Ep.70: Storytelling for artists with Tom Booth

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Dec 11, 2017 •  Interviews

Tom is amazing illustrator, author, and art director originally from Pennsylvania, now living and working in New York City!

He has a degree in history and studio art and since 2008 he has been working for Scholastic, the publisher of educational kids literature in various roles, the latest one being an Art Director. On the side, he has worked with publishers like Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Workman Publishing, and Nicktoons.

He published his first children’s books “Derek Jeter Presents Night at the Stadium” and “Who Wins?”  in 2016 and in the summer of 2017 he published his latest book “Don’t blink”, inspired by his “girl & tortoise”  illustration which was part of the  #inktober2014 challenge.

In 2021 he successfully funded Pine – a story-driven game on Kickstarter!

Get in touch with Tom

Key Takeaways

“Do what you can’t. Focus on conquering that one thing you are afraid of!”

Resources mentioned

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Special thanks to Tom for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Tom Booth, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where I chat with inspiring artists five days a week. My name is Iva, and my guest today is Tom booth. And we chat about storytelling and working with publishers.

Tom Booth  

I had this moment where I joked to myself, I was like, I’ll never beat any of my characters in a staring contest, because you know, you’re looking right at them. I’ve never seen a picture book for kids in which the characters have a staring contest that moment where I was like, that’s that’s the idea,

Iva Mikles  

though, means an amazing illustrator and author, art director, originally from Pennsylvania now living and working in New York City. He has a degree in history and studio art. And since 2008, he has been working for Scholastic, the publisher of educational kids literature in various roles, the latest one being our director. On the side, he has worked with publishers like Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, Workman Publishing and Nicktoons, he published his first children’s book, Derek Jeter presents night at the stadium and who wins in 2016. And in the summer of 2017, he published his latest book, don’t blink, inspired by his girl and a turtle illustration, which is part of the Inktober 2014 challenge. So please welcome Tom booth. And let’s get to the interview. So welcome, everyone to the next episode of art side of life. And I’m super happy to have Tom here. Hi.

Tom Booth  

Hi. Thank you for having me. Oh, thank

Iva Mikles  

you for joining for sure.

Tom Booth  

Absolutely. And I wanted to just say right off the bat, I think this channel that you’ve created is awesome. And I love that you’ve done such a great job about getting people who are so creative, you know, to answer a lot of these questions and out in the world. So I just think you’re doing an amazing job. So thank you for that.

Iva Mikles  

Thank you. And I’m really happy that you took time and join us here and share your artistic story of like, Yeah, super excited. So let’s just dive right in. And maybe we can start like with your background, and you can share some of your stories from her childhood, how you go to art, and maybe when was the turning point for you like, Okay, I want to take this seriously.

Tom Booth  

Sure. So I am from outside Philadelphia, and I ever since I was like five or six, I wanted to draw because I was copying my brother, basically, my brother was constantly drawing and I was trying to, you know, relate to him. And so I would repeat what he was doing. And then he got kind of got more interested in sports and that kind of thing. And then I kept going. And ever since then I’ve just sort of done it constantly. I didn’t go to an art school. For it though. I went to Hamilton College, which is a liberal arts college, and I studied history. And I double majored in studio art, but it’s not a formal art school. So the classes I took weren’t very in depth. But I just sort of kept doing it. I did the cartoons for my college paper. And then after I graduated, I wanted to get into publishing. So I started working at Scholastic and I still work there today. And, and then I just kept doing stories at night. And eventually I caught the interest of an agent. And he was the one who kind of helped put me in front of the right kind of people to get some of my stories published. So there’s more details in there and more, you know, great people who helped me along the way. But it took time. So it wasn’t a fast track, let’s say

Iva Mikles  

so how many years was it for you? You know, from the time like, Okay, I will take the art more seriously. And until now.

Tom Booth  

So I think I was probably like 26 When I when I kind of sat myself down and was like, alright, you know, you you’re you’re working all the time. And you’re you’re you can do X, Y and Z, but you’re not really pushing yourself. So I think I started pushing myself around that time I tried to do a graphic novel. And I was so unfamiliar with that process that I had an agent and she This is my first agent and she I think could tell that I needed a lot of help. Like she saw the potential she saw that I could do it but I was just like, constantly, like, how do I do this? How do I do that? I was just sending her way too many questions and it just didn’t really work out. And then that I ended that relationship with her and then I was like really kind of at a low point where I’m like, I don’t think this is going to happen. I don’t think I’m going to get anything published, I was walking down the sidewalk in New York and like, it’s just really not a happy day. And and then I just kind of snap myself out of it and started to create some, actually, what would also happen at the same time is I started working on some new stories. But then I also participated in Inktober. This was in 2014, this is my first time that I did it. And I was so bummed out that I think I didn’t get in my head as much as I usually do. And I kind of just said, like, I’m just going to draw, like, that’s kind of what I love to do, I’m just going to really kind of go for this challenge, and draw what I don’t think I can draw. And it worked out really well, it was like, a very rewarding experience for me. And then some of the stuff that I drew in that challenge, ended up becoming like the seeds for some of the books that are now getting published this year, and, you know, there’s more to come. So it was kind of like one of those moments in life where you’re, you’re like, you can go one of two ways, you can either just accept that, like, this is a bad day, and I’m just going to be upset and not do anything about it. Or you can just kind of like tell yourself, life’s too short, snap out of it. Just get back into the groove and find a way to get yourself excited again. And that’s hard. It’s not easy to do. But it’s not impossible. So and so that’s kind of like that was like 26, I think 20 Yeah, like I was like, late 20s. When I decided like, Alright, I’m really gonna give this one more chance. And then luckily, that push kind of pushed me over, onto the next, you know, the next level. And so then I’m now published and have projects coming in that kind of stuff. So, you know, do or die kind of moment.

