Monday, May 31, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Eleanora E. Tate

This week we’re stepping inside the workspace of writer Eleanora E. Tate. She is the author of eleven titles for young readers including the historical fiction novel Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance, the biography African American Musicians which covers some of the legendary black musicians who have shaped and developed America's rich musical history, and the compilation of retold folktales Retold African Myths. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed South Carolina trilogy which includes The Secret of Gumbo Grove; Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!; and A Blessing in Disguise. Her book Just an Overnight Guest was made into an award-winning film. She was named a 1999 Zora Neale Hurston Award winner (with Dr. John Hope Franklin), the highest award given by the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc., of which she is a former national president. She is an instructor with the Institute of Children's Literature in Connecticut and is also on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA program for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Previously, she taught children’s literature at North Carolina Central University in Durham.

From her website, she says, "I write books and short stories so that everyone of every ethnic group can read about the proud history and culture of African Americans. I share what I have seen and experienced, and what other folks have told me, to create a good read."

Her latest work, Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance, is set in 1921 during the Harlem Renaissance and features 13-year-old violin playing Celeste who dreams of becoming a doctor. When her father is diagnosed with tuberculosis, she is sent to live with her Aunt Valentina, an actress Celeste thinks of as fancy and living a lavish lifestyle. But when she arrives in Harlem, she discovers Aunt Valentina’s situation is anything but what she’d anticipated. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance was an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice award winner. Publishers Weekly  wrote “In Celeste, Tate has created a fully realized heroine, whose world expands profoundly as she's exposed to both the cultural pinnacles and racial prejudices of her era.”

To learn more about Eleanora E. Tate you can visit her website where her dog Shaka Zulu also writes a column of his own. (Author photo credit: © 2007 by Zack  E. Hamlett)

Describe your workspace.

For the last several months my writing space has been in transition. When I think back on my workspace over the past fifty plus years, I remember telling myself when I lived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Morehead City, North Carolina, during the 1980s and 1990s that I could write  even during a hurricane--and  have. I’d sit on the floor with a yellow legal pad or a notebook on my knees, squinting to see by hurricane lamp during one or another hurricane. 

I began writing in my hometown of Canton, Missouri, on a tablet with brown paper. My first writing space was probably at home where I lived with my grandmother, older sister, and brother. The first story I remember writing came rather fearfully, when I was about nine years old, of a terrible nightmare I’d had. After writing it down and experiencing the power of the word--as well as my relief to have survived that nightmare--I realized that I knew I wanted to be a writer.

I wrote sitting or lying on my grandmother’s couch, at her kitchen table (which I have and use as a writing desk), and on her simple wooden front porch. Sometimes I wrote while sitting on top of her dog Randy’s doghouse in the back yard.

These days I write at my desktop in my very cluttered office upstairs in my home in Knightdale, North Carolina. When I rented my first apartment back in 1966, the first thing I did was to establish a corner and a wall for my office, my very old desk, and my even older huge black manual typewriter. When I married in 1972 and moved into a house in Des Moines, Iowa, I was able to have my first actual WRITING ROOM, with a door and a window. Hooray!

These days I also write downstairs in my dining room with my HP and Mac laptops on a hundred-year -old-plus kitchen table that my family ate on when I was a child in Canton.

I also write in my living room in front of the fireplace and often with Shaka Zulu, my black lab (who now writes his own column on my website). I sometimes write on my wraparound front porch, or on my deck in the back of the house.

Describe a typical workday.

It depends. If I’m into a work–in-progress and deadlines loom, I write in four- or five-hour increments cuz I gotta get this thing done!!! So I’m up by 5 or 6 a.m., feed Shaka, work until around 10 or 11, stop to complete daily projects (eat, clean house, get manuscripts for the Institute of Children’s Literature into the mail), sleep (something to be said about siestas), handle any evening engagements, eat, sleep,  wake up, and work some more.

But because I believe in living, I’ll stop to go for a ride (meaning I hit the grocery store), pay bills, go to the movies (my book Just an Overnight Guest was made into a film years ago but I like to keep my hand in). I still cut my own grass, tend to my small, small garden in my big, big yard, and just breathe.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Drinking water is a must, and occasionally a glass of wine.  Shaka’s usually there, too, and extra fine pens, which help me to write faster.  While I wrote African American Musicians, The Minstrel’s Melody and, mostly recently Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance I kept chocolate cake nearby to help me stay creative and give me energy. I think I gained five pounds in the process, but boy did I need the energy! When I wrote Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School my writing food of choice was roasted peanuts, still in the shell!

Do you have rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them. What do you listen to while you work?

