HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator of If I Built a School

Illustration Inspiration: Chris Van Dusen, Illustrator of If I Built a School

The Children’s Book Review | August 26, 2019

Chris Van Dusen is one of our favorite children’s book author-illustrators! He has created illustrations that have been published in magazines and books and printed on T-shirts and greeting cards. He won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award for If I Built a House. In addition to his own books, Chris has illustrated Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive chapter book series. He was born in Portland, Maine and received his BFA from University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He lives in Maine with his wife, two sons, and their dog.

I make art because …

I love to. Plus it’s the only thing I can do with any measure of success.

My latest published book is …

If I Built a School, book three in the “If I Built..” series, which includes If I Built a Car (Dutton, 2005) and If I Built a House (Dial, 2012).

The art medium I used in this book is …

Gouache on cold press illustration board. Gouache is a water based paint similar to an opaque watercolor.

My artistic process looks like …

A number of steps which starts with some very rough thumbnail sketches, then rough full size sketches, which are refined and tweaked until they are tight enough to transfer to illustration board. Once the sketch is transferred, I start painting with the gouache. I usually work from the background to the foreground. So for example when I paint an outside scene, I will often start with the sky first. Next comes the landscape in the background, and so on and so forth until I’m adding the finishing touches in the immediate foreground. A typical full bleed spread illustration takes me about 1-2 weeks to paint – longer if there’s more detail in the picture.

I am inspired by …

My wife, sons and family and the beautiful area on the coast of Maine where I live.

My favorite place to create & illustrate is …

In my studio, which is located on the second story of a barn attached to the back of our house. My commute is about 20 steps from my kitchen to my drawing board.

My most used art supply or tool is …

The number of paint brushes I go through! Gouache is very hard on brushes, so I buy really cheap brushes by the bulk and sometimes I use up to three brushes in a specific size per illustration.

My illustrator idols are …

Historically: Robert McCloskey, Garth Williams, N.C. Wyeth, Windsor McCay, and Maurice Sendak. Currently: there are way too many to list, but if you haven’t seen Carter Goodrich’s work, do yourself the favor.

My all-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate is …

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey. Tied for second: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

A literary character I would like to create art with is …

A confusing question! If you’re asking what literary character I’d like to work with, I guess I’d say Harold, and I’d borrow his purple crayon. If you’re asking what literary character I’d like to illustrate, maybe a folk hero like Paul Bunyan or a monster like Godzilla (is he/she a literary character?).

I’m currently working on …

The illustrations for the fifth book in the Tales From Deckawoo Drive series by the amazing Kate DiCamillo. This one features the little girl, Stella Endicott.

If I Built a SchoolIf I Built a School

Written and Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Publisher’s Synopsis: If Jack built a school, there would be hover desks and pop-up textbooks, skydiving wind tunnels and a trampoline basketball court in the gym, a robo-chef to serve lunch in the cafeteria, field trips to Mars, and a whole lot more. The inventive boy who described his ideal car and house in previous books is dreaming even bigger this time.

My school will amaze you. My school will astound.
By far the most fabulous school to be found!
Perfectly planned and impeccably clean.
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun, too.

Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Dial Books | August 13, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0525552918

Buy the Book


Discover more picture book illustration inspiration and books like If I Built a School, written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with , , , and .

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Bianca Schulze is the founder of The Children’s Book Review. She is a reader, reviewer, mother and children’s book lover. She also has a decade’s worth of experience working with children in the great outdoors. Combined with her love of books and experience as a children’s specialist bookseller, the goal is to share her passion for children’s literature to grow readers. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she now lives with her husband and three children near Boulder, Colorado.

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