Who lives in a Pineapple under the Sea? –Who draws him?

What’s SpongeBob Really Like? is the most visited page on this blog. KU grad Amanda Geisinger, web designer of Nick.com’s SpongeBob site, told us she can fiddle with SpongeBob art, but only a few select artists are actually permitted to draw SpongeBob. Of course, Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of all Bikini Bottom’s characters, is in that category. But who else?

An Amazon.com search reveals over 650 results for the term “SpongeBob” in books and at least a dozen illustrators. I was amazed to find these titles: SpongeBob RoundPants, SpongeBob SantaPants, SpongeBob SpookyPants, SpongeBob PartyPants and WhoBob WhatPants? Based on the cover art by Clint Bond, it seems our mellow yellow hero becomes a nudist in  SpongeBob NaturePants!

Seems I’m always reading 3 books at once. I am working my way through Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom and two SpongeBob Books. (If read concurrently with SpongeBob books, anything else seems rather dry.)

I’m reading  A Very Krusty Christmas by David Lewman and The Art Contest by Steven Banks. These choices are not random, but rather based on my background as a Santa turned illustration professor. Both books, it turns out are ably illustrated by NY-based illustrator Robert Dress. Dress’s blog is a lesson in illustration; the fluid line drawings that fill his many moleskine sketchbooks are a joy to behold. I wrote to him and he was good enough to answer a few questions.

From A Very Krusty Christmas, art by Robert Dress, Simon Spotlight/Nickelodeon

What is SpongeBob really like?

Robert Dress: “Um hmmm…I’ve never met Stephen Hillenburg.”

Has SpongeBob changed your life?

R.D. “Changed my life? Yes, he’s allowed me to work with some amazing illustrators and art directors at Nickelodeon.”

Identify SpongeBob's inspirations or go back to Art History class. (answers below ) art by Robert Dress from The Art Contest, 2009, Simon Spotlight/Nickelodeon books

What is the project you enjoyed working on with him the most?

“I love just sketching him and getting into how he’s feeling and reacting to a situation. He’s an emotional guy which makes him fun to draw. Because his eyes are so large he’s not too hard to get expressions out of. One of the hardest things to do when your drawing a character like SpongeBob is to pull out genuine feelings and the eyes are the most revealing features.”

Pencil sketches by Robert Dress, Spongebob and Patrick © Viacom

Can you share any sketches?

I have some sketches of him on my blog somewhere you can look at.”

Sincere thanks much to Robert Dress for his quick responses. As he points out, he is one of many  artists privileged to work with SpongeBob. He also wrote that he wasn’t permitted to dicusss future projects, but we hope to see more of his work. By the way, Stephen Hillenburg, SpongeBob’s creator, doesn’t do many interviews, but made exceptions for his alma mater, Cal Arts, here, and the Washington Post.

(SpongeBob’s paintings inspirations: Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Edvard Munch’s Scream, Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, and Jackson Pollock. The cover, above, channels Rene Magritte’s Son of Man.)

All SpongeBob characters are © copyright Viacom International and used here for review purposes only.

What’s SpongeBob Really Like?

SpongeBob© Copyright 1999 Viacom International Inc.

“He is much more multidimensional than I expected!”

Amanda Geisinger knows SpongeBob better than most of us. She designs the Official SpongeBob website.

Amanda’s job title is “Web Designer” at Nickelodeon’s “Nick.com.” She stopped by the Communication Design Dept. last week on a rainy Friday. Originally from Stowe, PA, she graduated from KU in 2008 and gave one of the most memorable commencement addresses ever. During her speech she spoke about being a stellar art student in high school. Her art teachers and guidance counselors advised her against KU, saying, “You’re so good! Why aren’t you applying to a real art school? (Alas, some high schools are biased against state universities.)

Today Amanda has her dream job. She has a Manhattan skyscraper office on the 33rd floor with a Hudson River view. Her high school teachers were right about one thing; she is good. (So is KU’s Communication Design program.)

from Amanda Makes Things © 2010 Amanda Geisinger

Amanda’s Mom always asks her what she does, so she created a blog called Amanda Makes Things. It is filled with quirky personal cartoons, sketches and photos of New York City. Amanda likes WordPress, the same blogging tool we use here. Though she does websites for a living, she likes the simplicity of WordPress during her leisure time.

Originally Amanda got to Nickelodeon via an internship she found herself. When she first got the internship, she knew nobody in New York City. Illustrator Brian Selznick was visiting KU just before she moved to the city. Amanda asked him for housing advice and he actually hooked her up with a sublet in hip Williamsburg. After the internship, she got hired by Nickelodeon Magazine. When that magazine shut down, she says it was traumatic, but she landed on her feet at the website, Nick.com.

At Nickelodeon magazine she was the “Comics Designer,” and worked with famous artists including Jeff Kinney, creator of the Wimpy Kid. She has worked with many famous cartoon characters. I asked her, “What is SpongeBob Squarepants really like?”

SpongeBob© Copyright 1999 Viacom International Inc.

“He is much more multidimensional than I expected. One of my jobs at Nick.com was to watch every SpongeBob episode from the last ten years to select screen grabs for the website. So, I’ve seen a lot of different sides of SpongeBob. He’s great to work with.” She recently designed the SpongeBob Mystery page in two days.

Only a select group of approved illustrators are permitted to draw SpongeBob, but Amanda is allowed to design using their approved artwork. An example being this SpongBob button:

Advice for students? Amanda: “Figure out exactly where you want to go. Go for your dream internship. It worked for me! It can happen, because they don’t have to pay you. Try to work for free after you graduate and they will think you’re crazy.”

I asked Amanda for three pieces of advice for illustrators. Number one: “You absolutely need a web site. It doesn’t have to be fancy. At the magazine we never looked at an illustrator without a website, and for each job we looked at hundreds of illustrators. Sites need to be simple to navigate.” Amanda says it is best to avoid using Flash, the Adobe software which doesn’t allow “grabbable” images. Amanda explains she often needed to grab files to share with an art director.

Number two piece of advice: “Don’t underestimate old-fashioned forms of contact. Good postcards, for example, are keepers. Just make sure to have a web address on the postcard.”

Number three: “Location doesn’t matter as much as it used to, however, it is good to be in the same time zone as the client.” She has worked with illustrators from Europe and Asia, but illustrators in the same time zone have one small advantage, – art directors know when they should be awake. So, wake up, illustrators!

UPDATE: Since SpongeBob gets so much interest, I contacted Robert Dress, a freelance illustrator for several SpongeBob books. Read more here.