Frank Viva: The DART Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday May 29, 2013

Frank Viva is an illustrator and designer whose first children’s book, Along A Long Road, landed at the top of major top ten lists when it was published in 2011. And it was one of my favorites in The Original Art show that year. On Saturday, June 1, he will read to children age 6 to 8 from his new book, A Long Way Away, at the MoMA Design Store in SoHo. Information. Frank recently took the DART Artist Q&A, and here’s what he wrote:

Q: You live in Toronto originally from where? As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working there?

A: I’m from Toronto and still live there (though I lived in New York City for several years). I like that Toronto is cosmopolitan. In fact, I just noticed that a Peruvian restaurant opened up nearby. How cool is that? Plus, we’re only an hour away by air from New York.

Q: How and when did you first become interested in illustration and design?

A: I have been drawing constantly since I can remember—often when I should have been listening or studying.

Q: Tells us about your art/design background. Where did you study? What was your experience there like?

A: I went to OCAD University, which included two years in Manhattan. It was great—I did large experimental paintings and lots of figure drawing. Looking back, I learned more from my fellow students than from the curriculum or professors.


Spread from Along A Long Road (Little, Brown 2011)

Q: What was your first assignment?

A: I did a little black-and-white drawing for Maclean’s magazine about dieting.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

A: I like being hot on the trail of a good idea. It’s something that keeps me awake at night and gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I also really enjoy collaborating

with editors, art directors and publishers.

Q: What was the biggest mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?

A: I spent fifteen years in a business partnership that placed too many limits on the fields I wanted to explore and risks I wanted to take (my fault). I learned not to do that any more. That being said, I embrace compromise with the people I love in my personal life.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: I go through phases. Sometimes I keep a sketchbook and fill hundreds of pages in a couple of weeks. Then I won’t crack the cover for a few weeks. Everything I do starts on paper and ends up on the computer.


Detail, cover art for The New Yorker, January 31, 2011

Q: What is your favorite time of day for working?

A: I like working early in the morning—especially on weekends when I know everybody else will sleep in and leave me alone until about 9:30. Then I’m happy and I make a nice breakfast for everybody.

Q: What are you listening to?

A: I am going through a Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen phase (again).

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

Georges Grosz, Alexander Calder, Sue Coe, E. McKnight Kauffer, Lester Beall, Bill Traylor, Martín Ramírez, Eva Hesse and many others.

Q: What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

A: I am doing some work for The Museum of Modern Art and was given a tour on a Tuesday when it was closed to the public. It was magical. I could have touched anything I wanted to (but didn’t).

Q: Has social media been a boon for self-promotion? Or do you have methods you’ve always used that still work?

A: I’m trying to get on board, but I continue to struggle with social media—probably because I’m not very social.

Q: Where did your idea for Along a Long Road originate? What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art?

A: The title for my first book, Along a Long Road, came from an interior copy line—it was followed by “around a round bend.” Books are difficult—they take a long time to produce and an even longer time to come out. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than opening the first box of printed and bound books.

Q: Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?

A: Creative blocks are in your head. If I start working, mine go away immediately. It’s important to allow time for play and failure.

Q: What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?

A: Keep doing what you’re doing. Then reinvent yourself every five years.

An illustrator and designer, Frank Viva runs a branding and design agency in Toronto. When askedand sometimes when nothe will lecture about typography, illustration and things like that. He is a cover artist for The New Yorker magazine and sits on two college advisory boards. A past president of The Advertising & Design Club of Canada, he is passionate about cooking, eating and his daily bike ride to the office. His first children’s book, Along a Long Road, was honored by the New York Times and the Society of Illustrators, among others and his work was selected for AI32. On Saturday, June 1, Frank will read to children age 6 to 8 from his new book, A Long Way Away, at the MoMA Design Store in SoHo.Information.


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