Corey R. Tabor is the illustrator of A Dark, Dark Cave, a new picture book with a delightful twist that wonderfully captures the unique power of imagination. In bold colors and lines, Corey illustrates a brother and sister’s adventures exploring a big cave. The cave is dark and a little scary, but the adorable duo bravely and cautiously observe the sights and sounds of the creatures around them — until a big hand swipes away part of the cave’s ceiling, revealing a big surprise. We chatted with Corey about how he approached illustrating A Dark, Dark Cave, the role public school played in his becoming an artist, and how his own backyard adventures inspire him to create art.
What first made you excited about art?
I loved drawing with my brothers when we were kids. We made up characters and stories. We drew epic battles and adventures. We’d plan our future houses, design our own board games, or invent some crazy contraption or other. Drawing was play. Drawing is play, I’m always reminding myself.
Our parents made sure our house was full of craft and art supplies. They’d bring home boxes of that old printer paper that you could unfold for miles. We were always making something.
We also had great public schools in Gillette, Wyoming, where I grew up. I took every art class they offered, and they offered a lot. I can still remember watching a Charles Schulz documentary in 7th grade art class and thinking, “This guy does this for a job!” That was quite the epiphany.
What illustrated book from your childhood has stayed with you over the years? Why?
The Calvin and Hobbes collections by Bill Watterson are my all-time favorites. Those books helped instill in me a taste for mischief, a sense of wonder. I pull out my old, bent, and battered Calvin and Hobbes books whenever I need a pick-me-up, or when I need to remember how it felt to be a kid.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
Picture books! Old picture books, new picture books, you name it. I have a constantly fluctuating stack of library books that lives on our living room floor.
I also love walking, exploring, and day-dreaming. Traipsing around in the woods is the best thing for coming up with ideas.
Collaboration is also a good source of inspiration. Eric Hoffman’s wonderful text in A Dark, Dark Cave inspired all sorts of illustrations that I never would have dreamed up on my own.
What does your workspace look like?
Messy. Cozy. The walls are lined in books, which is just how I like it. I’ve got a big window for looking at trees and birds and clouds (plenty of those here in Seattle!), and a whole assortment of musical instruments for when I need to procrastinate.
What materials do you most like to use?
I love messy materials that are hard to control and lend themselves to happy accidents. Watercolor is my favorite, as you never quite know what it will do. But I love to experiment and I’ll use anything that will do the job. For A Dark, Dark Cave I used pencil, watercolor, ink, colored pencil, block-printing ink, and a computer (plus maybe some crayon and charcoal too).
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
Picture books! Read and look at as many picture books as you can. There’s so much brilliant and inspiring work out there. And you’re never too old for a good picture book. Find illustrators whose work you love and try to figure out how they do what they do. That’s what I do.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
My wife just introduced me to “Seafoam Green,” which is a nice, soft name for a lovely color.
Corey R. Tabor grew up in Wyoming, where he once spent the night in a cave by an underground waterfall. He now lives with his wife in Seattle, where he draws and reads and explores. Please visit him at coreyrtabor.com.