When I wrote in pencil on tablets (in the early years) I required sharp #2 pencils. Then I went to flair-top pens, and my necessities now are Precise extra fine rolling ball pens. 

I  ALWAYS play specific computer games for a good 15 minutes before I do any writing. On the Mac it’s Bonkheads and Spades. On the other laptop it’s Hearts or Free Cell.  I have to open the Venetian blinds and see the sun or at least some natural light. I like to water my orchid; my Norfolk Island pine, my African violet, and go outside (unless it’s REALLY early) to water my potted plants, breathe fresh air, and stand on the deck with Shaka. Then I’ll come in and work. Usually.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

My faith--that I will produce. That I will tell the story as authentically as I can. And that I’ll get paid.

Do you write longhand, on a computer or another way?

I still begin by writing in pencil on paper at some point in the process. In past years when I next went to the typewriter I loved the clickety clackety tapping of the keys hitting the paper. The sound reminded me of the piano, which I used to play.  Now I write mostly on the computer, which for me isn’t as creative. Paper and pencil is so intimate, as the story flows from the characters to my brain, down my arms to my fingers to the page to the reader.

How do you develop your story ideas? Let the muse lead you or another technique?

The muse guides me, as long as she doesn’t lead me too astray. I begin with a nugget that summarizes my idea. Then I expand it to a page or two, based on that nugget. I can take each sentence in that summary and turn each one into a chapter. This becomes my outline. My outlines are not carved in stone. Outlines are merely plans or guides to help me stay on track. Some of my dreams become stories or portions of episodes in my stories or books. I’ve recently begun keeping a dream journal, because the dreams that I remember are usually vivid.

If you were forced to share your workspace, but could choose, who would it be?

For many years my workspace was shared with my late husband, Zack Earl Hamlett, III, a brilliant photographer. He passed away in 2009.

If I were to share writing space with anyone else, it would be Sojourner Truth, my heroine.
In a way, however, I’m sharing my workspace with Shaka, who, as I said, writes his own column for my website. Since his claws make typing or holding writing instruments not possible, he howls, barks, growls, whimpers and makes his column known to me, and I faithfully translate it, type it on my computer, and  get it into cyberspace!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Many proverbs, sayings and Biblical passages keep me going these days. First I give all due to my grandmother, who loved to tell me stories. She told me, “A hard head makes a soft behind,” although she didn’t use the word “behind.” I’ve been careful where I put my behind ever since.

I look to the simple words, “She tried.”

My late editor Jean Vestal at Franklin Watts, Inc. who personally edited my best books The Secret of Gumbo Grove and Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! told me while editing Gumbo Grove, “Eleanora, you can’t write the whole history of African Americans in one book. You’re telling the story of one little girl.” I’ll always remember that and always thank her for her guidance.


And finally I look to Isaiah 40, verse 30: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Collecting Odds and Ends

(Photo Credit: Sidereal via Flickr)

I am a collector of many things--wind-up toys, picture books, chickens. But my favorite things to collect are memories and stories of the people I know and love, and images that represent these stories and memories. My memory alone isn’t very dependable for this collection so I have boxes of photos and memorabilia, notebooks and scraps of paper filled with written memories. This is the main reason why I’m interested in scrapbooking and keeping a family blog--to preserve these things. I am forever resolving to be more organized in how I collect and assemble these mementos, and forever intending to dedicate more time to it. Too often things happen that I am certain I’ll never forget and then days later I’m trying to remember what had me laughing so hard, and I kick myself for not writing it down.

Which is why it was such a nice surprise when, the other night, I was sorting a stack of papers and came across some notes I’d taken from a Thanksgiving visit at my parents' house a few years ago.  They were quotes from my niece and nephew who I think were about six and eight at the time and reading them made me laugh and brought me right back to that visit. Here’s what I’d written down:

Aunt Rowena: Kayla, I’d like to send you a Christmas present. Would you like that? Could you tell me what you want for Christmas?
Kayla: Okay. But first, who are you?

Me: Cade, do you think you'd like to go to Mars?
[Cade gives this serious thought]
Cade: Well. . . I’d have to ask my mom first.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Johanna Wright

I was first introduced to Johanna Wright’s art through Laini Taylor’s blog and subsequently found Johanna's Etsy store where I became completely enamored with her artwork. Her paintings are often saturated with warmth, even when she uses cool tones, and depict whimsical, magical scenes like people living in trees, flying whales carrying baskets of people, and mice traveling by hot air balloon. Last year I was reintroduced to Johanna’s work when I read New York public librarian Betsy Bird’s glowing review of her picture book The Secret Circus where Ms. Bird wrote “Reading this book is like taking a trip to a world that you are desperately afraid you might wake up from.” You can read the whole review here.  