Iva Mikles  

Super cool. And before maybe we get to your project with you’re working on now. How was it with that Inktober that you started to create characters and stories when you said it was a starting point for the books? How do you go about starting a story? You know, like, do you have like some elements in mind or settings or like do throw a map for you know, your story.

Tom Booth  

So it’s different every time I think what happened with Inktober is I was just focused on creating illustrations that told some kind of story. And that’s kind of I guess, how I like to work in general, where I really, I’m not excited about something that I’m sketching or illustrating, if it doesn’t feel like it’s communicating some kind of moment or feeling or idea. So, within Tober, it was actually the second day that I drew this little girl on top of a tortoise, because I just seen a tore up photo of a tortoise earlier in the day. And I just thought they’re just so cool looking. And then I wanted to just have some contrast. I mean, this wasn’t a very, you know, revolutionary idea. It just was, like tortoises are slow, what’s fast, kids tend to be fast, because they have a ton of energy. So I’m just going to pair those two together. And I certainly wasn’t the first person to draw a kid on top of a tortoise. But anyway, so I had that drawing, and I just really liked it. And I thought, you know, there could be a story here. And then I went through like, three or four different ideas over the course of about a year, where I was like, what if the little girl hurts her ankle, and she, you know, can’t get home and she, you know, cops on the backfoot tourists to get a ride home. And he because he moves slowly kind of forces her to slow down and like look at the world. So I thought that might be a fun idea for a book, but then it just didn’t come together very quickly. And then I had more ideas. And eventually, I was working like 130 in the morning, drawing the girl in the tortoise in a different style. I wanted to try like a more fun style. And and then I had this moment where I joke to myself, I was like, I’ll never beat any of my characters in a staring contest, because you know, you’re looking right at them. And then I kind of was like, I’ve never seen a picture book for kids in which the characters have a staring contest. And that’s kind of like that moment where I was like, that’s, that’s the idea. And that’s kind of how it works for me in general. I think that you have a bunch of bad ideas and you you draw them all out you you write them all down. And then you just sort of sit with something for a while that you kind of feel might be right. And then you go over it 100 times in your head and then Eventually, a smaller idea or a simpler idea may come from that. And that’s usually kind of when I realized like, Okay, I think this is the version of that idea that will work. Yeah. So and when you

Iva Mikles  

started to create this story for this particular book, did you do a lot of sketches of this girl and how she might look in her, like, character look and feel and all of that, or you had like, right away, okay, this is how she would look?

Tom Booth  

Well, she actually actually have the original drawing, don’t mind. So she started like this. So this is, this is Inktober. And this actually, I gave to my niece, this hangs at our nursery, but I had to borrow it for an interview recently. And so I’m holding on to it currently, I just happen to have it with me. And so this is what it originally looked like. So you know, black and white and a little bit more detailed. And then eventually, I did it in like a more of a cartoony style, I guess, where it was like, I just wanted something that was a little more fun. I didn’t have the idea yet, I was just trying to see if another idea might come from a more playful style. So it was really kind of just experiment thing. And I think, by drawing it a couple of different ways. I was able to eventually kind of find the idea that worked. So to answer your question of like, I think I drew them a few different ways. But I was really spending more time thinking about dying, the dynamic of the girl and the tortoise and what the story could be. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

because a lot of young artists are starting artists sometimes have the issue like, Okay, how do I start with designing your character? You know, because you have to think about so many different things. Yeah, like, maybe you can give us some blank bullet points, what is your artistic process? Like, okay, how do you start? And how do you finish just like the the main points?

