Surprise Guest: Top Dog Diane deGroat!

Diane with her collaborator, Shelley Rotner.

Woof woof! Hot diggety dog!

I’m pleased as punch today to welcome back supremely talented and prolific author/illustrator Diane deGroat, who has totally gone to the dogs with fellow author Shelley Rotner to create a thoroughly delightful, tickle your funny bone picture book, Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth

     Picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.     

Just released by Orchard/Scholastic on August 1st, this fold-out concept book combines photographs with digital art to illustrate what dogs do, and what they don’t do, and has readers of all ages howling with laughter and begging for more.

You don’t have to be a dog lover to appreciate these charismatic canines, who, thanks to Shelley’s expert photography and Diane’s clever Photoshop manipulations, can be seen doing fun things like playing tennis, eating with a knife and fork, playing in a rock band, and of course, brushing their teeth (with White Fang toothpaste, no less). The fold-out format is highly effective at keeping the suspense and surprise padding along at a good clip with nary a whimper. And if all this adorableness isn’t enough, the acknowlegement page features all the dogs’ names and breeds with their profile pictures. Yip!

Some of you may remember that Diane was my very first alphabet soup interviewee back in October 2007, when she stopped by to talk about the snowflake she had created for the Robert’s Snow auction. That’s when we all found out about this:

Yes, Diane’s famous taxidermy collection! Quite fascinating, no? Since then, Diane has published two more titles featuring everyone’s favorite possum, Gilbert, in addition to the new dogs book. So, why did Diane have to remove the canine’s canines? And what other tricks did she and Shelley perform for these perky posable pups? 

Sit. Stay. Read on:

Such a pleasure to have you back, Diane. How did you and Shelley come to work together on this project?

Shelley Rotner and I became friends when I moved to MA and joined the Western Massachusetts Illustrators’ Guild in 1995. Shelley always had good ideas, and I was anxious to try something different from my usual picture book art. We planned a brainstorming session to find a book idea that could combine her photographs with my art. With pad and pencil in hand, we tossed a lot of ideas around. We both agreed that dogs were a good subject, but we weren’t on the same page with it.


Late into the night (and after a good bottle of wine), I was still pushing for a picture book story about a lost dog, which had the potential for some interesting artwork, but the story kept falling flat. Shelley was leaning toward a concept book, as most of her books are nonfiction. Finally, Shelley came up with the “dogs do, dogs don’t” idea. It sounded almost too simple, but when we started making a list of what dogs do, and the human equivalent of what they don’t do, it really took shape. That was the fun part — coming up with silly ideas. The rest was hard work!

Was this the first time both of you had worked on something like this?

It was my first collaboration, and it was Shelley’s first book that was “silly,” rather than serious.

How did you make the illustrations?

I made the full-sized dummy art by drawing right into my computer with my Wacom tablet. I had to figure out the best way to position the dogs in the illustrations. They had to work with the flaps closed (Dogs do . . .), and with the flaps opened (Dogs don’t!). Shelley photographed the dogs as close as possible to my sketch, but of course she couldn’t shoot a dog blowing a bubble or using a hula hoop!

That’s when Photoshop came in. I had to manipulate the photograph to look like the dog was performing a human action. Sometimes I used pieces from many different photos to do this. The harder part was figuring out what the background art should look like. There were many ways I could have handled it: collage-y, scribbly, cartoony or realistic. I had to try many different styles until I found the one that I was most comfortable with.

Do you have a favorite picture? Which one took the longest/was the most difficult?

My favorite illustration, and one of the hardest, is the dog with the braces on his teeth. I spent almost a week getting the teeth to look right!

Here’s the dummy sketch with the flap opened:

This is the photograph that Shelley took:

I scanned canine teeth from an animal anatomy book:

I placed them in the Cocker Spaniel’s mouth. Then I drew over the teeth and added gums. I had to guess how they would fit, and what the smile would look like! I’m sure any veterinarian looking at this would cringe at its inaccuracy!


It looked really creepy, so I shortened the canine teeth and closed the mouth some:

I Googled an image of braces. Then I drew over one to make it clearer:

I then copied and pasted it onto each of the teeth, and added the wires.

Then I tried different backgrounds. 

The paws came from a different dog.