Johanna Wright grew up in Eugene, OR, and studied puppetry and children’s books at Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. After college she moved to New York City where she sold her artwork on the street outside the MOMA for several years before working as a painting assistant for Oliphant Studios. While in New York, she also studied picture book illustration with Brian Floca. Presently, she lives in Portland, OR, with her husband and their two cats. Her first picture book, The Secret Circus (Roaring Brook Press), was published in 2009. Her second picture book, Bandits (Roaring Brook Press) will be published next year. She is also the illustrator of the middle grade novel Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage written by Kaye Umansky which was published last year. And she is illustrating Bonnie O’Boy Rides a Bike by James Proimos which will be published in 2011 by Dial Books. Her artwork is also being featured at the Bethel Street Gallery in Honolulu, HI.

If you'd like to learn more about Johanna Wright, the Oregon Art Beat has a great video interview with Johanna where she demonstrates her process in creating her artwork. There is also a wonderful interview with her on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and another on Amy Baskin's blog Euphoria. And of course there is her website where you can learn more about her books, view more artwork, and follow her via her blog. I had a hard time picking which paintings to feature here today, so if you like her style I highly encourage you to visit the links and get lost in Johanna Wright's imagination for a little while.

And now let's step into Johanna's workspace. . .

Describe your workspace.

I work in an upstairs bedroom of our old Victorian house where I live with my husband and two cats, (who are banished from the studio, btw. The cats, that is . . . not the husband!). The room is square and is painted yellow with slanted ceilings. It has a tiny closet and two windows that look out on the backyard. I have an enormous painting table, a small computer zone, a book shelf with kids books, and a large supply shelf. It's a bit chilly in the winter up here, and a bit toasty on warm days, but I love working from home!

Describe a typical workday.

Well, I've tried for years to get up super duper early, but that rarely lasts for more than a few days in a row. In general, I get up around 7:30, have some breakfast,  head to the coffee shop where I work on new book ideas, make to-do lists, and answer emails.  I love getting out of the house first thing in the morning, it really sets the tone for my day. When I get back to my studio around ten thirty, I answer more emails and paint for a few hours. In the afternoons I run errands, order supplies, ship artwork, and answer more emails. (Can you see a trend here? I have a love/hate relationship with emails!) If I have a big deadline I'll paint again in the evening.

 What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I usually paint with acrylics and black india ink on stretched canvas. Occasionally I'll do an illustration piece on watercolor paper, or bristol paper.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I love my dip pens.
Audiobooks. I listen to them all day long.
Coffee cup! And hot water maker for an emergency cup of tea.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I'm not the tidiest person in the world, but I like things to be clean and orderly before I start to paint. So I usually spend some time before I begin getting everything in order.

What do you listen to while you work?

Audiobooks and NPR. I rarely listen to music while I'm working. I love the Harry Potter series, and I've heard all of those books a million times, so that is what I reach for when I'm working on something tricky that requires a certain amount of concentration. I also love to listen to best sellers, all kinds of young adult and middle grade novels, thrillers, classics . . . you name it. I've found that occupying the part of my brain that listens to these books frees me up to be more creative. I don't put a lot of conscious thought into what I'm creating when I'm listening, and I think that is usually a good thing!

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I eat a lot of almonds, popcorn, and apples with cheese when I'm working. I've found that the more I snack, the longer I can work. Being hungry makes me distracted and irritable, not a good combo! I usually start the day with coffee, but switch to tea in the afternoon. Otherwise, I'll be up all night!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I make a really detailed to-do list, every day. I LOVE crossing things off that list. Simple, but effective! Also, when I'm having a really hard time getting started on something that I don't want to do, I'll set a timer for ten minutes. I've found that I can do a lot in ten minutes, and I have a lot less resistance to doing big tasks if I break things up like that.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

For me, the initial sketching stage (before the painting stage) is really tough. The layout of the page, and getting everything to flow properly, isn't easy for me. And I LOVE working with paint, so the whole pencil-and-paper thing, makes me antsy sometimes.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Hmmm. . . you know, I would probably choose one of my friends that is a knitter or a sewer. I am so inspired by textiles, and I love being surrounded by pretty fabric and yarn, but I totally stink at knitting and sewing!  I've actually shared studios with all kinds of folks over the years, but those textile folks are the best. They bring a certain anchor to the space that makes me feel grounded.