Tom Booth  

Yeah. So I think usually what happens is, if you have an idea for a story, there’s a good chance that you’re going to have like the beginning, or the middle or the end, or maybe you have the beginning and the end or the middle and the end, you tend to have one of a few of those components. And what I tend to do is, I will just take out like, eight and a half by 11 piece of printed printer paper, and just do really small thumbnails of the story, just to, you know, see how the story plays over all the pages and see the flow, see how the pacing is working. See if any moment or scene is slowing the story down, or is unnecessary. Like you can have an idea that like, let’s say you have a joke in your story that like you love and like you, all you can think about is like, the moment when your reader reads that joke and Haha, and it’s great. The problem is that sometimes that joke is getting in the way of a, a smooth reading, you know, like, it’s, it’s interrupting the flow of your story. And so you kind of have to really be critical of some of those early ideas that you’re really excited about. You don’t want them to get in the way of what the story could be. So they call it like, I think killing your darlings is the is the phrase. So it’s tough, it’s not easy. But that’s I think the reason why you start with that really thumbnail, really simple thumbnail drawing of everything, because then everything is so simple that you feel it’s easier to get rid of something. Whereas if you were to like do a full illustration, and then you have to trash it, that’s a little bit more upsetting. So I’ll start with thumbnails. And then once I have an idea of are a version of that idea that I think works, I tend to usually send it to my agent just to you know, see if he agrees that like the flow is there and then, but I don’t get him too involved. And then I’ll start defining what my characters look like and choosing my colors. So, you know, once I’ve sort of defined my characters and my colors, then I can really kind of get down to doing a final version. And then I’m lucky now because I have some publishers that I’m working with and they’ll will be able to sit down together and, you know, figure out what works best. But I think if you’re just starting out, you kind of have to just do your best put together like a full version of something. And then you know, I think if you’re approaching a publisher, have your manuscripts have your sample illustrations of you know what the book will look like. And then maybe create like a little paragraph summary of what your story is about and and that’s usually a good way to go. Getting ready to get an agent interested and then even a publisher, so Oh, perfect. That’s the process.

Iva Mikles  

So and when you mentioned like the the agent discovered you through working in Scholastic, right. So or was it through social media? Or how did you guys get in touch.

Tom Booth  

So it was a little unusual. So I actually, I’m working at Scholastic. But so I’m an art director there during the day. And but I don’t do anything like books like I, I’m in this division called National Partnerships. And I have create educational materials that go into classrooms and that kind of thing. So not books. And then what happened is that I tried the graphic novel, I had to shelve it, because it wasn’t working at the time. And then I was introduced to some people who wanted me to illustrate their book, they had just seen my work, I think, through like a friend or something like that. And they said, you know, we would love for you to illustrate this book. And I, that was when I had that moment where I was like, I can draw their book and I can do their project, or I can really kind of give it one more, try and do something that I want to do. And so I told him, I said, I really appreciate it. But I’m, I’m going to work on my own book. And they said, Well, what’s your book? And I told them my idea, and they said, Well, we like your book better. So we’ll help you. Yeah, we’ll, we’ll try and help you with that. And the book that we were going to work together on, it’s still, you know, we may it may see the light one day. But they were the ones who then introduced me to a publisher and the publisher, you know, thought that I would be good for a book that came out last year, which was for Derek Jeter. I don’t know if you know, Derek Jeter. He’s a baseball player. But I then got sort of assigned to that book as an illustrator. And that’s kind of where everything started to come together. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

really cool. Yeah. Because I started to wonder if we actually work together somehow, because I worked with scholastic through Lego are really in the books. But you said like, Oh, you don’t work with books, but I worked on the Lego Friends books. Okay. That’s why I was like, okay, so but we didn’t work.

Tom Booth  

So good. Yeah, no, I am. I’m mostly on the educational side. And it’s good, because I think that if I was doing books all day, I might give away some ideas, or you have to be careful when you’re when you’re working for a company. And you create a character that like you love and people love, and it doesn’t belong to you, you know, so something that you have to be careful of. And I think that that’s why my job is great, because I’m still in publishing. But I’m able to come home and do my second job, which is my own books. And, and that’s kind of just like, a nice break for me to have the two. So

Iva Mikles  

and so when you mentioned also like the agent and all of these, like networking, maybe how else do you promote your book? Or, like, how do you get yourself noticed, then, you know, just put the word out there?

Tom Booth  

Yeah, um, so it’s funny, it’s like, I think Instagram is my biggest channel. By but that’s just something that kind of grew over time, I that wasn’t a plan, in any mean. Like, it wasn’t. I was using Instagram as a way to get feedback. And also to get inspiration. I think that’s one of the things that it’s best for is you’re just constantly seeing the creative work of some pretty amazing people. And it just so happened that by participating in that people liked what I was doing. And then I was able to sort of put my work out there and like notify people being like, I have a book. I would love it if you could check it out. And so that’s part of it. My publisher, they put me on a book tour, which was amazing. And, and then the rest of it, I guess, is through Facebook. I’m just now starting to get more on Twitter. It’s hard, Twitter’s tough. It’s just, it’s hard to like because you’re excited about what you’re doing. And you love to share and that kind of thing. Like I love to share. And when you’re limited to 140 characters, it’s hard to like condense what you want to say. Because I ramble on case that wasn’t obvious. So yeah, so Instagram, I guess is the best channel for me.

