Asking Ross MacDonald what he does for a living isn't as easy as it might seem. "If someone wants a quick answer," he says, "I tell them I'm an illustrator. If they look like they've got a minute, I'll tell them I do letterpress stuff, editorial illustration, design, animation, I've worked in advertising, work for TV, Broadway plays, make props and consult on historical stuff for movies."
And now he can add "children's book creator" to that litany of accomplishments. His debut picture book, Another Perfect Day, came out last September, and the world of children's publishing has its newest convert.
"When you do an illustration for a magazine," MacDonald says, "there's a process you go through with the art director, but you very rarely have any contact with an editor. You do the art and maybe half the time you don't hear back from them." Another Perfect Day brought him "a lot more feedback than anything else I've ever done. I get to meet a lot of neat people, from the people selling your books to the people reading them. It's an unforeseen benefit and it's great."
The years spent doing editorial illustration have stood him in good stead, he finds, and he quotes a piece of advice he received early on in his career: do the piece and just move on. "Working on a deadline, you don't have the luxury of fussing," says MacDonald. "That really helped my style. For Another Perfect Day, I did all the final illustrations in two or three weeks. Working quick and dirty works for me; I've learned that the hard way."
For his next book, he had wanted to create some sort of showcase for his extensive collection of 300 wood fonts, "a faux children's book" that he planned to do in a very limited edition and send out to friends and designers. "I had thought of doing an alphabet book, but it was originally going to be a design exercise, of absolutely no interest for kids. Then some element of slapstick entered into it, and I thought, I shouldn't do it as a faux children's book, but as an actual children's book."
That book, titled Achoo! Bang! Crash! The Noisy Alphabet, is due out this fall, from Neal Porter Books at Roaring Brook Press (Porter also published Another Perfect Day), and MacDonald has ideas for at least a few more. With magazine illustration, he says, "You're jumping from one deadline to the next. Working on a book is a nice break. You get to wrap your mind around a larger project. Everything else I work on is fish wrap a day later. But a book has a shelf life."