There are countless reasons to fall in love with Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller's children's book series, Nightmares! The New York Times best-selling books are funny, smart, wise — and beautifully illustrated. The artist, Karl Kwasny, is a 31-year-old who lives in Australia.
BuzzFeed had the chance to catch up with the artist over email and talk about his creative process behind the most recent illustrations for Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic, the second book in the trilogy. Here's what he had to say:
When did you start illustrating?
Karl Kwasny: I've been drawing on and off since I was a kid. I drew a lot when I was really young and throughout primary school, but I was more into Photoshop and graphic design when I was a teenager. When I got to university, I studied graphic design because I thought it was a safe career choice, but deep down it wasn't what I ultimately wanted to be doing with my life. So, towards the end of my time in college I put a lot more effort into the illustration side of things and gradually started trying to get work as a freelance illustrator.
What made you want to get involved with illustrating the Nightmares! series? What do you like most about it?
KK: An art director from Random House got in touch with me and showed me a brief they had put together for Nightmares! It had a short summary of the story along with a bunch of example images to give an idea of the aesthetic they were after. They described it as "Tim Burton meets Goonies."
When I saw that it was Jason Segel's first book, I was both excited and a bit nervous. I mean, it would be foolish to turn it down, but a project like this can be pretty daunting. I think the thing I like most about Nightmares! is the idea behind it, that it's okay to be afraid, and that if you overcome your fears you can defeat your nightmares. Hopefully that's an idea that resonates with kids. I also like that it has a lot of Jason's personality in it. It's very kind-hearted.
What's your inspiration behind the illustrations you create for the book? How do you decide which scenes or characters you want to include?
KK: In my experience, most of the scenes I illustrate are chosen by the editor and author. Basically I'm just provided with a big list of illustration descriptions. Sometimes these come with a manuscript, and sometimes not. With the first book, we were working with a very tight deadline and had to shuffle some illustrations around and cut some out. Time is always a factor when you've got a lot of illustrations to do. As far as style and inspiration goes, I'm drawing in my usual style, but I'm trying my best to capture what Jason has in mind.
Can you talk about your artistic process? How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
KK: The artistic process for the cover and the interior illustrations is pretty similar. First the art director sends me a brief. Then, I do scribbly rough sketches with my initial ideas and send it to the art director. Once they give me feedback, I move on to a tighter sketch. Then, I print it out, tape it to the back of a piece of watercolor paper, and paint it with ink and watercolor. Once that's done, I scan it and finish it up in Photoshop.
Random House had already come up with a basic composition they wanted for this cover — the serpentine line of kids heading into the Tranquility Tonight store — but they hadn't included a background, so I needed to figure something out. I wanted it to seem like the store was situated in a town, so I added some buildings and a curving cobblestone street in the foreground to give the image some dimension. I sent the sketch to them, and they liked it and gave me the go-ahead. I finished it up over the course of a week or two.
The cover image is actually a composite of a few different images. It's a handy way to work because it allows for things to be shifted around at the later stages. I worked on the characters, background, and type separately.
What do you think the illustrated images add to the Nightmares! series?
KK: I remember how much I loved illustrated books when I was little. I just hope kids enjoy looking at them!