Iva Mikles  

Oh, cool. Yeah, because maybe you can even do like some book reading on Twitch or YouTube or it’s a

Tom Booth  

good idea. Yeah. No, it’s a good idea. I actually really want to do that. I really want to get into YouTube and do some live stream drawing and that kind of thing. It’s just tricky with time and that kind of thing. So,

Iva Mikles  

but then on Twitch, maybe it’s better because you don’t have to do the editing as on you tube. Oh, yeah. Okay, so or just other live videos on Facebook or you know, like also Instagram because people are saying that next big thing how to get noticed or something like that, because also on Facebook, it’s they’re pushing live videos more than any other posts.

Tom Booth  

Oh really? Okay. Yeah, I did not know that

Iva Mikles  

it might be something new in the future like, but it might change, you know, as they change algorithms all the time.

Tom Booth  

I know. Well, I mean, I’ll definitely I’ll definitely look into it, I think it’d be a lot of fun, I just, it’s a matter of finding the time to do it at this point is the only challenge. So but yeah, I definitely wanna do that.

Iva Mikles  

And so how do you design your day? Or how do you plan your week or month when you’re busy with all the projects, you know, so how does it normally look like?

Tom Booth  

It’s It’s chaos. So I’ve watched a bunch of your interviews, and I know that there are a lot of people on here who have calendars and you know, notebooks and all of these very adult formal things, I don’t have any of that. I, I’m in a constant state of like, panic and anxiety, because I, I work full time. So like, my day would consist of me getting up and you know, getting to my office at like, let’s say, 839. And then I’ll get home probably around 637. And then I try to give myself like, an hour to like, decompress, and just breathe for a little bit. And then I kind of go right back to work. And what’s great is that right now I’m working with three publishers, outside of scholastic, and we’re all doing a bunch of really exciting projects together. The problem with that is that it means I have, at this point, I have five bosses. So I can’t Yeah, I mean, it’s, they’re all wonderful people. But they don’t really, I can’t say to one of them, oh, I can’t deliver that to you on Friday, because I have a deadline for this person doesn’t work that way, you know, so I have to, and sometimes they’ll come to you with something last minute where they kind of not last minute, but they’re, you know, when you’re getting close to that final art date. They’ll say we need you to turn this around really quickly. And that’s when things just get interesting. That’s where you really have to like, stay up pretty late. And so I’m working on that, to answer your question. I’m trying to organize my day a bit better. That way, I’m fitting in more like me time and, and just not rushing certain things. I think, ideally, I’m sure you, you’ll get to this, but like, the goal is to have more time during the day to work on the creative projects. And it’s moving in that direction. It’s just it’s I think it’s gonna take a little more time. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, definitely, because right now, your main income is your full time job, right? And then you have the other side incomes combining into that, or,

Tom Booth  

well, I’m, I’m sorry to interrupt you. What’s great is actually right now the books are the main income. It’s kind of crossed over. But I think because I’m just that chaotic, paranoid, you know, that’s how my brain works is I don’t want to do anything sudden, where it’s like, I’ve made it, you know, and like it’s happened and, you know, start wearing a cape and like, go do whatever I want. Like, that’s just not gonna, it’s not gonna work, and nobody wants that. So I think for right now, I’m very lucky. The books are doing well, and, and fortunately, more opportunities seem to be coming. But that could all go away tomorrow. So I don’t want to do anything. To sudden and, and just play it safe. You know, uh, you know, because I also just like to work and I think I like the fact that I can go into an office during the day and I have my co workers who I can talk to go and see and, and, and then I get inspired by them and come home and, you know, do the other creative work at night. So I think for right now, it’s it’s working. I don’t know how long I can do it though. Because it’s

Iva Mikles  

sometimes it needs some rest as well.

Tom Booth  

I need to sleep. Yeah. So I’m working on that part.

Iva Mikles  

So how many hours a day do is leaving?

Tom Booth  

Um, there was a moment i It’s much better now. But I had two books that came out last year. And there was a delay with one and because originally the way it was scheduled, was that they weren’t going to overlap. But then because there was a delay. They both happened at the same time. And I for I counted it was for 61 days. I was going to bed at, like 230. And then I would get up at around 715. And that’s working every day of the week, full time and then the books at night. And that was, that was tough. That’s okay to do, I think like, for me, at least, you know, for a couple of weeks, but when it was for such a long period of time, that was challenging. So, now I’m much better about it. Now I know how to make sure that I’m in touch with all the people who I’m working with. And I’m saying like, where do we stand with things? You know, what do you need from me? Do you have any concerns, that kind of thing? correspondences is a really big part of working in a creative field, I think that, you know, you need to be able to communicate with people clearly. And know your dates and that

