Q&A Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby- HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES

 

  • (apologies for the inconsistent formatting. Blogger isn’t cooperating)

In HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES (Tundra Books, 2011), author/illustrator team Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby (who happen to be married, too) offer a gloriously illustrated and well- researched introduction to the earliest domestication of horses. Each of the chosen forty-three breeds highlighted in the book are introduced with their respective provenance, physical characteristics, and unique historical connection with people. Artistically, every sinewy line, muscle, and expression comes to life in vivid detail specific to each breed. And there’s enough informational substance to the text to satisfy horse lovers of all ages.

 
I’m thrilled to spotlight this adorable and oh-so-nice husband/wife team. Shelley and Jeff answered these questions individually, choosing not to read each other’s responses until after I had received them. I’ve chosen not to edit or combine answers because I think their different voices give a broader peek into their working relationship.

 

Miniature horses coming to the book launch
Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

 

What was your inspiration for writing HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES?
SAJ  Our first collaborative book, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds had just come out and was getting great reviews. One review said that they hoped we’d write more books on dogs, cats and horses. Our daughter was itty bitty at the time but already obsessed with horses. She made the clicking noise of horse hooves before she could even talk. So we thought horses would be fun to work on. Plus, they seemed a natural progression after dogs, considering the number of breeds of horses, their variety, and their popularity with children. 
JC  Well, it’s a bit of a sequel, or a companion, to our runaway, chart-topping hit, LITTLE LIONS, BULL BAITERS & HUNTING HOUNDS: A HISTORY OF DOG BREEDS. We wanted to do a second dog book since we only covered about 50 of the over 400 breeds out there and hadn’t included some very popular breeds such as the German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, and Schnauzer. However, our publisher, Tundra, wanted us to branch out, and horses made the most sense because of their varied appearances and jobs. Next, they want a history of cat breeds!

 

Writing and illustrating are generally solitary endeavors. How did your collaborative process work with regards to dividing specific tasks?
SAJ  Everyone always asks this but it’s so hard to give a concrete answer. A lot of it depended on who had time to do what, who was interested or motivated at a given time, and what needed to be done. As far as process, we brainstormed and critiqued together at every stage. But as far as research, writing, revising and painting, we tried to divide that up evenly and we worked individually. 

 

JC  With both writing and illustrating we start with similar approaches. First we use a dart board and then proceed to rock-paper-scissors. We actually brainstormed ideas and then created our outline and storyboards together. Then we divvied up the research. For writing, we would each work on separate breeds to begin with but would both edit them down together. For the intro material, we would both work on it together since the info wasn’t as straight forward. Shelley tended to be the driving force with the writing, since she is better at writing, organizing, and communicating.

 

JC  As far as the art goes, once we both figured out what the concept was for each breed in the storyboards, I tended to be the one who took those to the tight sketch phase, since my strong suit is drawing from my head. Shelley did plenty of sketching too. By the time our drawings were approved by Tundra, we had just a few months to crank out over a hundred paintings. With the tight deadline, our painting process became very organic. Some illustrations we would complete individually, others we worked on together. I might do the background and Shelley would do the foreground or she might start a painting and I would finish it.  
 
 As you mention in the book, there are over two hundred breeds of horses around the world. How did you narrow it down to the forty-three breeds you feature?
 
 
SAJ   It was so hard! Just like dog breeds, even horse breeds that are closely related have their own special quirks and interesting facts. If you look at the books we used for reference, you’ll see that just about every breed had the corner turned down at one point. Unlike dog breeds, which we knew quite a bit about going into that project, we were really starting at square one with horses. So every new breed I read about was my favorite and just HAD to be included! In the end, we focused on showing as big of a variety as we could—as far as size, function, geographic origin and popularity. We cut any that seemed similar to another and tried really hard to pare it down so that we could have as many double page spreads for the art as possible. 
 
JC  We wanted to include as broad a variety of
breeds as possible. This meant finding breeds that were from all over the
world, performed different jobs, had different appearances, and were a variety
of rare and common breeds. We also wanted horses that had interesting
histories. As with our dog book, this criteria meant we had to leave out some
pretty common breeds such as the Morgan and the Suffolk Punch.
The book is cleverly divided into
breed categories:  Rapid Transit, Military Advantage, Horsepower, Equine
Entertainment, Feral Horses.  Did you approach research with this
organization already in place, or did the different themes evolve?

 
 
SAJ  The standard book about horses divides breeds
by size or by temperament: heavy horses, light horses and ponies, OR hot
bloods, warm bloods and cold bloods.
But horses don’t
really fit neatly into those categories. For example, a pony is defined as a
horse that measures under 14.2 hands high. Many pony breeds were bred in harsh
climates with inadequate nutrition and will actually grow to horse height when
fed a nutritious diet. Many cultures find it insulting to call their native
horses “ponies” and you’ll read that even though a specific horse is small it
is always called a “horse” in its native land. This didn’t seem like a good
system. Neither did the blood-system. Plus, we wanted to focus on the horses’
origins, so it seemed natural to separate them according to their first uses. The
five distinct categories that we ended up with evolved as we researched. We
hoped that by dividing them this way, readers could observe how certain
features are suited to particular jobs. We still mention the standard ways of
dividing horses so that readers will be familiar with those concepts, too.

