Sunday, April 20, 2014

Words and Images

In 2011, when I learned that my first book -- SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GRAVE -- was to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, I immediately wanted to know what the publisher had in mind for illustrating the novel.  As a former art major, this mattered to me.  I felt that a mystery novel set in such wonderful locations as New York City, Mont St. Michel, London and Stratford-upon-Avon deserved proper illustrations.  My editor informed me that a gentleman by the name of Mark Edward Geyer would be providing the interior illustrations for the book.  At the time, I was not familiar with Mark’s work, so I immediately Googled his name.

The first thing I learned was that Mark had provided illustrations for two Stephen King novels -- ROSE MADDER and THE GREEN MILE.

My life, at that point, was complete.

I had grown up reading Stephen King.  I adored Stephen King.  His book -- ON WRITING -- is one of my most treasured resources as a writer.

Needless to say, I was a bit excited.

And then, to make things even better, I learned that Mark Edward Geyer lived in Atlanta -- just a short trip from my home in Warm Springs, Georgia.

I contacted him and set up lunch.  We met at a small restaurant in Atlanta.  I was instantly charmed.  His passion for art, for illustration and for writing was clear.  In the last three years I have come to know Mark not just as a colleague, but as a friend.  Moreover, the illustrations he has provided for my books have brought them to life in a way I could not have expected.  They are timeless renderings which capture the mood and whimsy that I so desperately wanted to express in my novels.

Illustration and art, as I learned, are in his blood.

Mark comes from a line of French Canadian artists. His mother, Joan Lavigueur Geyer, has exhibited at the Smithsonian and The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  His maternal grandfather, Roch Oliver Joseph Charles DeLage deLavigueur, was a landscape artist and architectural draftsman.

Mark received his B.A. in Studio Art from Florida State University in 1979, and then spent many years as an architectural renderer. Upon breaking into the publishing market, he started out illustrating horror novels and, as noted above, is best known as the illustrator of Stephen King’s ROSE MADDER and THE GREEN MILE.   Fortunately for me, he is now illustrating for middle-grade novels. He has worked on two middle-grade series: THE INQUISITOR'S APPRENTICE and its sequels and THE SHAKESPEARE MYSTERIES. He is also providing illustrations for the “Who Was” series by Grosset & Dunlap, his work appearing first in the book WHO WAS ULYSSES S. GRANT?  

Mark is a busy man with tight deadlines.  As such, I was somewhat hesitant to ask him to answer a few questions about his craft.  As usual, however, he was ever so gracious.

What lead you to become an illustrator?

A love of pen and ink and a love of drawing. I started out as a fine artist, doing landscapes in pen and ink. Then I got into editorial illustration, product illustration, architectural rendering, and finally, book illustration. I had always wanted to contribute to books because of how well interior illustrations are suited to ink and because of the permanence that your work has once it’s in print.

How would you describe your style of illustration, and how did you develop your style? 

I never set out to acquire or shape a particular style. A style emerged naturally for me.  I’ve always just tried to make the most powerful and handsome images possible. This is a matter of heeding instincts in steering a piece so that it strikes the deepest possible chord in me once it’s finished. I guess I would describe my work as looking old-world or classical, and, although that’s a genre that I love, it’s not a genre that I set out to emulate.  

What illustrators/artists influenced you and why?  

My earliest and strongest influence was my mother, her artwork, and her high standards. I wanted so badly to draw like her when I was a kid. I especially liked anything she did in pencil, charcoal, pen and ink or ink washes. My mother’s father was an artist and my mother had saved some of his work—sensitive landscapes in pencil and dry watercolor. The sensitivity of his work was a big influence on me. Also, when I first started showing my work in art galleries in 1978 in the little town of Orange Park, Florida, there was a local artist named Teddi Jo Ryan and I was in love with her pen and ink and pencil work.

When you read a manuscript for the first time, what are you looking for as an illustrator?

I am looking for scenes and details and moods that light me up. I am wondering what I can do to enhance the work.  This is a fun phase because I always reread the piece a second time as I daydream about what would make the best illustrations.

What's the biggest challenge in bringing a book to life in illustrations? 

The biggest challenge comes when I am commissioned to do only one illustration for a novel: a title frontis or frontispiece.  This one drawing has to be a counterpoint to the author’s words. Not being a fan of collages or montages (these to me always end up having a dated 1970s look), the challenge is to distill the book down to one scene that I feel strongly about and hope that the editor and author approve of my idea.

More information about Mark Edward Geyer can be found at his website:  You can also follow Mark on Twitter at @mrkgyr.

Deron Hicks lives in Warm Springs, Georgia with his wife Angela, daughter Meg and son Parker.  His first book - SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE -- was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children in September 2012.  His second book in the series -- TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS --  was published in October 2013.  You can follow Deron at Facebook or Twitter.

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