Iva Mikles  

kind of stuff. So definitely, I know when to deliver and yeah,

Tom Booth  

yeah, yeah, cuz I think I think there’s a certain window where like, or a little bit of flexibility where, you know, they’ll understand if you need more time, but you definitely don’t want to push that, because they’ll kind of label you as someone who’s not easy to work with. And that will affect, you know, future projects. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, it’s like the saying, you either are, like, good at delivering on time, or you’re like, super amazing artist, or you are like good with communication and you care enough to have to. So either

Tom Booth  

Absolutely, right. That’s a great point. Yeah, you just, you know, it’s at the end of the day, it’s a job, you know, and you you’ve gotta you gotta deliver. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, and what is the thing, maybe you will learn over time from making the books or maybe which were like, the biggest struggles are like publishing actual physical product.

Tom Booth  

It’s so funny, because I think for so long, I didn’t think it was going to happen. So that now that it’s happening, like, I’m just happy, in general. So like, the idea of like, that part was really, I didn’t like that. I don’t feel like that’s happened. I will say, there have been moments where you feel very strongly about or I feel very strongly about a character design, for example. And all of a sudden, it’s called into question. And it’s called into question not by an individual, but like, teams of people. And so you’re, you’re all of a sudden, having to defend yourself and your idea to a large group of people. And you have to really kind of decide, you know, what battles you want to face, like when you want to fight, you know, I guess, because there are some moments, there are a lot of moments when you’re making a book, for example, where you’ll say, I totally see where you’re coming from, I’ll turn the trees from that shade of green to this shade of green. And it’s fine, it’s not a problem. There are other moments where like, you feel like something looks just wonderful as it is, and you would never think to change it, and then all of a sudden, someone’s like, we need to change that. And I find that the best way to handle those moments is to just do what that person or that that team of people is asking you to do. So that way you’re showing that you’re willing to consider. But then if you still feel strongly about what you originally did, that’s kind of where you put your, you know, you dig your heels in and you say, you know, I really want to keep it the way it is. And I think that that’s when you’ll, you’ll find a happy middle ground. Because I think people need to know, when you’re working with other people, and you’re a creative person, and you feel very strongly about what you do, that the people who you’re working with, may not have the same skills that you have. But that doesn’t mean that they’re less passionate than you are. They are just as if not more passionate, you know, sometimes, and they are just trying to make the best book, or illustration or whatever possible. And I think that those are those moments where it’s like you can really kind of just get really frustrated with people and be like, I don’t want to work with this person anymore. And I don’t think it ever really works out very well. When you do that. I think that you just have to be rational about it. You have to you have to have a conversation. It’s just you’ll never know when those things are going to happen. That’s I think the tricky part so you just kind of have to be prepared. I think a little bit.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Is there something else you would like advise young self before starting all the whole publishing art books and starting your art career something you wish you were me? Yeah. All right, you’re starting artists as well.

Tom Booth  

Yeah, I think I think it would be to not get too tied to a particular idea. And that, by that, I mean, you don’t have to give up on something, you just don’t want it to become an anchor, you don’t want to be tied down by something that you’re so passionate about that it’s getting in the way of you creating something else, and then maybe coming back to it. Like, that’s the thing, I think that’s actually pretty amazing about storytelling is that, you know, the stories you tell are very personal. They’re, they’re coming from a very personal place. And sometimes you have this amazing idea, but you maybe haven’t had the life experience yet to understand how to tell that story. And so maybe in that case, it’s best to and this is what I would tell myself, I would say, it’s not that it’s not a good idea. It’s, you know, it’s just that it’s not ready, and you need to let it go a little bit. And just get away from it for a while and buy a while, you know, could be yours, and then come back to it. Because it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s sure there’s a chance that someone could take it, but I don’t think that that’s something that people I think people worry about that too much. So I think that would be my advice would be don’t give up on your ideas, but don’t force them. Because if you force it, then that’s that’s when you’re really kind of damaging. What could be a great thing?

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, definitely. Because also, as you mentioned, like, even if someone will want to take the same idea or a copied, but there is no way that they will do it the same way as you, you know, like everyone has a certain style and ideas and stories in mind.

Tom Booth  

Absolutely. And the other thing is, and I’m sure, I mean, I think we’ve all heard this at this point is there are no new ideas, really, you know, like everything has kind of been done, but it hasn’t been done, the way you would do it. So you can you can tell any story you want, it will be your story. And it may have similarities to other ideas that are already out in the world. You don’t want it to be too similar, obviously, because of some copyright infringement, you know, that’s where it gets legal. But but it’s still personal to you. And I think that and this kind of goes in hand with the forcing, don’t force it idea is that people will feel when something is your story. And like it’s different because of this or that. Or they’ll feel this, this story doesn’t feel right. And that I think those stories are the ones that have been forced, those are the ones that have kind of been pushed forward when they weren’t ready. So patience is just a big a big part of it.

