Illustrator Jake Parker has had an artistic eye for as long as he can remember.
“Ever since I was a kid, I was really interested in stories that were told through pictures, whether that was something animated or whether it was a comic book or whether it was a picture book or the funnies in the newspapers,” Parker said in an interview with the Deseret News. “If it was a story being told through pictures, it just caught my attention, and I wanted to do the same when I grew up. I wanted to tell stories with pictures.”
Parker, whose previous work includes illustrating books such as “The Little Snowplow” and “The Tooth Fairy Wars,” is about to release his seventh children’s book, “Little Bot and Sparrow” (Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, ages 3-6) Sept. 27, which is the first children’s book he has illustrated and written.
“Little Bot and Sparrow” tells the story of a robot that is cast out and lands in a cold, strange world. Everything is new and unknown to Little Bot until Sparrow decides to teach him everything she knows about the world. But as winter approaches, Sparrow knows her time with Little Bot is quickly coming to a close, and together they “learn what it means to be forever friends,” according to the book’s summary.
Parker said the story of “Little Bot and Sparrow” started several years ago as a 10-page comic book. Although he didn’t initially think the characters’ tale would continue beyond that, Parker said when he started illustrating children’s books he realized Little Bot and his friend Sparrow would make a good story for a children’s book. With the comic book and the children’s book, Parker said he has received feedback about how the story has resonated with adults and children.
“I think children and adults often find themselves in those situations where maybe you’re laid off from your job, and now what do you do with your life? Or maybe you are the new kid in school and don’t have any friends,” he said. “I think in life that’s how you make it through those situations is you need to have somebody there that’s willing to take you under their wing and guide you and show you what your possibilities are.”
Parker said his illustration method generally employs a lot of hand-drawn ink images he scans into the computer to digitally add color.
“I am a big fan of drawing in ink,” he said. “I think there’s something very binary about it because when you make a line in ink, it is either there or not. You can render something out with a pencil and blur the edges or kind of sketch a few lines, but with ink, you make that mark and it sticks. There’s something very permanent about ink that I like, and it’s a much faster tool.”
But for “Little Bot and Sparrow,” Parker said he wanted “more nuanced imagery” that was subtle and soft.
“I wanted it to be sweet and endearing, and it felt like ink was a little too harsh for this a quiet tale,” he said.
So instead, the artist used a variation of his usual method by utilizing pencil to render the images by hand and scanning the images to add color digitally.
Parker grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and spent five years working in Connecticut for Blue Sky Studios, the animation company behind the "Ice Age" and "Rio" films. But when he received an offer to teach illustration at BYU, Parker took the chance and moved to Utah. Although he’s no longer actively teaching at BYU, Parker and his family have stayed in Utah where he illustrates out of his basement studio.
According to his bio in “Little Bot and Sparrow,” Parker’s clients include a range of publishers, including Scholastic, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins. He said he’s even worked for Marvel providing illustrations for five issues of Rocket Raccoon, who is one of the characters from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Parker is about to embark on his annual monthlong illustration challenge, Inktober, where he invites artists to join him in creating an ink drawing each day in October. He said he started the challenge because he wanted to improve his inking skills.
“I didn’t feel confident doing it, and I knew the only way I would get good at inking was if I sat down and did a drawing every day for a month,” Parker said. “But I decided why should I do this alone? I should announce it as a challenge and see if other people want to do it with me.”
When he first started the challenge in 2009, Parker said he only had a handful of artists join him in the challenge, but in the last few years, the challenge has taken off. He said in 2015, over 1 million Inktober drawings were posted on Instagram alone.
“I think the reason that this thing really took off is because what it does is it forms positive habits,” he said.
For additional information about the Inktober challenge, visit inktober.com.
If you go
What: Jake Parker book signing
When: Saturday, Oct. 1, 11 a.m.
Where: The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
The signing line is for those who buy a copy of the featured book from The King's English.