Author-Illustrator Interview: Thomas Aquinas Maguire on A Growling Place

Thomas Aquinas Maguire on Thomas Aquinas Maguire: “Thomas Aquinas Maguire is the author and illustrator of A Growling Place (Simply Read, 2007). He was born, raised and educated in Rochester, New York; and currently lives in Milwaukee. His first book was conceived of and produced in Denmark where he also worked for The LEGO Company as a toy designer.

“Thomas is creating a variety of new books for 2008 and 2009. He develops exhibits with Discovery World and teaches drawing and illustration courses at The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.”

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer and an illustrator? How did you come to each? Where did you study and/or otherwise develop your skills?

I was professionally trained as an Industrial Designer at RIT in Rochester, New York.

At the end of my second year of study, I found myself working as an intern toy designer for Fisher-Price. I absolutely loved it. I focused the remaining two years of my studies at RIT towards toward a career in toy design, and upon graduation, I flew across the ocean to Denmark and got a job with LEGO.

In Denmark, I had a lot of time to myself, I used this time to educate myself in picture book creation and spent almost every evening drawing, writing, and imagining.

Congratulations on the release of A Growling Place (Simply Read, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

A Growling Place is my first picture book. It’s about nighttime and tea, wind gusts and windows, feathers, birds, blankets, bears, bedtime and a little girl named Aril who befriends all of these things.

What was your initial inspiration?

I would have to say loneliness–and I don’t mean that in a sad way. To an imaginative mind, loneliness can be a great collaborator. I remember most of my childhood being in the company of my brother and sisters, but I also clearly remember (especially before my little brother roommate was born) the lonely and imaginative moments before sleep.

The isolation that I experienced in Denmark evoked those same quiet imaginative moments familiar from childhood. Loneliness became a great friend to me, and, in many ways, A Growling Place is about just that.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

It took about three years from the very first sketch to the publication of A Growling Place. I had actually just abandoned my very first attempt at a picture book manuscript called “Cricket Nights.” I began A Growling Place by experimenting with a new technique using tea washes and graphite crosshatching in my sketchbook. Some of the colors in the first illustration from A Growling Place are actually painted with tea!

While living in Europe, I had the opportunity to expose myself to children’s literature history. I studied the work of my favorite illustrators from childhood, including of course, Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey. I traveled and saw some original Beatrix Potter drawings in London. With my aunt, I visited the home of the Grimm brothers in Kassel. On my days off from work I would visit Hans Christian Andersen‘s birthplace in Odense.

After each trip, I’d settle back in at home with some tea and continue work on A Growling Place. It was probably one of the healthiest environments I could’ve been in at the time. Surrounded by the work of these storytellers, I went home each night and put their teaching to use.

A little bit later, I made the decision to move back to the U.S. and completed the rest of A Growling Place at my parents home in Rochester. They were wonderful to give me the whole downstairs to set up a little studio and get the thing finished!

I printed five sample books and sent them to some people that I thought would be interested. Dimiter at Simply Read Books gave me a call, and we pulled it all together with a great cover, a striking long format, and a beautifully crafted half cloth book construction. Simply Read Books did such a good job with it.

What were the challenges (literary, artistic, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

In the early stages of the book’s creation, I was diagnosed with an eye disease called Keratoconus. The disease affects the rigidity of the corneal tissue–the cornea loses the perfection of its shape and vision is blurred. My right eye began to lose it’s precision and continues to… This became a problem with some of the detail work that went into the illustrations.

The other challenge that I consistently find with creation is sustaining a mood. Before I can begin working on an established project, my mood must match the spirit of the book. This, at times, can be a great stumbling block, especially if the project stretches over years–as A Growling Place did.

Music helps me to find, sustain and revisit a mood. This is why I’ll sometimes spend whole evenings searching for perfect music. Sometimes, though, even with music, it can take me hours to transform my mindset.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning author-illustrator, what advice would you offer?

I’m not sure that I would. I feel that my motivations and methods for A Growling Place were right-on. If I had to translate the most important of my realizations from those three years into a piece of advice it would be this:

“Create work that you believe in: work that you want to see and that you believe is worth making. Completing a work that you truly respect is a greater reward than gaining the respect of others or finding publication.”

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

If I’m not at work, I usually have books or drawing on my mind, so this is a tough one.

Sometimes I’ll just sit in my chair and listen to music, or sit in my chair and think about things. I spend a lot of time boiling water and drinking tea–an almost unhealthy quantity of tea. I’ve also been very fond of my bicycle recently. Looking out of the window with a blanket is another favorite past-time. Video gaming is my guilty hobby.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’ve been working on a few new books. One is complete, one is nearly complete and the other is very young. In August, there should be a nice set of little companion stories for A Growling Place. After that you can expect something much different.