Meet Norris Hall, the fantastic illustrator who helped bring the Maggie McNair books to life, who agreed to answer some questions so that others could get to know him a little better.
Q: Welcome and thank you! Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get started with illustrating?
A: I was born in the mid-twentieth century in a tiny town in Tennessee. I loved to watch cartoons on television and read comic books. So much so that I tried drawing the characters I saw. Then I tried drawing my own cartoons and characters.
Most kids stop doing that kind of thing around age 10. Fortunately for me, I never stopped. I had no art training in high school. I went to college and majored in art. I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN.
I spent time airbrushing T shirts and drawing caricatures for tourists after college until getting a job as the main graphics guy at a company that did school fundraising. It was at that job that I saw my first Apple computer. It was 1985, and I was fascinated with the potential of designing and making art on the computer. It was very primitive back then, but at the time, it was like I was “in the future”.
A computer in those days was way out of my budget, so after leaving that job, I turned to painting, doing craft fairs and getting work wherever I could. With the help of my wife, Linda, we were able to eke out a living and provide for our two girls. Eventually I got back to the computer when it became affordable and practical, and began phasing it into my work. Over the years of honing my skills and taking advantage of interesting and challenging art projects, I was able to make a half-decent living as a freelance artist/ illustrator/graphic designer.
Q: That’s a really great story! It sounded like you didn’t let anything keep you from what you knew you wanted to do. Now, have you always wanted to illustrate books?
A: Yes. It’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, among other things.
Q: Obviously, there is more to creating an illustration for a book than just picking up a pen and drawing. Can you describe the process?
A: I like to read the whole story and visualize illustrations as I go. I then go back and try to picture the individual pages and how best to show the action to move the story forward. Then I get started sketching.
When I get some sketches done, I photograph them, and open them in a drawing program on my computer (Adobe illustrator). I then trace my sketches and add color. After that, I take the separate elements into Photoshop where I add enhancements such as shading, highlights, blur effects, etc.
Q: That is definitely a lot more work than most people would think. It’s quite a process to both draw and help bring these books to life. So what is the best part of drawing Maggie McNair?
A: It’s hard to say what the best part is, since I enjoy all of it! I do like drawing the bugs!
Q: You use a lot of tools to help you, but are there ever any challenges you experience when illustrating?
A: Yes, yes and YES! There are many. Lack of time being a HUGE one. Knowing that I always think I could have done better is another one.
Q: I think a lot of people can identify with those challenges. One more question, if you don’t mind! What would you tell others who want to draw, but are not sure how to start?
A: Watch lessons and other artists drawing on YouTube, talk to other artists that do it for a living or have a passion for drawing. Maybe take some private lessons or classes. There is a great book I always recommend: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It’s been out a long time, but the principles are the same and the book is widely available.
Probably the most important thing to do is just draw. Draw every spare moment you have. It doesn’t matter what you draw, just draw. The more you draw, the better you’ll get. It’s like a musical instrument. If you want to learn, you have to practice, practice, practice!
Is it easy? No. Is it rewarding? YES!
That was really inspiring! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience with us, as well as that encouragement for anyone who wants to start drawing but isn’t sure how.
If you’d like to look at some of Norris’ work on the Maggie McNair series, you can go here. The books are available in ebook, paperback, and hardback.