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About Joe Mathieu

Joe and Monster

Photo credit: Melanie Mathieu

To be honest, I wasn't exposed to much in the way of "real" art when I was a kid. I would say my major influences were the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine. Mad magazine made quite an impression, too! I was very impressed by these illustrators and cartoonists, and I tried to copy their work. I drew constantly as a kid, and I loved to draw with my dad, who was quite talented. He liked to draw soldiers and battles and sports figures in a very stylized, precise manner. We would have drawing contests, and my mom would proclaim the winner! I thought it was great fun! It was also very positive encouragement! I couldn't play baseball well, but I could do this!

I eventually became a day student at a very small, male only prep school in Northeastern Connecticut, where, although we had no art classes, I became the cartoonist for the school newspaper, and was able to practice my drawing skills that way. I submitted many more cartoons than the paper could ever use, as I was having a lot of fun caricaturing my fellow students and my teachers (some of whom liked it; others did not!), and I finally won an all New England award in Boston for my cartoon work.

That convinced me that I should go to art school, and I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971 with a

Joe Mathieu at work

Photo credit: Alexandra Mancini

major in illustration. During summers, I worked at a little filmstrip company doing illustration work, and after graduating from college, I started my freelance illustration career that has continued to this day! I chose to freelance, by the way, because employment as an illustrator was practically non-existent! Employment was eventually offered a few years later, but by then I was addicted to my freedom and the control I had over my work and destiny!

I began by illustrating stories, then whole books for Houghton Mifflin & Co., and Atlantic-Little Brown in Boston, and McGraw Hill in New York. I also did some ad agency work.

My "big break" came in 1972 when Random House began publishing books for Sesame Street. I wasn't the first to attempt illustrating the Sesame Street Muppets, but apparently I captured what they were looking for in the look and feel of the TV show. This led to long relationships with Random House and Sesame Workshop that continue to this day.

Joe Mathieu at work

Photo credit: Alexandra Mancini

In addition to numerous books for Sesame Street, I also managed to create thousands of illustrations and designs for all sorts of Sesame Street products, from an extensive line of clothing to interactive toys and games. I also enjoyed illustrating hundreds of features for Sesame Street Magazine.

My work with Sesame Street brought me into contact with Jim Henson and the incredibly creative people at Muppets, and we worked closely on many projects. I soon began to illustrate both Sesame Street books and other types of books at Random House.

In 1974, I wrote and illustrated "Big Joe's Trailer Truck" which did well enough to be translated into several languages, and is considered a classic today. I authored several books, but I generally prefer to illustrate books written by others. As a result, I've had the honor of illustrating books by all the great writers of the Sesame Street television show, including Norman Stiles, Lou Berger, and Jon Stone. In addition to Sesame Street, I have illustrated books written by such well known writers as Laura Numeroff, Marlo Thomas, and even Dr. Seuss!

To date, I have illustrated over 150 children's books for many publishers including Random House, Simon & Schuster,

Joe Mathieu with Miss Piggy

Photo credit: unknown

Golden Books, Marshall Cavendish, Reader's Digest, Publications International, Atlantic-Little Brown, Houghton Mifflin & Co., McGraw Hill, and the Tricycle Press.

I have also collaborated as "co-illustrator" with artist Aristides Ruiz on a series of new Cat in the Hat books for Penguin Random House. We have co-illustrated over 40 of these educational, but fun, Cat in the Hat books.

My love of ragtime and stride piano as well as jazz of the 20's eventually led to illustrating album and CD covers for traditional jazz bands and pianists from all over the U.S. and Europe. I have illustrated covers for such bands as the New Black Eagle Jazz Band from Massachusetts, the South Frisco Band from California, the Turk Murphy Jazz Band from California, the Paris Washboard Jazz band from France, the Humphrey Littleton Jazz band from England, and many others.

Joe Mathieu Self Portrait