Robert’s Snow-Meet John Abbott Nez!

Welcome to Blogging for a Cure!
Here’s where we, the Bloggers of the Kidlitosphere, are chatting about the fabulous artwork that’s showing up on snowflakes these days. Each piece of art is available to buy through Robert’s Snow, with proceeds going to cancer research. If you know anyone who has fought this disease, then you know how important research funds are in finding new treatments and an eventual cure. It’s great art for a great cause, so bid like crazy!

Today’s featured flakemaker: Author-illustrator John Abbott Nez!
Here’s an illustration that will get you in a snowflake-y mood:

From My Cherry Tree, by John Nez

John is an artistic dynamo- his whimsical art can be found in literally tons of books and magazines for children, and also paints his favorite natural subjects on canvas in his “spare” time. He’s also one of the few people I know who’s been a “ghost illustrator” for a few popular book series. For his children’s work, he works traditionally to a point, then digitally enhances it for his trademark look.

His handpainted snowflake is a gorgeous homage to winter birds:

Here’s the guy himself and a small selection of his books:

Wonder what it’s like to create children’s art? Here’s a dandy little movie that shows John’s process as he works in his Seattle studio:

John was nice enough to answer some of my questions about life, art and books.

Liz: You work a lot- but what do you do for fun, to get away from it all?

John: Birdwatching? And no day is complete without an afternoon bike ride. And I’d add in digital photography, blogging and movies. Mostly I work for the escapism. I suppose it’s a sign of being a work-a-holic… but I find that toiling in the fields of imagination can become habit forming and it’s usually more fun than most anything else.

Liz: I definitely get the inpression that the work and fun are sort of connected for you, it shows in your art. So, what was it like being a ghost illustrator? Is it hard to match another illustrator’s art?

John: Matching another artist’s work is a bit like forgery… which is an artform in itself. It can be profitable… which is important when trying to make a living with art.

Liz: I think it’s a true skill- since children would be on to you in a minute if the characters didn’t look just right.
I see that you’re writing more now- where are you finding your inspiration?

John: Inspiration seems to hide in the oddest places! I’ve always written actually… I was an English major in college and I’m self trained as an artist. I have piles and piles of writing.
I usually write two or three stories a year. So after all these years that adds up to at least 30 stories… all collecting dust for the most part. Some of them I feel are really quite good. But trying to get any editor to take a look at them is such a forbidding obstacle-course that I lose interest in the old stories and just start in on a new one.
I have stories about witches, magic restaurants, pigs, painters, orphans in the woods, bears in tuxedos… stories about balloons that sail around the world, mystical stories about shadows… dozens of stories.
A while back I spent two days writing out a really funny graphic novel. Now if I just had 3 free months to do up the art. There are a few scenes in that story that still make me laugh out loud when I read them.
Every now and then I’ll remember a story I wrote 8 years ago and think… “Wow! That’s a great story!” I’d guess that only 1 out of 3 of my stories have ever been seen by an editor.

A scene from One Smart Cookie, written and illustrated by John.

Liz: Do you find writing easy, or is it like pulling teeth? Do you sketch and write at the same time?

John: I only write when I’m inspired… so it’s never like pulling teeth. It’s more like trying to catch an elusive butterfly in a thicket. It’s nice when the stars align, and the story just flows out completely from start to finish.
Sometimes a story will arrive uninvited at 3 am and I am obligated to get up and write it out at the kitchen table. Inspiration is mysterious.

My last book, ‘One Smart Cookie’ was inspired by the title to an online group posting! I saw a post titled ‘Good read Dog’…. and suddenly Whamo!… the idea for the whole story about a dog that reads just appeared out of nowhere. I think that was fairly odd.
I always begin the actual dummy with the words to a story. But an image might easily inspire the words. And as always, one does not write so much as one re-writes. I rewrite the words and work up the pictures at the same time. Sometimes I have certain scenes clearly in my mind.
What’s really changed the process of re-writing for me is working up the dummy with InDesign. InDesign makes it a delight to paste in the words… then paste in some pictures… and then watch the book come alive. For me it’s like the world’s funnest puzzle to assemble a picture book. I could happily
spend all my time just pasting together dummy books… without ever doing the finish art.
Doing the rough sketches is the high point of most book projects. It’s the joyful discovery that happens… adding new things, watching it change & grow.
It’s like being a kid and building a clubhouse… discovering all the fun new things you can put in it. Doing the finish art can seem a bit tedious in comparison.

