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blog: Illustrator Ering’s "Necks Out for Adventure" autobiographical

Andrew Fersch
Vail CO, Colorado

Timothy Basil Ering may not have been the illustrator parents were pining for their children to adore when he illustrated the macabre “Diary of Victor Frankenstein” in 1997, they also probably would have had no idea that he would also go on to illustrate Kate DiCamillo’s Newbury Award winner “The Tale of Deseperaux” in 2006, or that, eventually, he himself would become an illustrator turned author for the little ones based on that first work.

Ering’s most recent work, “Necks Out for Adventure”, his second foray into the world of illustrating his own writing, finds Edwin Wiggleskin, a slimy little clam, who is willing to do just what the title says in order to find his place in life, or others’ way out of trouble. By doing so, he takes himself out of the ocean he knows and loves, and into a world he’s never experienced before, experiencing, yup, you guessed it, adventure.

This story isn’t all that different from illustrator turned author Ering’s life in some respects. Born and raised on the beaches of Cape Cod, Ering knew that he needed some adventure, and after graduating high school and starting to take some gen. ed. classes at the local community college and realizing he just “wasn’t into it”, he decided he was going on an adventure.

“And so I sailed around with the Navy. We went to Hawaii the Philippines, Australia, Africa, met a ton of people from all over the US.” Ering knew being a lifer in the Navy wasn’t for him, but it did give him a chance to hone his other big passion, illustration.

“In the Navy, I was drawing all the time. A bunch of my buddies writing home would want me to draw cool images on their cards, they saw me do it, and then I would do it for favors, a few bucks, whatever. I would draw beautiful roses, and after forty-five days at sea, you couldn’t wait to get a letter back, smelling of perfume, you’d just lay down on your bunk and place it over your nose.”

Knowing though that his time in the Navy wasn’t meant to last Ering began courses at Grossmont Community College in San Diego, where he immersed himself in all things art. Growing up, the idea of being an artist for a career never occurred to him, his time in the Navy convinced him he needed to do something with art, and once at Grossmont he related to the Daily that “as each semester went by I was more gung-ho and pumped about a career in art.”

A recruiter from the Art Center in Pasadena, where Ering intended to study after GCC, came down one weekend to check out portfolios, and Ering says; “I knew I was gonna go there, my next jones was to get accepted there. After Art Center you get out of there with this huge toolbox of knowledge, but you have to find your way.”

Finding his way was just one more adventure for Ering though.

One day an art director from White Heat Publishing in New Mexico came up to check out portfolios and Ering pulled a Edwin Wiggleskin, sticking his neck out, taking a chance, and was rewarded.

White Heat offered Ering an opportunity to illustrate a book with “a lot of anatomy drawing” and offered very little other information. It wasn’t until months later that things finally started coming together with the book (and unfortunately for Ering, plans for a father and son 3,000 mile sailboat trip).

Fortunately, the publisher didn’t make him choose one or the other, and so Ering’s first piece major piece of work was done on a boat, between Florida and Guatemala, spear-fishing and “knocking food off trees”, having to be flown from wherever he might be at any given time to drop off finished work and pick up his paychecks.

Although his career began as an illustrator, and Ering himself acknowledges that it was very fulfilling and though he wasn’t searching for anything else, he ended up finding it.

“I really got into the thought that being a children’s book illustrator would be really cool. I would look back at one of my favorites, and wanting to make killer art is one thing, illustrating other stories is really cool, it’s a rewarding challenge, I just kept thinking I’d like to write my own book and illustrate my own world that I’m writing.”

From this came 2003’s “The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone”. The process was hugely different than what he was accustomed to.

“It was augmenting the illustration, before I tackled it, not knowing how difficult it would be. I always liked being wacky and silly, outside the box, so much so that the first story I tried, I didn’t know what I was in for. I went through so many drafts, it was the first time I really worked with an editor … it became like a painting to me, it’s so close to painting now, the writing.”

Ering considers himself very fortunate that he hasn’t been challenged on his artistic integrity by publishers, even when some of his characters might strike some younger children as a bit frightening. He also asserts that he could go anywhere from here.

“I’m always considering a full book, I’m blown away by how a writer can continue a thought, compose a thought from beginning, a setting, an atmosphere, a problem, continue that for hundreds of pages, have the problem solved, a conclusion, it blows me away, then to have it be interesting. I get this kinda anxious, fun little zing once in a while that I wouldn’t mind trying that.”

Knowing that Tim’s worked with award-winning authors before, his response to who he would most like to work with in the future, is as telling as his brooding, thoughtful illustrations.

“Tom Waits. If we were buddies, I would definitely say Tom Waits, his writing drips paint.”

This is an awfully apt choice from a man whose illustrations scribble down their own volumes of stories, even without their accompanying words. Maybe someday the world will be just adventurous enough to let this happen, for now though, it’s safe to say we can rely on Edwin Wiggleskin and Timothy Basil Ering, who will be sharing their adventures with the rest of us.


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