Andrew DeGraff is a freelance illustrator and artist. Born and raised in New York, he graduated from Pratt Institute’s Communications Design program with a focus in Illustration in 2001. DeGraff has worked as an illustrator for many clients and his gallery work has been shown in various places across North America. He returned to Pratt to teach illustration from 2009 – 2014. Tomorrow I’ll review his published first book, Plotted: A Literary Atlas from Zest Books. Save the date: June 2! Thanks to DeGraff for agreeing to an interview and to Zest Books for the Advanced Reader Copy of Plotted.
ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?
ANDREW: Pretty much. As a kid I thought I might be a historian, maybe a writer, and even had the obligatory passing fancy of pursuing marine biology. I think the truth is that those fields often came with the best illustrations. I wanted to be the guy painting battle scenes, book covers, and sharks and coral reefs.
ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?
ANDREW: I was really lucky to have some other artists in the family, and I think my parents knew I’d be an artist even before I did and encouraged me. I had a lot of great art teachers along the way as well.
ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?
ANDREW: I’d really have to say Plotted was my favorite. I’ve always loved literature, and outside of your school years, it’s hard to have the time to dive into a novel and pick it apart over a few weeks. One of my favorite things about illustration is the chance to do research and each novel or story from Plotted required really reading up on the time period and looking for historical and visual reference. It was a very intense experience, and consumed my life for almost a full calendar year.
ALLISON: What city has your art taken you that you most remember?
ANDREW: I went to Pratt in Brooklyn. Being from the country in rural upstate, the city was intimidating. But it’s a place I’ve always wanted to keep coming back to with my sketchbook. The Met, the Staten Island Ferry, the Domino Sugar Factory – it’s just a great place to draw. The other place is LA. I have to admit, I was a little snobby as someone who had adopted NY as a home in thinking that LA was just a sprawling mess. It is, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel to LA for my gallery shows, and I’ve really come to love the city. The color, the people. It’s the other side of the American coastal coin and it’s just weird and wonderful as its darker east coast cousin.
ALLISON: How did you come up with idea for Plotted?
ANDREW: I had been creating plot maps of movies for a few years for those shows in LA at Gallery1988. I’d always loved maps, and I loved the idea of mapping narratives. The movie maps were developed as a way to illustrate an entire film without showing the characters, and instead relying on the scene and the interactions to retell the story. Plotted was really an extension of that thinking.
ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?
ANDREW: My Mom is a teacher, and I grew up in a house of avid readers. I saw it as a chance to be an ambassador for some incredible books that changed my life. Plus it was a chance to take an illustrative crack at some great works of literature that illustrators I love had taken on in the past. Anytime you get to play around with Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and Robinson Crusoe – you don’t pass that up.
ALLISON: Why did you approach Zest?
ANDREW: I’d thought a lot about mapping novels. The problem was length – the movie maps are generally 100hr-250hr pieces to create for a two and half hour film. The thought of mapping a 350 page novel was just to big to take on as an unsupported project. It was my co-creative-conspirator at Zest Dan Harmon who approached me about doing the book. It was really the opportunity to tackle mapping novels I’d been waiting for. He had seen the movie maps and wondered if I was interested in doing novels – it felt like kismet.
ALLISON: How has your life changed now that you have a published book?
ANDREW: It’s been really great. As an illustrator who has spent most of his career doing editorial work for magazines creating pieces that accompany writing, it’s really nice to have done something that sort of flips that status and the images are the centerpiece. I’ve always gotten a kick out seeing something I did in Sports Illustrated, or the New York Times on newsstands – but books are just so much more substantial and permanent. I think anyone who gets a book published – novel, children’s book, cook book – gets a real sense of accomplishment. You make books because you love them, and what better way to honor them than to make one yourself. Plus it’s really helped to enlarge my following and get me other freelance jobs, as well as a lot of map requests.