Iva Mikles  

Sometimes, yeah, we get like super impatient, especially as well. I’m like, I just want to have it done.

Tom Booth  

Yeah, cuz you’re excited. And that’s Yeah, yeah. And also coming back to an old idea that you maybe you come back to it, and it wasn’t working when you were last with it. And you’re like, this isn’t working and that enthusiasm is gone. And you kind of have to like figure out how to get yourself excited. Again, it’s not easy. You know, it’s that’s the hard part.

Iva Mikles  

So when we talk about also the struggles, maybe can you take us to your story of like the biggest struggles or most difficult moment? Was it the time when you were walking on the street in New York? Or was there other time? And maybe what do you learn from it?

Tom Booth  

It was a cloudy, rainy day. No. Especially over your head and

Iva Mikles  

just going with you. Yeah,

Tom Booth  

yeah. Geez. I think I think it would have been good. There are two answers. One is like the moment of writer’s block, or you have one of those creative blocks, and then you feel like they’re gonna last forever. But that’s maybe less significant, I think. Yeah, that day is a good example. It’s not the one example but it’s just a good example. It was just like I had poured myself into an idea and a story and done the I thought the best work that I had done to date for about two and a half years and it just kind of it didn’t really go anywhere and and so I was like I that was the day kind of where I made the decision like I’m I’m giving up I’m putting this down and gonna try something different for a little while. And what’s really funny about that is the moment I decided okay, I’m stopping is two things. One, I was walking down that gray dreary sidewalk and then raining eyes. It was raining and someone yelled at me and now I’m just and and I saw it’s really silly, but I saw like, this old beat up That Mercedes car that may have been abandoned. And then it was next to this like equally depressing tree that was like on its last legs and I was just like, Oh, where am I like, this is just like, everything about this moment is depressing. And then I thought like, those two things could be characters, you know, they’re, they look like how I feel. And I just all of a sudden, without even really realizing it, I was starting to think about another story. And it was kind of like, you expect to enter into this, like a bit of just like, I’m not going to get anything done, I’m giving up on something that’s so personal to me, and that I care so much about. And then as soon as you step away from it, like, now, I’m just going to be depressed for a while, but like, You, you, you just kind of have to keep your eyes and ears open, and you’re going to start to see other opportunities. And that’s, that’s really kind of, I think, how I would say is, the best way to get out of those moments is to just really and truly put something aside, you know, you can come back to it, you know, but just put it away somewhere that you won’t see it, and then you won’t be exposed to it. And then allow yourself to be open to new ideas. Because it’s not like that was a waste of time. You still did a ton of amazing work. And you grew just because it didn’t get put on a bookshelf somewhere doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable. So anyway,

Iva Mikles  

so it can come in at some point. Yeah.

Tom Booth  

And like I went back and looked at it the other day. I mean, it was the first time I think I looked at that story. And I don’t know, two years. And I was like, this isn’t that bad? Like this is? This is this is much better than I remember. It needs work. But you know,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, because so it doesn’t have to become a story right away. It can just be one piece of artwork, or a character and then it can become a story later, as you mentioned. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And if you think about like, either to hard moments or good moments, was there like a best advice you can think of like you ever received? And also the worst advice, either when you’re starting out or just along the way?

Tom Booth  

Yeah, I have, I have answers to both. So I think this is really important for me, is I think there is such a thing as good and bad mentors out there. People who you respect and look up to, and they can those people are capable of giving bad advice. So I’ll start with the good advice. Good advice came from my dad. My dad is an orthopedic surgeon. He he fixes people’s knees, and he’s incredible at it. And he has always pushed me to anytime you want to start anything 15 minutes a day, start there. No excuses. Just sit down and do it. And 15 minutes. That’s nothing, you know. And that’s basically a seed for devoting more time to that over over time. So like, start with 15 minutes, and then maybe a week later, bump it up to 30 minutes. We got for that, bump it up to an hour, you know, it’s like exercising, it’s like you’re just getting into a rhythm where you’re making this part of your routine. And it seems like such an inconsequential piece of advice. But I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gotten messages from people being like, how do I get started? How do I do this huge idea that I have, like I can’t possibly comprehend how long it’s going to take me to do something like that. 15 just 15 minutes today, start right now. And then over time, you will realize that big idea. So I think sometimes thinking small, like when you have a big idea, thinking small is a great way to start. So that’s a piece of good advice. Bad advice isn’t actually anything. There wasn’t a phrase or something that was said to me, per se, but I looked up to somebody and I’m not going to name names or anything like that. But I looked up to somebody when I was much younger. And it was a teacher of mine. And I explained that I was very interested in like children’s education and entertainment like Disney and all those kinds of things. And this was an after school meeting and this person basically said, Oh, that those stories aren’t very real, like they’re not based in the real world. And kind of like poked a pretty big hole. Well in this thing that I was very passionate about, and made me feel very embarrassed. And so I kind of stopped sharing the fact that I loved like Disney movies like, you know, it was just, it was one of those things where it’s this person who I looked up to, had an opinion that they shouldn’t have shared because they were a teacher. And, you know, they had a lot of influence over an impressionable kid like me. And so I guess, the point of telling that story is that, it’s hard to know when to spot something like that when you’re a kid. You know, because you’re a kid, you don’t have a ton of experience, you look up to people who are older than you, and some more than others, and you, you take their advice very seriously. But sometimes, people make mistakes, you know, this, this could have been an accidental comment, but you just kind of have to decide for yourself, or try to at least when you’re when you’re young, how important, something that you’re passionate about is to you. And sometimes you have to fight for it. So that’s a complicated piece of advice. But my point is just Just be careful. You know, what advice you follow? If that makes