At this point, the cartoony style of drawing in the above art didn’t feel right, as it was too great a contrast with the photograph. I made the drawing more realistic in the final version below, and the toothbrush was replaced with a photograph. Shelley thought the purple Victorian wallpaper in the background looked too formal; she suggested using bones instead. I drew the bones onto the background, and I agree that it looks much better. And finally, the canine teeth were removed altogether. Even though it’s not anatomically correct, it doesn’t look as creepy!


What were some of the most notable things you learned from working on this book? Any tips for other illustrators who might be interested in combining photographs with digital art?

This was my first collaboration, and it took some getting used to. But it paid off: neither Shelley nor I could have done this book by ourselves, so a collaboration really worked in this case. Artistically, I learned to take risks and to try new things that I would never have attempted with watercolor. With digital art, you can’t mess up your work, so trial and error is a great way to go. I also had help from other illustrators who work more with digital art than I do. Their expertise was invaluable when I ran into a technical problem. And sometimes our illustrator’s group was a good venue for suggestions and comments.


How were the dogs chosen?

Shelley had an Australian Shepherd, Ginger, who sadly passed away while we were working on this book. While walking Ginger in town or on the trails, Shelley met many other dogs and their owners. She was also acquainted with breeders and she had friends who owned dogs. There never seemed to be a lack of dogs to photograph! We tried to use breeds that best fit the activity, such as using a greyhound for the “running” art, and a bulldog for the eating scene.

Did Shelley have any especially funny/challenging/memorable incidents occur when she was photographing them?

The dogs were sometimes given treats to get them to pose. If a dog moved, or if the lighting was poor, the photo would be out of focus. They had to be shot outdoors where there was enough light, but not in the sun, which would cause strong shadows. Weather was always a factor! The owners were eager to help whenever possible. If you check the outtake slides on the website, you’ll see some of the owners trying to position their dogs for Shelley. One of the hardest dogs to photograph was the pooping dog. Shelley had to follow the dog around until just the right moment!


Please tell us all about the Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth website.

We made the website because we had a lot to share about the making of the book and about the dogs themselves. For the site, we gave each dog a profile page with his stats — best friend, favorite toy, likes and dislikes, etc. It gives the reader a chance to see that the dogs in the books are real dogs. There are book-related activities for kids to download, too. And dog biscuit recipes!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on the 13th book in the “Gilbert and Friends” series. It’s for Earth Day, and Gilbert’s issue is his inability to come up with ideas (for a project). The title is a long one: Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! (Gilbert Goes Green), (HarperCollins, 2011).

And of course we are thinking of a sequel to the dog book — cats!

Before you go, please tell us about the new Gilbert titles that were released this year.


April Fool! Watch Out at School! is a little different because it has a gimmick. There are hidden “tricks” in the art that the reader has to find. (Hint: The picture of George Washington on the classroom wall is a portrait of me!) And Gilbert, The Surfer Dude is my first I Can Read book for HarperCollins. I’m running out of holidays for Gilbert’s picture books, so I started a spin-off series that will cover Gilbert’s everyday adventures. The second I Can Read book will be Gilbert and the Lost Tooth (2011). Again, the issues covered in these books are things that every first grader can relate to.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Diane. And thanks for writing such wonderful books! Ruff ruff!


Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth Website: You’ll love all the dog profiles, process pics and downloads. You can also purchase prints, mugs and t-shirts featuring some of the illos from the book.

Booksigning Alert: Diane and Shelley will be signing books on Martha’s Vineyard this weekend. Click here for their appearance schedule.

Diane deGroat Official Website.

Shelley Rotner Official Website.

Must-watch video interview with Diane over at Just One More Book: take a look at her studio and watch her draw and paint with the computer.

Online review of Dogs at Jen Robinson’s Book Page.

*Spreads and photos posted by permission, copyright © 2009 Diane deGroat and Shelley Rotner, published by Orchard Books/Scholastic. All rights reserved.


18 thoughts on “Surprise Guest: Top Dog Diane deGroat!

  1. Me, too. What a fun post with fabulous photographs. I think my girls will pretty much adore this book. Thanks for this!



  2. Adorable userpic, Melodye!! Love those wagging tails :).

    Diane was so nice about sending over those process pictures and explaining everything. Those canines were something, weren’t they?


  3. It was great to see how she compiled all the images for her pictures, and where she got various inspiration. Thanks for sharing all that delicious inside information!


  4. My friends!….

    …are HERE!

    Diane and Shelley. How cool!

    And what a great book. I remember when they were first sharing the book dummy at a meeting at my house!


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