What is the best piece of illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

Illustrate what you love, and bring your true self to your artwork. I know that is really cliche, but at the same time, it's exactly what has worked for me over the years. It's something I come back to again and again, and it always helps me grow toward something new.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of JoAnn Early Macken

JoAnn Early Macken is a writer of poetry, picture books, nonfiction, and novels for children and young adults, and has published over 100 titles. Most recently is Waiting Out the Storm, beautifully illustrated by Susan Gaber and published by Candlewick Press. Waiting Out the Storm is a call and response story of a mother comforting her child during a storm. Here's a taste:


Yes, buttercup?

What's that I hear?

It's only the wind in the treetops, my dear.

Why does it whistle?

A storm's on its way.
The wind calls the raindrops
to come out and play.

Another of her recent publications is Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move illustrated by Pam Paparone and published by Holiday House. Flip. Float, Fly is a nonfiction picture book which describes the many ways seeds travel. Coming in spring 2011 from Disney-Hyperion Books will be JoAnn's next picture book Baby Says, "Moo!"

JoAnn earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College. She can often be found teaching poetry workshops in schools and regularly blogs at Teaching Authors with five other women who are also both working writers and writing teachers

And now let's step into JoAnn's writing space and learn a little bit about where and how she works:

Describe your workspace.

In the former living room of the upstairs flat in our small suburban duplex, I sit at my computer in front of a large, cluttered table. I face three windows, and the windowsills are full of rocks, seashells, driftwood, pine cones, and family photos. Outside, a tall spruce tree fills most of my view. I take little breaks to watch squirrels or birds on the feeders. Next to the windows, a door opens to a small porch. Whenever the weather is bearable, I leave the door open. Sometimes I work outside, either on the porch or in the backyard.

On another side of the room, my desk faces a wall full of kids’ artwork, pictures of friends and advisors from Vermont College, and a few favorite poems. Right now, the desk is also cluttered with paper: notes on scraps under paperweights, stacks of work in progress, teetering piles of student work. My teaching semester ends this week, and no matter how strictly or often I tell myself that this will finally be the semester I catch up and stay caught up, I always end up with a messy workspace. Lucky for me, I also look forward to a break between semesters to clean up!

Describe a typical workday.

Morning is the most productive time for me. As early as possible, I head toward my desk, notebook, and pen. I try to write every day for at least an hour or two, and I try to resist checking e-mail and Facebook until later. I work around a teaching schedule that varies from semester to semester, so my writing time varies, too. I try to walk the dog every day, usually along Lake Michigan. In spring and fall, I travel to schools to present poetry workshops, and those days are completely up in the air.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My workspace is filled with my favorite things! Among them are a lucky pink pig from Norma Fox Mazer (one of my advisors at Vermont College), a clock from my father, and a painted vase from my sister that reminded her of the illustrations in one of my favorite childhood books, Angelo the Naughty One.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

As soon as the coffee is ready, I head to my desk and write, still in my pajamas. Ever since I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron many years ago, I’ve started most days with Morning Pages. When I’m working on something particularly difficult, I wear my father’s old plaid flannel shirt for comfort, warmth, and security.

What do you listen to while you work?

While the porch door is open, I hear birds singing and kids playing on the school playground a few doors away. When I hear lawnmowers, I get up and close the door!

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

After I reach my limit of regular coffee, I switch to decaf.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

If I’m extremely lucky and having a good day, the work itself holds my attention. Otherwise, fear keeps me motivated—time is running out!

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

For short projects such as poems and picture books, I write longhand in purple ink in a spiral notebook, and I pile up many drafts before I ever put anything on the computer. I learned the hard way that when I’m writing a longer project, I have to work on the computer. Otherwise, arrows, asterisks, scribbles, and sticky notes take over the pages, and I can lose my way.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

Each project seems to demand its own plan and schedule. Sometimes I know where I’m headed, and other times I have to discover the right direction by trial and error. Sometimes words come to me while I’m doing something else, especially something repetitive like hanging laundry on the line, washing or chopping vegetables, or walking. I always carry a little notebook and pen, and I often jot down words, phrases, or ideas so I don’t forget them. I have a collection of filled little notebooks; a good exercise for me is picking two random pages and playing around by combining them.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Our dog, Bea, is my regular companion; she spends every possible moment out on the porch watching for squirrels. I’d like to try collaborating, so I could see sharing a space—literally or figuratively—with another writer working on a joint project, such as a novel in two voices or a poetry collection.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

I read that Madeleine L’Engle said inspiration comes during work rather than before it, and that concept consistently, surprisingly works for me. If I sit at my desk with a notebook and pen, the words flow. I don’t need to find an idea to start writing; I need to start writing to find an idea. The act of putting pen to paper helps me discover what I want to say and how to say it.