Liz: The computer has definitely added a new dimension to editing oneself and dummy making! Why don’t you tell us a little about your upcoming new book, Cromwell Dixon’s Sky-Cycle.

John: I’ve always liked looking at historical photos. One day, while leafing through a library book I came across the story. I was so amazed I just thought… “Someone must to do a picturebook about this!”. Then about a week later, the first line just popped into my head. So I sat in the
garden and wrote out 8 pages in longhand. The weird thing is that I really didn’t especially want to do a story about an aeronaut and a flying bicycle… I more or less just had to!


Sometimes I almost dread when that kind of inspiration strikes… because I realize I’ll have to devote 3 months to working up an idea that has landed out of nowhere. It’s the artwork that make it so much work… the writing doesn’t take nearly as long.

Liz: I know the feeling. What else do you have coming up?

John: I have lots of ideas to work into books… and a couple new dummies in circulation. One is a story I wrote 15 years ago. It was great to dummy it up after all that time. I’d been imagining the pictures for years… finally I could see them. I think it’s a terrific book. I’m
just waiting to find an editor to agree. That’s the whole problem with this particular ‘Artform’. Our work can’t become real until someone
else and a whole committee of other people decides to make it real. It’s the ‘Pinnochio Artform’. lol!
That’s probably why I dream about going into gallery painting on canvas at some unknown point in the future. But I guess there’s no easy way to make a living by creating art… it’s always a struggle. As long as you enjoy the process I guess…

John blogs about his painting life, too. Click here to check it out.

“We must not be too ambitious. We cannot aspire to masterpieces. We may content ourselves with a joy ride in a paint box. And, for this, Audacity is the only ticket.” (Winston Churchill)


There you have it! Thanks, John. Don’t forget to follow the auctions and bid on John’s flake- it goes up for bid on November 19!

I know what you’re thinking, though.
“I want to read more about awesome artists and their snowflakes!”
Then follow these links this week and have fun reading. I know I will!

Monday, November 12

  • Liza Woodruff at Check It Out
  • Jane Dippold at Just Like the Nut
  • Mike Wohnoutka at laurasalas
  • Tuesday, November 13

    Wednesday, November 14

    Thursday, November 15

    Friday, November 16

    Saturday, November 17

    Sunday, November 18

    6 comments on “Robert’s Snow-Meet John Abbott Nez!

    • on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 6:52 am, TadMack said:

      Oh, wow. There’s a style of artwork that brings to mind every cozy familiar and safe middle-grade memory of reading that I’ve ever had: and this is it. I love this guy’s work – and I love that his snowflake is so totally non-fuzzy and comfy. It’s a little stark, edged, and gorgeous. Thanks for a great interview of a complex artist!

    • on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 12:35 pm, Jules said:

      What a great feature, as all of yours have been. Thanks so much. The new book looks really interesting. When does it get released?

    • on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 2:54 pm, Jennifer said:

      Great interview, and lovely work. I wonder how many illustrators find the rough sketch stage more exciting than doing the the final art. (I happen to agree!)

    • on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 5:41 pm, John Nez said:

      Thanks for dropping by, Tad & Jules… the new book ought to be out sometime in ’08, as far as I can tell.

      And here’s a great big THANKS! to Liz for putting up what’s probably way more than anyone would ever want to read about me in one place!


    • on Monday, November 12, 2007 at 6:57 pm, LindaBudz said:

      Love, love, love the colors on this flake.

      And … I want to read the story about the bears wearing tuxes … hope he sends that one out on submission!

    • on Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 9:11 pm, Susan T. said:

      I have so enjoyed seeing all these wonderful snowflakes, and just look at this one! Love the owl and the snake. As I visit each site, I’m also getting a long list of books to look for, and the Sky-Cycle is a must.

    Comments are closed.