Creative Director Relaxes by Creating Children's Books

Don Carter Recycles Storyboards Into Storybook Illustrations

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CHCIAGO ( -- Old ads are reincarnated in the hands of Don Carter, a creative director at Avon, Conn.-based agency Adams & Knight. Yet, these ads are waking
Don Carter of the Adams & Knight ad agency creates children's books as a sideline.
up not as marketing messages but as brightly painted trucks, saxophones and other colorful characters that inhabit one of the half-dozen or so children's books Mr. Carter has written and illustrated over the last few years.

Old storyboards
Working through a carton of old foam-board presentation boards originally created as title cards for the now-defunct Ames Discount Stores, Mr. Carter said he creates his 3-D illustrations by first cutting shapes from the board, then applying drywall compound and acrylic paints, and lastly spackling over the foamboard to give to give it texture. "The whole intention is that people would think it was cut out of clay," he said of the finished work, which is then photographed for his books.

Mr. Carter, 47, began illustrating children's books back in 1999 when he was working at Mintz & Hoke. "I was feeling less creative being in the ad business where I was before," said Mr. Carter, who left the agency in a downsizing before joining Adams & Knight.

After a few collaborations, he began to write and illustrate his own titles, including "Get to Work Trucks!" (Roaring Book Press), which colorfully chronicles the day of a digger, which Child dubbed a "Best Book of the Year." Even one of his admittedly less commercial titles, "Heaven's All-Star Jazz Band," was aimed at older children and earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Not working on computer
"It's not working on the computer; it's painting and cutting things," Mr. Carter said of his art. "My hope was someday that this would be a full-time thing, but that's a hard thing to do," he said, adding that he doesn't feel the drive so much because he's happy in his current position.

So by day, Mr. Carter makes ads, and by night, after he and his wife Catherine have put their son Grayson, 7, and daughter Phoebe, 5, to bed, he gets back to the business of books. First he makes sketches and dummy books.

"There's usually three to four rounds of that," he said. "As I go through I understand what [the publishers] do and don't like."

Farm tractor book
Then he creates final images, and while he said the process has gotten easier, he still has crunch times. "I'll go through periods when I have to work every night. I just finished the artwork on 'Old McDonald Drives a Tractor' -- it's basically a farm tractor book and all the fun things they do around a farm."

Mr. Carter's images also might soon take another form as he's in discussions with a Canadian company to animate his characters for a series of children's music videos. He's also talked to illustrator Dan Yaccarino about potentially collaborating on a TV program.

And as his second career has grown, so has his home studio, which started as the family dining room table, which often got splattered with paint, and has since expanded into the basement, which is decorated with toys and other playful props.

Early art interest
"I was always into art," said Mr. Carter, who recalled making his own games and building toy cars out of boxes as a kid. "It was a great source of satisfaction for me," he said. "I knew I wanted to do something with art" by high school, he said, but stories of starving artists steered him into a career in advertising.

And while Mr. Carter said both his children are also showing interest in art, they don't seem overly impressed with Dad's work. "I have a funny picture of my son sitting down in the corner of one of my book signings reading a Barney book," he said with a laugh. "There you go."

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