Say Yes! With Dan Yaccarino

Originally Posted: June 8, 2010

by Melanie Hope Greenberg

Artist, author, and TV animation creator and producer, Dan Yaccarino, spoke to a full house at April’s Professional Series. He cheerfully shared how continuously polishing his skills and keeping a sketch book combined with serendipity and a willingness to say “yes” to new challenges, provided stepping stones along his successful career path.

Yaccarino is always drawing. Even at eleven years old, his drive consisted of “vision and desire,” and he put himself on a work schedule. “That’s who I am, it’s not a decision.” His natural bent was telling stories with his art. After graduating from Parsons in 1987 with an editorial portfolio, Yaccarino “stumbled into” the profession of creating conceptual art illustrations for magazines, newspapers and book covers. He had “found his style and approach, and worked quickly.”

A few years later on a portfolio interview, he met an editor from Hyperion. She asked if he had any picture book story ideas. Although he had never written or illustrated a picture book, Yaccarino stepped up to the challenge and said yes. The resulting publication of Big Brother Mike, in 1992, taught him much about the craft of book creation. Using his love of illustration and story-telling, he wrote only “those words that cannot be conveyed with pictures.”

Yaccarino keeps a personal sketch book for his “junk house of stuff; a place to make mistakes.” A picture book editor viewing his portfolio also saw the illustration in the sketch book that Yaccarino created for the Los Angeles Times. The editor asked if there was a story for the character in the sketch. Never having thought about it before, Dan said, “Yes!” Within 15 minutes an idea came, and his new picture book, Mr. Night was born.

By 1998/9 Yaccarino’s picture book style was flowing into his editorial work. While working on a print campaign for Garden Burger, he was approached with the idea for an animated T.V. commercial. Never having done animation before Yaccarino took the challenge to heart. He replied with a ready “Yes”! and “stuck closely to the director, to learn everything I could.”

Ever-looking for new ideas and outlets, his imagination and story-telling process began gravitating towards whole groups of characters. In his sketch book was an octopus character named Oswald. Taking a liking to Oswald, Yaccarino started writing stories for him and creating his friends.

As Fate would have it, a producer from Nickelodean also took a liking to Oswald and asked if Yaccarino would like to develop the characters for T.V. True to form, though never having done a full-length T.V. animation before, Yaccarino said, “Yes!” He submitted his pitch and Nickelodean bought his original idea, complete. Now an executive producer for Oswald, Yaccarino has a hand in choosing the music and the talent. He hires those who are “more talented than myself, who are better professionally. Aiming high leaves room to grow and surrounding oneself with talent rubs off.”

Yaccarino’s illustration career is a versatile mix of 20 picture books, TV animated cartoons – with Willa’s Wild Life coming soon, editorial art, and product design. He believes in challenging himself and the importance of doing personal work that comes from the heart. Even if it seems weird, he encourages illustrators to “stick to your vision and do sincere, genuine work.”

And most important, if golden opportunities arise, “Say yes, and figure out the rest along the way.”

Melanie Hope Greenberg has illustrated 16 children’s picture books; six of them as author and illustrator. Greenberg’s Blog, Mermaids On Parade, (named after her latest book), was selected “100 Best Book Blogs for Kids Tweens and Teens”. In the Fall 2010, her art was part of “Drawn in Brooklyn”, a group exhibition of picture book artists curated by John Bemelmans Marciano at Brooklyn Central Library-Grand Army Plaza. Greenberg was also selected to donate her original picture book art for the Disaster Relief Fund raffle at the Texas Library Association’s annual conference 2011.

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