Iva Mikles  

sense? Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Because also, if young people are just listening to Oh, you cannot leave from art, or you will be like starving artists, or is no evil, and all of these things, like, everything is possible, but you have to work hard for it. So it’s like, yeah,

Tom Booth  

yeah. And yeah, and that’s the other thing too, it’s like, do what you love, follow your dreams, follow your passion. I would never tell anybody to do to not do that. But you know, you have to get to work hard, you really have to kind of push yourself and not just for other people like like a publisher, for example. You should be doing it for yourself, you should be really kind of being like, I want to be the best at drawing courses, or I want to be the best. It’s like to get to that level to get to that point requires a lot of time and energy and impatience impatient. So

Iva Mikles  

Oh, we didn’t talk about the tools or mediums you use. Maybe you have something you know, like spatial you cannot live without,

Tom Booth  

I hire these other people to do my art. No, I’m just kidding. I have. These days, I do almost everything on a Wacom Cintiq. You know, drawing on the screen. I also been doing a lot on the iPad, like on the subway to work or during my lunch. And that’s been great. I think that iPad is getting pretty close to like procreate is getting really close to like Photoshop in terms of what you can do. I don’t know if it’s there just yet. But like the latest update shows that they’re very close, and they’re on their way. My favorite mediums though, if I had to choose I think are ink and wash. I would really love to do a book in one or both of those media. It’s just I also at this point, still want to get more books out into the world. So digital works for me right now. But I think my favorites are ink I think is my favorite. And then wash and then I do love digital. I mean, digital Photoshop is you can do some incredible things with Photoshop. So

Iva Mikles  

definitely, yeah, I love Photoshop as well. And I just really need to try procreate, because I’m just like bits and pieces, but everybody’s okay about it, how good it is. Oh,

Tom Booth  

it’s great. What’s really funny is I’m at that point. Now, you know, it’s all balanced, you know, in terms of doing digital versus more traditional medium. With procreate, I don’t know if you know, but if you draw a line and you don’t want to keep it, you just tap your fingers twice on the screen and it goes away. Yesterday, I was at work, and we were having a meeting and I drew something on the board to show show my team what I wanted to like, because we’re doing this program for one of our clients. And I drew a drew of face. And I was like, Oh, I’m sorry. And I just tapped the board twice. And I waited for it to go away. And then I was just like, everyone’s like, what are you doing? And I was like, nothing like red in the face. I’m embarrassed. But um, so that’s, that’s something I will say it’s like, one of the biggest benefits of working digitally is that you can just, you can erase everything. And you know, it’s so flexible and forgiving. But I do think there is such a thing as getting too reliant on that. So that’s one of those moments where I realized, alright, I need to spend some more time with like, ink and anguish to bring myself back down to some sort of reality. So

Iva Mikles  

definitely. So what are the projects you’re working on now something you can share, which is not confidential or something coming up in the future.

Tom Booth  

So I unfortunately can’t go into detail about a lot of the projects that are coming. I can tell you that there are two Five, coming over the next two years, and I can, I think I can just say their books and then also, but I can’t tell you what they’re about, unfortunately. And then at the same time, I’m working on a new picture book about a little girl that involves lemonade. And very excited about that. Funny story about that one is I saw these two little girls outside my building in New York, setting up a lemonade stand. This was the summer. And they were sisters. And they had just finished setting up their stand. And they the older sister was looking very professional and very, you know, ready to go. She had her business and she was, you know, this was it. And then her little sister was like, Can I help with, and she pointed to something, I don’t know what it was. And the big sister was like, No, I’m like, You’re just stand there. And I was like, Whoa, like, this is supposed to be this, like happy summer activity, kind of fun thing. And this girl was like, I’m starting a company, like a company, like she was like, I’m gonna be selling the most lemonade, and like, I’m in charge. And so that was one of those moments where you’re walking down the street, and you’re like, that could be an idea for something. So I’m working on a story that’s inspired by that now. And then I’m also working on a video game. Very early stages, it’s going to be a long time, I think before that sees the light of day. But I’m very excited. My wife and I, we both play. We’ve been gaming since we were younger. And so I had an opportunity to finally sort of break into that space. And so I’m, I’m just now dipping my toes. And it’s intimidating. It’s a lot of work. But I’m excited. So

Iva Mikles  

Oh, perfect. And let’s talk about the future future. And where would you see yourself in like five to 10 years, like your dream scenario? Like, what are the projects you’re working on? Or basically everything.

