illustrations. It was only while reading a book to his daughter, an activity which he enjoyed, that he realized he wanted to try illustrating for children’s books.
“So I took a bunch of my favorite freelance illustrations I’ve done, mailed them to Scholastic Press, Penguin Books, and Harper Collins with the hope that they would respond. And they all wrote back immediately,” he says. It was the deal from Scholastic Press that stood out. Having previously met the editor, Jeremy was encouraged by her to also try his hand at writing. “She told me I was a writer and I needed to try writing. So I started writing. I wrote a lot of books. She said, ‘If this doesn’t work, then we’ll talk about finding you a book to illustrate.’”
Though Jeremy wasn’t convinced with the samples he sent to her, one of them was published as his first picture book. Titled Grumpy Bird, the story tells the journey of a bird as he deals with his temperament. It took him a year to finish his first project with Scholastic Press, which was later followed by Boo Hoo Bird and Hungry Bird in 2009 and 2016, respectively.
In going about his writing process, Jeremy admits he looks at the story’s entertainment value more than anything else. “For me, it’s all about entertainment. I think first the book has to entertain children because if they’re not entertained, why are they going to pay attention? I want them to read my books and have a positive experience with them and, with hope, they will learn something in the process,” he says.
Jeremy has also collaborated with other authors and illustrated the picture books Piggy Bunny by Rachel Vail, It’s A Tiger! by David Larochelle, Melvis and Elvis by Dennis Lee, and Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds.
Finding an artist’s identity
Jeremy has been drawing since he was a child. With him and his family having to move from one place to another, drawing became his safe place when he couldn’t maintain much of his friends. In high school, he was tapped by his drama teacher to make posters for an upcoming production and that was when Jeremy realized he could turn his hobby into a living.
“Both my parents were willing to encourage me to pursue that by going to university and studying arts. They hoped I would grow away from the desire,” Jeremy says. “At the end of the day, I learned so much about myself in art school. I found that I had something I wanted to say but I didn’t know how to say it.”
When asked about his tips for children who wish to pursue a career in illustrating, Jeremy suggests for them to draw what interests them and to keep an open mind. In terms of developing their skills, imitating the styles of their favorite artists is a good way to start before they can come up with their own techniques.
“Finding your own identity takes a long time. I encourage kids when they ask if they could copy other artists. I know it’s not the politically correct thing to say, but I think you learn when you do it by imitation,” he says. “You find the illustrators you like and you copy them. At a certain point, you have to branch out from that but that’s a really good starting point, because you can learn from them how to draw.”