 
 
 

      JC 

They evolved. We knew we wanted to divide the book
into several categories, like we did with Little Lions, but we had to do our
research to figure out how to classify the breeds.

 
 
 
 

 

Were there other specific breeds
with particularly interesting history that you wish could have been included?
Wanna share here?

 

 
 
SAJ  A couple years ago I mentioned to our
daughter Harper that unicorns aren’t real and she cried like nobody’s business.
I now know what it feels like to break a child’s heart. It would seem that she
has forgotten that nasty conversation because she keeps asking where the
Unicorn and Pegasus are in our book. I’m not telling her again. So if there’s a
follow up book, those two “breeds” might be in there.
Other (real) breeds that I’d like to include are the Akhal-Teke, because it is
such an influential breed, and the Suffolk Punch, because I’m a sucker for
draught horses and it’s got a cool name. Speaking of draught horses, I love
those gentle giants: Ardennais, Boulonnais, and Comtois are stunning and we
didn’t include any of them! You know the primary reason draught breeds are so
docile is that they eat the same food as lighter horses but have to support so
much larger body mass? I’m also really drawn to the native breeds that are
shaped by their rugged conditions such as the Sumba from Indonesia. And I think
some of the newer breeds like the beautiful gaited Rocky Mountain Horse, which
is, oddly enough, not from THE Rocky Mountains but rather used in rocky
mountains, are really interesting. Oh, and there’s the Haflinger…can you
believe we didn’t include them? Oh, now you’ve gotten me started again, Donna!

 
 
 
JC  The Pegasus and the unicorn.
 

  

 
What was your general path and
timeline to publication?

 
 

SAJ  In July 2008 we first asked our agent his
thoughts on the possibility of a horse companion to our history of dog breeds
book. Once we convinced him that horses did have as much diversity and
popularity as dogs, he looked into our publisher’s current list and advised us
on how to proceed. We started by researching using mainly encyclopedic books
about horses to find out the history and scope of domestic horses. We spent several
months choosing breeds and deciding how to organize the book. We sent our
publisher, Tundra Books, an outline and cover letter in February 2009 and
within a few days they wrote back to say that they would be happy to work with
us again. (They had been hoping we’d do a book on cats next, but we wanted to
focus more on the “working with humans” aspect and let’s face it, most cats
work exclusively for themselves!) We started researching right away, but didn’t
get our contract till June 2009. These things take time! December 2009 we
turned in the final manuscript. We sent in our first round of sketches in May
2010 (I’m looking back at emails for the dates, lest you think I am some sort
of savant!) June 15th an editor was finally assigned our manuscript
and all of the fact-checking and editing began! By the end of July, the
manuscript was finished and we were back working on art. Final art was
delivered at the end of January 2011. Phew! Two and a half years sounds like a
lot of time, but when you consider that much of it was spent waiting for
approval, working on other projects, raising a child and moving to a new state,
it’s not nearly long enough!

 
 
 
JC  We had six months to write the book. Due to
upheaval at the publisher, it took them months to edit our manuscript and we
were chomping at the bit to get started on the sketches. We wanted to be done
with edits before proceeding on to the sketches and the deadline for the
finished book was rapidly approaching. We had another six to illustrate it and
ended up getting another month extension.
Tell us a bit about your research
process for this book?

 
 
SAJ Research was loads
of fun! At the time we started, we lived in Castle Rock, Colorado, right near
the county fairgrounds. We spent lots of afternoons at different horse events:
barrel racing, vaulting, cutting—learning about the events themselves but also
talking to owners, learning about the breeds and photographing horses in
action. We went to every rodeo we could find. And our biggest and most
productive research trip was to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. They have
lots of breeds there that are included in the book, and a fantastic “parade of
breeds” where we got to see a variety of breeds side by side and in traditional
costume. The Horse Park is also home to the Smithsonian’s International Museum
of the Horse, where tons of information is to be found. They also house equine
related objects such as period carriages, farm equipment and tack. We took lots
of notes and photos. The Horse Park and Museum staff was so friendly and
helpful—it was an amazing trip. We also stayed in a cottage on a working farm
and got to meet and photograph horses there. We used a lot of books and
internet resources as well, but nothing compares to meeting your subjects in
the flesh! While in Kentucky, Jeff decided his dream horse was a Trakehner,
Harper fell in love with an Appaloosa and I, well, my favorite depends what horse
I’m looking at, at the moment.

 
 
JC  Unlike with the dog book, we knew very little
about horses to start with. We had to do loads of reading just to have a basic
understanding of horses. Our research was mainly book-based, but we did talk to
several horse owners and riders. At the time, we were living in Castle Rock, CO
and the county fairgrounds were just down the road from us. We spent a lot of
time there watching horse events, taking pictures and asking questions. Our
four year old daughter, who is a horse fanatic, loved going with us. In the
end, also, unlike the dog book, I feel like we just barely scratched the
surface of the equine world. There is so much to know about horses and their
behavior, gear, sports, and care.

