Jim Harris Talks About Illustrating...
The Three Little Javelinas
One day I was reading an Arizona newspaper and I saw this very nice comment from Matthew, at Pomerene Elementary School in Arizona, about The Three Little Javelinas…
“My favorite book is “The Three Little Javelinas” because it has funny pictures and no one gets eaten.”
Well, that’s how I feel about The Three Little Javelinas, too!
But there is another reason I like this book: It’s given me lots of chances to visit schools and meet teachers and kids who have amazing art of their own. One thing we talk about on school visits is references and models. Because it’s hard to make up realistic-looking characters out of thin air, many artists (including me) take photographs of their friends and family to use as references while they paint. Other times I just remember somebody from my past (or present) and start doodling with that image floating around in my brain.
Of course, that brings up the question… ‘Who are those three little javelina characters, really?’
Well, now, let me think…
I’m not sure exactly who the first little javelina is. I think he’s somebody I knew in grade school. Very friendly… but clueless about coyotes!
The second little javelina -- the tall, confused-looking one -- is me. I just got out a mirror and painted what I saw. If I come to your school, you will see what I mean.
And the heroine… snazzy little miss #3 javelina herself… is taken after one of my favorite old-time celebrities, Dale Evans. It wasn’t easy to take a javelina’s natural proportions and turn them into a character as classy as Dale Evans… but I did my best.
Another question kids ask is… How long does it take to paint the pictures for a book? I never know what to say… because it’s always different. But one thing’s always the same: All the illustrations start out with a rough sketch. Take a look at these sketches I found in my files:
Pretty rough, aren’t they. The art director for The Three Little Javelinas had to be a trusting soul to believe that these would turn into a nice book... but fortunately he took that leap of faith!
Sometimes I like to play little jokes on my readers. Often the joke is a hidden message that you can only understand if you know an important clue.
One of my favorite jokes is to put a famous painting on the wall in one of my characters’ houses. The joke is that the painting is changed to be a parody. (A parody is a funny version of a serious piece of art.) You won’t know my parody is a joke... unless you’ve seen the famous painting.
In The Three Little Javelinas the joke is a parody of a famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. He’s one of my favorite artists... and if you know his most famous painting, you’ll get the humor in this scene from inside the third little javelina’s house. It’s a private joke between you and me: “We both know this little bit of art history... YEAH!!!”
Another joke I like to share with readers is the Harris mouse. We live on an old farm, and there are a LOT of Harris mice, let me tell you. I am constantly leaving little hints for them that they should stay OUTSIDE, but mice aren’t good at taking hints. So I have taken to putting some of my mouse friends in my books. Sometimes I have them doing things that I would like to do if I were in the painting. (In one book a Harris mouse flushed the toilet while a plumber was trying to fix it. Very naughty!) Other times, the Harris mice just peek out from unusual places... as they do at my studio!
At first I didn’t know the Harris mice would be so popular, but it’s gotten to the point that when editors send back their comments on my rough sketches, they very often say “Please put a mouse on EVERY page!” (Which I am very happy to do!)
One of the very first times I ever put a Harris mouse in a book was in this painting from The Three Little Javelinas. See how cheeky he is!
Well, I hope you enjoy the three little javelinas (and their house mouse) as much as I enjoyed painting them. Happy reading!
Images and Text © 2009 Jim Harris. All Rights Reserved