Behind the Parent Hacks Book: The Illustrator


Give me 100 words and I’ll play with them for days, but ask me to draw a picture or create an image and I’ll draw a…total creative blank.

Part of why a Parent Hacks book was so exciting to me was that, from the start, the editorial approach was visual. Workman Publishing is known for creating books you want to pick up and page through, and the visuals are a big piece of the puzzle.

They already had illustrator Craighton Berman on a short list when they were dreaming up how this book would look. Craighton is a designer and illustrator who combines drawing and design-thinking to yield a distinctive style of illustrated story-telling. He’s also a dad, and he intuitively “got” the Parent Hacks tone and approach. It shows.

Craighton’s more than an illustrator. He’s also a designer of physical objects, and he teaches Entrepreneurial Product Development in the Industrial Design Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has design work in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago (!); he was the first designer ever to use Kickstarter to launch a product (!!); and he taught a drawing workshop to Disney Imagineering (!!!).

Craighton lives in Chicago, IL with his wife, Emily, and his sons Henry (5) and August (almost 2). He took time — in very short supply for this busy artist and parent — to answer my questions so I could properly introduce him to you.

When did you discover you liked to draw?

My father was working in IT and computer software back in the early 80s and used to bring home reams of dot matrix printer paper—that green and white striped paper that had the perforations. (Anyone remember that stuff?) I would spend hours drawing and since we had copious amounts of that paper, I never had any limits to how much I could imagine and create. I would draw what I thought were cartoons, but often times they were fantastical inventions and and scenarios.

Tell us about how you became a professional illustrator.

Fast forward 17 years, I was studying industrial design in college, which means I was inventing and designing new products, and—not coincidentally—doing a lot of drawing. I had somehow found a profession where you get paid to dream and draw! After about 10 years of working in the field, I struck out to start my own studio where I would mix illustration and product design, and generally pursue interesting projects independently.

You brought such wit and insight to the illustrations in Parent Hacks. How much did your parenting experience influence your work?

Parenting would be pretty miserable without humor. Sometimes it’s the obviously funny moments where your kids are acting like goofballs while they run around naked or say something completely non-sequitur and bizarre in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. But other times it’s more subtle—those times when you step away from the moment and look back at yourself, and it’s just funny. The 8 bags hanging off your shoulders in the airport while you run to the gate with the kids and the whole airport is watching. The epic meals where one kid eats more than you’ve ever seen a kid eat and the other refuses to consume anything—but asks for desert. The horrible dad dancing you’re doing with the kids to your favorite Steely Dan record. I just love irony, and parenting is apparently quite full of it.

You’re also a designer of gorgeous coffee-brewing paraphernalia! How did that come about?

Thank you. My wife Emily and I are extremely into food, and especially labor intensive preparations of food—like manually making your own cup of coffee by hand. It probably sounds ridiculous to every parent reading this, but I haven’t owned a regular coffeemaker since way before having kids—I hand pour every morning coffee, even while holding an infant in the other arm at 5am. So I decided to pour that obsession into creating my own coffeemaker. It’s part of a design brand called Manual, where I design and manufacture “slow” products for food and drink. Products that are beautiful and useful—and, yes, require some effort on your part.

What’s your best parent hack?

Everyone has a million drawings and art from their kids in massive piles around their house—who wants to throw away those memories? But it gets out of control fast. Once a month pile it all up on a table near a window, but away from direct sun light, and photograph each piece of kid art with your phone. Then throw out all but the most important pieces. It’s hard to throw away all that lovely work, but now you’ve got the digital memory on your phone—ready to be swiped through at any time. (Or even slowly uploaded to Instagram to begin your child’s ascent into international art-stardom)

Are you now as much of a Craighton Berman fan as I am? Follow him on Instagram or Twitter at @craightonberman to keep up on his latest projects.

Read the entire Behind the Book series.

Photo credit: #1 (family portrait): Erielle Bakkum; #2-4: Craighton Berman via Instagram, Parent Hacks illustration reproduced with permission from Workman Publishing, #5: Manual Goods.