Matt James

Matt James

Toronto, ON

From There to Here (Groundwood Books, 2014)

Northwest Passage (Groundwood Books, 2013)


Matt is a noted painter, illustrator and musician, who lives in Toronto, Ontario. He has illustrated the picture books Yellow Moon, Apple Moon by Pamela Porter, I Know Here by Laurel Croza and most recently, Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers. He is currently working with Laurel Croza on the pictures for the sequel to I Know Here.

The books that Matt has illustrated have won many awards, including the New Mexico Book Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award.

We wanted to get to know Matt a little bit better so we asked him some questions:

Where did you grow up?

Woodstock Ontario. It was a great place to be a kid. Our house was in town but it felt rural at the same time. My parents still live in that same house. When I was young we had a forest in the backyard, but a tornado came blowing through in 1979 and broke most of the trees off at the waist. Our backyard connected with Mr. Deacon’s backyard. He collected tractors and had a barn with a big weathervane on top. I was certain that a giant and very sinister chicken lived in that barn...

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?

Hmm--it was pretty early on... My brother and I liked to trace comic books and also draw pictures of rock bands and spaceships from Star Wars. When I was in grade 4 I took a cartooning class at the YMCA. I really loved it. I also really liked to pretend that tennis rackets were guitars-but there is no money in that.

How do you create your illustrations?

By accident! Happy accident wait...controlled happy accident. Fun is key; my best pictures are made when I’m having fun- that’s why I use messy ink and pens and tubes of beautiful acrylic paint. I love squeezing the paint out of those tubes. Also I move around a lot. Sometimes I sit on the floor and paint, sometimes I stand at my easel and other times I sit at a desk.

Inquire about this presentation


Hi! I’m exited to talk about and create art with you and your students! I believe that art making is a vitally important part of our children’s education and that nurturing our kids creativity is essential to their development as people. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for picture making!

Part One. Introduction to Illustration and Slideshow

I like to begin by passing around copies of the books that I have Illustrated as well as around a few original Illustrations from the books as well. It’s nice to see these as real life objects before we talk about how they were made. We can talk now about what it is to be an Illustrator and what sort of assignments are common for an illustrator. i.e., editorial, advertising, and of course book illustration.

I follow this with a little slideshow. We will talk about some of the tools that I use everyday in my studio. We can talk about whether or not the kids are familiar with them. I’ll cover the type of pens and ink that use, the paint, brushes and various varnishes, glazes etc. and the different surfaces that I like to use.**depending on the age of the group I may get into discussing computers and their role in my Illustration.

We will see some ideas go from early sketches to final paintings to printed work. Ishow how a set of thumbnail drawings are developed into final drawings. I continue on to show how these drawings become paintings. I will talk a bit about the process that happens from this point in creating a final published book.

Part Two. Art Making/Map Making

This will be a dynamic experience no matter what happens. I like to work on mural paper (large rolls of craft paper) with markers (poster paint would also be fine if educators/librarians are feeling adventurous!). This can be rolled out on tables or on the floor depended on the situation, both are perfectly fine.

We will work on a mapping exercise where we create a “map” of the kids town, region or even the Province or Territory if they wish. The point isn’t to create an accurate representation of this area, but to get children thinking of the interpretive nature of Illustration while putting them at ease by getting them to draw something familiar. They can draw their route to school, or the street that live on, local landmarks, etc. We can use our imaginations to draw the map as it might look far into the future or long ago in the age of dinosaurs. Here be dragons! If some students wish to work on their own or in smaller groups that can easily be accommodated.

I will provide some reference material - though mostly we will use our memories and imaginations - of the regions we will map. But I’ll bring images from atlases maybe some Google earth photos and some examples of the different kinds of maps that we use in everyday life.

Alternate Part Two: Storyboarding

Kids interpret some text and create their own storyboards. (I would only want to try this if we have at least and hour and a half to devote to the entire program.) I provide text of familiar stories that kids can easily dig their teeth into. For example, Jack and the Beanstock , Little Red Riding Hood, The Boy who CriedWolf, etc. It would be useful to have some paper folded into small blank 8 or 12 page pamphlets in advance (either 2 or 3 sheets folded).

Then we talk about visualizing a story, pacing, creating tension as well as beginnings and endings. We then break our stories down into a front cover, back cover and inside pages and see what can come up with to tell these stories in our own way.

**I find that this exercise works best with slightly older kids, but have had success with younger kids when the group is smaller.

Thanks and I look forward to meeting you!

Presentation type: Workshop

Recommended levels: Junior (4-6), Intermediate (7-8), High school (9-12)