Tom Booth  

So the goal, hopefully, is to still be writing and illustrating books I do. I you know, I love that, it’s, it’s such a wonderful way to tell stories, just because I feel like the words, the pictures come together in such a beautiful way, you know, in picture books. So I’m hoping to still do that, and hopefully put a lot of valuable books out into the world for little kids, I would like to see a video game, you know, that I’ve done. That’s actually good, you know. And, you know, I don’t know how long this is going to take, I really hope it’s like, got to be five years ago. But that’d be horrible. But yeah, so I think within five years, more books, maybe a video game or two. And I still haven’t decided if I want to give up my job, because I think there’s something to having a full time job, and then being creative on your own time. Because I don’t have I’m not speaking from experience, because I’ve never gone full freelance on on or anything like that. But I think one of the benefits is that when you’re doing freelance, and you’re spending that creative energy on work for like a client, then there’s a lot of pressure on the creative work that you do, like I have to create to make money. And I’m lucky, whereas I have this full time job where I can say, like, I have that to fall back on. And when I have time to sit down and draw and create a story, are that kind of thing like that pressure is kind of off. Today, I don’t know yet if I want to not work, you know, full time like that.

Iva Mikles  

So we’ll see. I don’t know. It might be part time, you know? Yeah, yeah,

Tom Booth  

that would be certainly more reasonable. So yeah, definitely.

Iva Mikles  

And my last question would be about far, far future and I would like to know, what would you like to be remembered for in like, 100 years or more, you know, like rovers flying around and stuff.

Tom Booth  

I would like to be remembered for my logs. No, I’m just kidding. I doubt. Thank you. Thank you. No, I don’t know. I just finished reading. You know, told me younger, the illustrator and author and illustrator. I think he was German. He has a book. I don’t know if I don’t know, I thought I had to write here. It’s called the three robbers. And it’s a beautiful book. It’s an older book, you know, back when books could be a little scarier. You know, it’s harder to publish that kind of book these days. But he anyway, they fight in the publisher compiled a bunch of his books together. And I had a chance to read that collection and his books were just so They respected kids, you know, they respect what a kid can handle and how intelligent a kid can be. And also the design of his books are beautiful. So I think what I would hope for myself, when I’m six feet under, and there are robots flying around, is that I’ve at least put some books that are worth remembering out into the world. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But I feel like at the very least, if I can, like, look back and say that I tried, that’s what I would, I’d be happy with that.

Iva Mikles  

Definitely sounds really good. Yeah. Before we say goodbye, maybe you can share a last piece of advice or key takeaway, and then we’ll slowly finish.

Tom Booth  

Sure. I thought about this, I think I heard a good piece of advice. I can’t remember where it came from. But it was to do what you can’t. I feel like I see a lot of people on Instagram who, at least from like, an illustration standpoint, who, whenever they draw a person, let’s say, Bill, they may not spend a lot of time drawing the hands or the feet. And it’s because they’re hard to draw. And you’ll look at all their posts, and you’ll see like, great drawing, but like, you kind of skipped over the hands there a little bit. Yeah, I didn’t, or there, you know, like, you know, and, and you can tell that the person is struggling with that. And I get it, you know, it makes sense. But I think what I would argue or what I would say is focus on just drawing that one thing, you know, because if that’s what you’re struggling with, and like, kind of like face your fear, and the feeling you’ll get when you’ve kind of conquered that when you finally figure it out. And how it will then affect everything else that you do. The mindset that you’ll get from it is, is it’s a feeling that it’s hard to, it just feels so good. So it’s not my phrase, but do what you can’t just do what do the one thing that you’re afraid of? Or the five things you’re afraid of. Don’t get into a place where you’re just doing what you’re comfortable with. Because you’re you you’re getting better at what you’re already good at. So, yeah,

Iva Mikles  

that’s just stagnating. So yeah,

Tom Booth  

yeah, like, yeah, yeah.

Iva Mikles  

Perfect. Yeah. Thank you so much for being here.

Tom Booth  

Thank you. I was I hope I didn’t ramble too much, but I really appreciate this. Thank you. It was it was great.

Iva Mikles  

My pleasure. And then you shared lots of great deep so I’m really grateful for that. And thanks, everyone for joining and see you in the next episode. Bye everybody. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the third bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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