Friday, November 20, 2009

Meet illustrator/author Tim Davis

I’m excited to welcome illustrator and some-time author, Tim Davis. I met Tim at the Highlights Foundation Writer’s Conference in Chautauqua, New York, this past summer. Tim is an affable person, and always has a smile ready.

Q: Although you’re primarily an illustrator, you also have writing credits. When did you start writing?

Tim: I was working as a staff illustrator for Bob Jones University Press when the other illustrators elected me to talk to the BJU staff writers about the problem of not enough action in their stories. I talked to Becky, who was a good friend at the time, and told her, “We’re having trouble with the stories you’re giving us. We need more action so that we can make better illustrations.” In a bit of a huff, she replied, “If you think can do better, then do it yourself.” Well, I’m always up for a challenge, so I wrote my first story, “The Great Electric Eel”. It was published in the 3rd grade reading curriculum and I also got to illustrate it. Becky was so impressed that she had me over for spaghetti dinner (like the character in my story) and eventually married me.

Q: Tell us more about your publishing history.

Tim: I had several more stories published with BJU Press, maybe 10. But I was best known for my “Mort and the Sour Scheme” story. I got lots of letters from kids and a taste of “fame”.
One day at work, as I was laying out an early chapter book by someone else, I saw how the author had written it, the structure used, and I thought that I could do it too. Subsequently, while hosting at a conference that lasted a week, and I had a lot of free time sitting at a desk. So, while I was there, I wrote the first draft of Mice of the Herring Bone. I submitted it to BJU Press, but it was rejected.
Five years later, BJU Press wrote back to me and said they now wanted the story. Soon it became their #1 title. I was freelancing as an illustrator and living in Indiana when this happened. My pastor’s wife was a teacher and wanted me to present it to all of the 2nd grade classes at her school. They liked it and kept talking about what happens next. Should there be a sequel? I wrote the second book, Mice of the Nine Lives, and dedicated it to those kids. I just kept writing the series about Charles and Oliver. The last two books are actually one story. When I wrote it, I forgot to double space and had to split the manuscript in half, and it became Mice of the Westing Wind, Book 1, and Mice of the Westing Wind, Book 2. Later BJU Press asked me to work on a video of Mice of the Herring Bone. That came out in 2007.
I also have two other books, Tales from Dust River Gulch and More Tales from Dust River Gulch. In July 2007, the Electric City Playhouse in Anderson performed an adaptation of these two books. It was a little surreal seeing my work on stage.

Q: Tim, how did you end up working with the Highlights folks?

Tim: While I was living in Indiana, I submitted some art samples to Highlights. Jody Taylor, an art director there, called and said that Highlights really needed more Hidden Pictures illustrations. Hidden Pictures have been a feature in Highlights since its first issue, and children have to find pictures of objects hidden within the illustration. My first one was a complete failure. Jody coached me through the next one. I’ve done 350 Hidden Pictures since then. So that puts me in the top 10 of all Hidden Picture artists of all time. It’s nice to be in the top ten in something. Through my work with Hidden Pictures, I got invited to the annual Illustrators’ Party that Highlights hosts each October in Honesdale, PA, their editorial headquarters. The first one I attended was in 1996.

Q: Tell us about the award-winning article you had published in Highlights.

Tim: Highlights had become a regular client for me. I’d done a Hidden Picture about the North Pole which had penguins and polar bears in the same picture. Jody Taylor called me and told me my error: Penguins are at the South Pole and polar bears are at the North Pole. Because of that error, I did more research and that led me to write the article, “Poles Apart,” about the differences between the North and South Poles. That article was named Article of the Month for May 2005 and I received a pewter platter award.

Q: So, do you prefer illustrating over writing, or writing over illustrating? Why?

Tim: Generally illustrating, because that’s usually an assignment, and I can expect to paid for it! I’ve always considered myself more illustrator than writer. The main appeal to me in writing is to create a story from scratch. It’s more of a starting point than illustration is.

Q: I understand that most of the time, publishers have their own illustrators that they use. How did you come to publish and illustrate your own books?

Tim: I was already an illustrator for my publisher, so I didn’t have to break that barrier. It was just getting them to think of me as a writer. But after publishing several short stories with them, I think they knew I was serious about writing.

Q: I see that you do a lot of public speaking and school visits. How do you fit these into your busy schedule, and what are the rewards for you personally?

Tim: I just returned from five weeks as an artist-in-residence at Webb school in Knoxville, TN—primarily a teaching position. Then I opened up a children’s illustration exhibit at our gallery last night. Whew! Now I’m playing catch-up with the freelance work I’ve got. We just have to make the time to do things that are worthwhile. Being connected with children is not only inspiring, but keeps me in tune with how my audience thinks—what they enjoy.

Q: What two pieces of advice would you give to an illustrator trying to break into the market?

Tim: It’s important to draw with confidence, and that only comes with lots of practice—that’s first and foremost. Then try to develop a style that is yours, so that even when you diverge from it a bit—people still know who it’s your work. That can take some time.

Thanks, Tim, for being a guest on my blog today. Tim’s works can be ordered: through him (as his own distributer) or from BJU Press, Greenville, SC and he can be found at these websites:, and


Unknown said...

Very nice interview, and you're right, Katie, he does have a "ready" smile.

I'm a little red-faced to admit that Highlights is my reading preference in Doctor waiting rooms...and I love those hidden image pictures. I've actually been known to stuff an issue in my purse so I could finish it. *lol*

Oh my gosh, now I've admitted to being a thief.

My grandson loves books now, and without Illustrators like time to make those words he can't read yet come to life, he'd be losing out on so much. Thank Goodness for people like Tim who can draw and share their talent.

Hey, I do a mean stick person.

Unknown said...

Katie, thanks for a great interview.

Tim, I love the story about how you met and married your wife.

It sounds like you fell into some of your best assignments. But, I'm sure you worked very hard to get where you are today. God bless.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I haven't seen such terrific illustrations since I was a kid. My brother is an artist, but lives too far away from me now for me to peek over his shoulder and watch. Thanks for sharing Tim with us, Katie. Excellent interview.

Frank Sansone said...

Nicely done interview. I knew that Tim had done a lot of illustrations over the years (from my time at BJU), but I did not realize that he had done so much writing as well.