Greatness and Glory

Interview with Dave Szalay, illustrator of The True Story of Zippy Chippy– The Little Horse That Couldn’t

Zippy Chippy is descended from the leading legends of horse racing. He is destined for greatness and glory. But . . . when the starting bell rings, it’s anybody’s guess what Zippy will do. Will Zippy go for a gentle trot around the track or stop and smell the roses? Or, perhaps, never even leave the starting gate?! Written by Artie Bennett and illustrated by Dave Szalay, this remarkable story of the famed racehorse who lost every race is sure to win your heart.

How did you connect with Zippy Chippy?

I love animals and am fascinated by horses because they are such regal, intelligent animals. Racehorses are so incredibly powerful, and I love the contrast of Zippy Chippy, being a bonafide pedigree racehorse with such a silly, carefree personality.

An illustration from The True Story of Zippy Chippy

Where do you create your books? Do you have a studio, a favorite spot outdoors, or a coffee shop that you frequent?

I have a new 300 square foot dedicated artist’s studio that we added onto our house in the summer of 2019. I designed it around my needs, so it is just perfect. It has big windows, lots of light, inspired by Norman Rockwell’s actual studio. The windows look out at several picturesque, wooded acres, and a creek. I often see deer, and other animals including families of foxes. In fact we’re expecting a new batch of baby foxes to make an appearance this spring. It’ll be our third family. I have a custom fox weathervane a top my studio since they are symbolic of my picture book work. My cat Luna often joins me and hangs out in my studio all day. As far as coffee, I always work with a fresh cup nearby.

What is your medium? Can you walk us through your illustration process?

I work digitally. Coming from a previous 20 years as a graphic designer, I’m prolific with Adobe software. I’m also a professor and have taught design and illustration for the past 15 years. My digital process mimics the same steps I’d take beginning with pencil sketches, then painting with a water-based medium like watercolor paint or inks. Even though I have a BFA in graphic design, and an MFA in Illustration, neither taught me technique. In this case, I’m all self-taught. I’ve never had a computer or a painting class.

Where did you grow up and what kind of child were you? What was your favorite book as a child?

I grew up in Akron, Ohio about 30 miles south of where I currently live in the village of Richfield. Our place is only about a mile from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park where I like to hike and brainstorm about new stories. The first two books that struck me visually were, Where the Wild Things Are, and then, In the Night Kitchen. I remember my third grade librarian reading both to us. Then I checked them out over and over. I was obsessed with all the little line hatching work and the moody colors. Funny I didn’t own them until I was an adult. My wife bought them for me. My grandmother worked in the book area of a big department store and she provided me with lots of picture books, including all of the Dr. Seuss books. I struggled learning to read and they helped encourage me with the illustrations. I wrote a letter to Dr. Seuss when I was about 20 yrs old, thanking him for inspiring me to draw and to keep trying to learn to read. I told him I hoped to one day make picture books that would help kids read, just as he did. He wrote me back on his Cat in The Hat stationery, which hangs framed in my studio.

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