 

 

What medium did you employ for the
artwork? How long was the illustration process?

 
 
SAJ We used acrylic on
paper for most everything except the maps, which are digital. For our
paintings, we used technology to expedite the process at many stages, such as
scanning sketches and printing them out onto watercolor paper rather than the
painstaking work of transferring them. It took about a year to do all the
artwork. Again, we didn’t work on it constantly, but there are over 100
illustrations in the book.

 
 
JC  We used our giant Epson 4800 printer to print
the sketches onto watercolor paper made for that printer. Then we sealed the
paper and drawing with acrylic matte medium and used acrylic paints to complete
the illustration. It took us eight? months for the art.
 
 
 

 

You’ve done a wonderful job of
differentiating the various horse breeds with your illustrations. What did you
find most challenging about the illustration process for this book?

 
 

 
SAJ  I’m so relieved that you—a horse person—think
so! The most challenging thing was definitely being able to see the differences
in the horses and translating that into the art. It’s so often said that
learning how to draw is really learning how to see and I never felt it more
than on this project. Horses were new to us and their differences can sometimes
be subtle to the layman (or woman). We’re hoping to not get mail from horse
fanatics saying, “That jibbah isn’t pronounced enough!” We did our best!

 
 
JC  The horses themselves were very difficult.
They were very hard to render accurately, especially since we were trying to
distinguish the different breeds. Add to that, trying to get them in dynamic
poses, fit them in the page with riders or vehicles, and get their gear right,
and they amounted to a very challenging problem.
The reverse of the book jacket is
fully illustrated as a poster. Whose idea was that?

 
 
 
SAJ  That was someone at Tundra, either our editor
or a designer, not really sure. They did the same on the dog breeds book and it
was a happy surprise for us. Although, I do get a little stressed thinking about
all the sticky hands grabbing our naked books because the jacket is hanging on
the wall!

 

JC  Tundra’s. They did the same for our previous
book and it was a complete surprise. We knew it was coming this time, but
didn’t know what image they would use.

  
 
 

How would you describe your
individual artistic styles, and strengths?  What’s your secret for
blending them so seamlessly?

 
 
SAJ  We’ve had mostly the same training (teachers
and schools) and both paint naturalistically, so it isn’t too challenging to
keep the art looking consistent. The main difference between us is that Jeff is
better at composing from his imagination and I’m more reliant on reference.
Because of the time constraints of creating the book, I painted things that we
had reference for and Jeff more of the things that needed some imagination. Honestly,
I look at the paintings and on many I can’t remember what parts I did.

 
 
 
JC  We both work fairly naturalistically and
narratively. Shelley likes to mix her media though, while I stick with my
paints. We both went to the same art schools, so our styles are kind of
similar. We also like to paint a lot of the same subjects. Because there is so
much overlap in our art, it’s pretty easy to blend the two styles.
 
 
 

 

 

 

Finally, are there domestic or professional
challenges to collaborating with your spouse? Survival tips?

 
 
 
SAJ  Oy! There are so many challenges! I remember
the early days when it was fun to pull all nighters together. We listened to
late night talk shows while we helped each other out with 48 hour deadlines.
Now we’re getting older and I like to sleep at night. Our daughter wants to
play horses all day every day! Yes, that’s partly our fault. Point is, just
working from home is hard, setting boundaries between professional and personal
lives. Two people working from home is harder. But working from home together
with a kiddo and finding time to both sit down—uninterrupted—and focus on a
project…extra super duper hard! We might have to put our collaborations on hold
until a little someone starts school, or better yet, goes off to college. We’ve
even talked about the possibility of dividing the work up more. For example,
planning together but then I write and he illustrates. We’ll see…
Survival tips? You’ve
got to approach it professionally. Schedule time to meet and discuss—and stick
to it! Don’t take on more than you know you can both handle.

 
 
 

   JC  The main challenges we face are time related.
How much time do we dedicate to our joint projects and how much to our own
individual pursuits. Who’s turn is it to take time out to play horses with
Harper and who’s turn is it to work. On concepts and executing ideas we’re
usually on the same page and, if not, we’re pretty good at working it out. In
the end, we have produced these two amazing books together with zero

casualties.
 
  

BOOK LAUNCH- OCTOBER 16, 2011 at the Writing Barn: 10202 Wommack Rd: Austin, TX
2:00pm- 4:00pm. Mini’s and Friends, a charitable organization benefiting disabled
children, will be bringing along live miniature horses to be petted.
Original art from the book will be on display, prints will be for sale,
and copies of the incredible book will be available for purchase and
signing. There will also be snacks available horsey games to play, and
more!
***********************************************
Postscript:  This was a fantastic launch party. As you can see, I was a bit smitten with a particularly cute mini named Spirit.
Category Author interviewsTagged , , ,

3 thoughts on “Q&A Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby- HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES

  1. After reading Shelley's answers next to mine, it becomes quite obvious which of us is the better researcher. Thanks for the fun interview, Donna! It's great to get approval from an actual horse person for our book.

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