Kate: I don't really pay attention to other children's book illustrators. I do love old time collagers like Leo Lionni, Eric Carle, and Jack Ezra Keats. Outsider art and primitive art are large influences in my artwork. I appreciate art coming from an untrained eye; there's a sweetness and purity to it that I find really appealing. I'm also a fan of Inuit art from Alaska and Canada. Inuit artists do not always render wildlife realistically. There is a sense of whimsy and magic to the style of their art that I hope to capture in some of my images.
Sometimes I will render specific types of birds — Stellar's Jays, Kingfishers, and Pileated Woodpeckers are a few of my favorites. Other times, printed paper, color combinations, and rubber-stamp images will dictate the type of "made-up" bird I create.
Outside art and Inuit art has helped me to lose some of my art inhibitions.
Caspar: Describe the choice to keep your work from getting too detailed. At what point do you pull back and omit fine details? How does this make your work stronger?
Kate: LESS IS MORE! In my opinion, for my work at least, I really have to really limit the type of papers and patterns that I use. My earlier collage work was a bit chaotic. Once I narrowed down a palate of papers and patterns to work with, my work became much stronger.
The first few years of my working with paper was a lot of trial and error. I think a lot of collage work fails because people just go nuts when it comes time to glue. It's easy to want to include every type of paper and color but it almost always results in a messy rat's nest of an art project.
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Kate: Lots of people know that you're a singer and songwriter. However, lots of people do not know that you graduated from art school and hold a degree in fine art. What did you learn in art school that you apply to music? Do you ever draw or paint anymore?
Caspar: I loved art school! However when I arrived at school I was there to learn about painting, and I didn't have any ideas about what I wanted to say with my painting. This presented a vacuum in my creative process that I would come to learn was the essential space to fill with songwriting. It didn't help that my first art teacher at school was less than inspiring and really was not there to help people find a voice. She was there to drink coffee and sleep in a chair while we painted something from our dreams.
That lack of a vision was the biggest lesson of that phase, in thatI knew that when I found my voice creatively it would have to be related to "seeing" something in my mind first and then finding the medium to release it. It ended up that my strongest songs come from a clear vision of a scene of a character that I then simply describe with the lyrics and the listener can reconstruct in their minds while they listen to the song. I think that this is what draws kids and parents to my songs. They can see what I see.
I do draw still but rarely paint. I never really got comfortable enough with the paint itself to make it do what I wanted it to do. Give me a nice juicy pen and some paper and I will draw for hours, though. I love to trace animals and plants and musical instruments from books and create strange hybrid animal/plant/instrument creatures.
I also spent a great deal of time with the filmmakers in school because I admired their dependence on each other and their risk taking with their craft. You simply couldn't embark on that process without a clear vision. That experience helps me these days as I make homemade videos for the Caspar Babypants songs.
I audited a ton of film classes, and, more than my visual art education, the time watching and talking about films has really helped me make simple compelling videos and strengthened the narrative visual part of my songwriting.
Kate: You're very involved in charity work. What charities do you work with and how did those relationships form? Has it influenced your work?
Caspar: My involvement with charity work is essential to the very existence of the Caspar Babypants thing!
I first got a taste of the relaxing, wide-open fun of making simple innocent songs for kids when I made an album of traditional old songs for an organization called PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support). They get new parents in the same neighborhood together in groups and moderate discussions about the stresses of parenting and they answer the many questions that new parents have about their babies.
This experience of making that album was such a breath of fresh air among the many other projects I was working on in an effort to find a different voice than the rock-and-roll band at the time. But I still did not get the message that this was to be my new direction creatively.
When I did finally and fully transition to music for families, I remembered that PEPS album and the basic mission statement of the organization to reduce stress for families and that stuck with me.My mission now is essentially to get a family to sing together and like the same songs so that they can get through a long boring car ride or a rainy afternoon at home and come out the other end smiling and singing. As I write and record and produce the albums I have that imaginary stressed out family in mind the whole time. I make purposeful creative decisions based on the story of the song and how I imagine that family will react and how the recording will change the atmosphere in that car.
These days I work with Wellspring Family Services as well as PEPS. With Wellspring I do a summertime fundraising campaign with kids called Kids Helping Kids. Kids get official Wellspring coin jars and go door to door or to their family members and raise money to help homeless families in King County, and then they hand the jars in by September 1st and they are automatically entered into a random drawing to win a custom song by Caspar Babypants about anything they want! I will write it with them and record it for them and play it at shows.
So, the stress relief part of these organizations is woven into the fabric of my own goals with my music in a permanent way that I love.
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Caspar Babypants is also known as Chris Ballew, twice Grammy-nominated lead singer and songwriter for the rock-and-roll band the Presidents of the United States of America. For music, info, and more, go to BabypantsMusic.com.
Kate Endle is a collector of beautiful and unusual printed papers, which she uses to compose vibrant images for children’s books and original artwork. Original art and Kate Endle collage prints can be found at her online shop at KateEndle.com.
Books mentioned in this post
Caspar Babypants and Kate Endle is the author of Augie to Zebra: An Alphabet Book!