Last year, Tim Bowers illustrated Kwame Alexander’s Acoustic Rooster, a picture book about a jazz-loving rooster who meets some jazz greats – in barnyard form, of course. This week, Bowers chatted with Kidsbiographer about bringing these jazz legends to life and designing a guitar for a rooster.
Kidsbiographer: Can you tell me about your own experiences with jazz and with music generally?
Tim Bowers: I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. My grandpa played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and harmonica. He and his musical friends would have barn dances on weekends. My Dad always had music playing at the house. I’ve played guitar since childhood and started listening to jazz in college. It was great background music for creating artwork. My childhood was filled with pop and rock music, but in art school, jazz became my music of choice.
Kidsbiographer: I enjoyed your visual character development, particularly the way the animals resembled their real-life counterparts: for example, Bee Holiday sports a gardenia just as Billie Holiday did. Can you tell me a little bit about how you translated these legends into barnyard animals?
Tim Bowers: The types of animals were predetermined in the text by the author. As I researched the characters, I thought it would be fun to capture some resemblance to the actual person when creating the animal character. Thelonious Monk wore some pretty cool hats, so I placed one of the hats on the Thelonious Monkey character. Duke Ellington wore a black top hat and played a light colored piano in some photos so I combined those elements for Duck Ellington. Billie Holiday wore large floral decorations in her hair so Bee Holiday wore a flower and Miles Davis wore large-rimmed sunglasses, which were added to the character, Mules Davis. Also, I looked at the way Miles Davis held his trumpet and positioned his body so that I could reflect some of that in my art.
Kidsbiographer: What sort of research did you do to illustrate Acoustic Rooster?
Tim Bowers: Other than finding the historic jazz personalities, I researched the Cotton Club and the guitar that Rooster played. I almost used Jaco Pastorius as the bass player reference. I ran that idea past Kwame Alexander, and he mentioned that the person he was thinking of was jazz guitar great, Wes Montgomery so I switched directions. Montgomery played a Gibson L-5 guitar (not a bass) so I started with that model. I turned the L-5 into a bass, customized the f-holes with chicken heads and added a chicken to the tailpiece (which is the metal part at the end of the guitar). So basically, I’ve designed Rooster’s signature model L-5 bass guitar.
Kidsbiographer: What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received from young readers about your work?
Tim Bowers: I really love to hear readers laugh at the humor in the art, notice the details and try to copy the characters in their own artwork. If I inspire anyone to laughter, discovery or being creative, I am a very happy guy.
Kidsbiographer: Can you tell me about your current or future projects?
Tim Bowers: Sure! Music continues to play a part in my work. I recently illustrated a book by Neil Sedaka and his son, Marc Sedaka, titled Dinosaur Pet (published by Imagine Publishing- a Charlesbridge Imprint). I also have some other projects with a music connection, but they aren’t quite ready to announce.
I am finishing the artwork for a book titled, Not Your Typical Dragon published by Viking. I’m starting the artwork for a Sleeping Bear Press book about zoo animals. Later this year, I will work with Marshall Cavendish on a book that features a dog character named “Tinka”. And finally, I’ll be closing the year with another Sleeping Bear Press book about a hamster… stay tuned!
I’ll be listening to a lot of jazz and western swing music while working on all of these stories. Duke Ellington and His Orchestra have been playing a lot lately.