Updated to add: If you've got a hankering for more interviews this week, make sure to check out the Summer Blog Blast Tour where each day five various blogs feature an interview with a different author. Visit Chasing Ray for the master schedule and more information.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Pretty Fantastic Book Trailer

Here's an amazing book trailer for the upcoming release of Linger by Maggie Stiefvater, the sequel to Shiver. Watch this video, and then read on to learn some amazing facts.

Okay, are you back with me now? Pretty cool trailer, no?

Amazing Fact #1: Maggie created that entire thing herself. That blows my mind. She made a tree grow out of a book, people! What kind of Johnny Appleseed wizardry is that?

Amazing Fact #2: The cool, slightly eerie, slightly romantic music that's playing? She composed it. And she performed it. (Along with the help of a few others).

If I tried to create a video trailer like that for my book, it would be a re-eanactment of the story using cut out circles to represent the characters, accompanied by my original composition of the beginning bars of Fur Elise blended into Chopsticks, because that's about all I can remember how to play on the piano.

Full disclosure: By posting her video here I'm entering myself in a giveaway contest she's running right now, and it's not too late for you to enter either! (But it will be if you dilly-dally until after Sunday to look into the contest.) More info here: (She also has three making-of-the-video posts if you're interested in learning more about the creation.)

Or you could also just share the video for its pure awesomeness.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Diane deGroat

This week’s creative space belongs to writer and illustrator Diane deGroat. Diane deGroat’s artwork carries a special nostalgic weight for me because she was the illustrator for the Anastasia Krupnik series of books by Lois Lowry (and the spin-off series about Anastasia’s brother Sam), which were probably my all-time favorite books to read growing up. Lois Lowry’s words brought Anastasia to life for me, but whenever I imagine her it’s Diane deGroat’s illustrations that I picture. I remember studying those jacket covers for their details--Frank the fish, Anastasia's notebook, the Amelia Earhart t-shirt she was wearing.

According to her website, Diane deGroat has illustrated over 120 books for other authors (A Pinky is a Baby Mouse by Pam Munoz Ryan is a wonderful read-aloud; A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting is a fun holiday story about sharing the holiday with friends; and Sunshine Home also by Eve Bunting is beautifully illustrated and tackles the tough subject of a grandparent going into a nursing home). She's illustrated almost 200 book jackets, and she’s written and illustrated 23 of her own titles including the adorable series of picture books about Gilbert the possum and the Annie Pitts chapter book series.

One of her recent titles is Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth!, a collaboration with Shelley Rotner, which I think is guaranteed to get kids giggling. But don’t take my word for it (shout out to LaVar Burton!), check out this book trailer:

(If the video doesn't play for you, you can also view it here:

The illustrations incorporate photos of real dogs (the breeds of which are specified in the end matter--a detail I loved and appreciated as I kept guessing the dog breeds as I flipped through the book and was glad to find out the answers) and the humor is enhanced with folding pages that show on top a “Dogs do. . .” activity and open to show the comical and contrasting “dogs don’t. . . ”

If you are interested in learning more about Diane deGroat, I highly recommend you check out her website. Along with a brief bio, links to interviews, and FAQ, there is also a “Fun Stuff” section which includes coloring pages, games, and paper dolls for many of her titles, plus additional ideas for supplementary activities for classrooms reading her books. You can also purchase her original artwork or prints.

Describe your workspace.

My studio is messy.  My house is spotless and always in order, but my cleaning lady is not allowed into my studio.  Don’t touch my stuff, lady.  The truth is, it’s just too messy to clean.  Periodically I do clean it from top to bottom, but only when I can’t find something (camera charger, Wacom pen, old apple), or maybe I want to impress a busload of visiting dignitaries.

Here's what it looks like. The studio is a wing of my house, which I designed and built in 1995 when I moved from New York to Massachusetts.

I had one of those magical moments when the architect said, “If you can design the perfect work space, what would it look like?”  He gave me 24’ X 24’ and this is what I came up with as my ideal studio. The floor plan shows three separate spaces:  the gallery, the workroom, and the library.  I was able to custom-fit it to the way I work.  Lucky me.

In the gallery I display my own work—those pieces that I like the best.  The ones I don't love, I sell or stick in the closet.  No kidding—I have almost 500 pieces of art stored in a specially built closet.  I collect and hang other illustrators’ work in the rest of the house.

The French doors serve as a separate entrance from the house entrance.  For those visiting dignitaries. The school desks are from garage sales.  The bookcase at the end of the room has an official copy of every book I’ve illustrated.  This is the “me” corner.

 When it's straightened up, the workroom looks like this.

But usually it looks like this.

The large window is north light.

The workroom is where I paint and keep my picture files.

But nowadays I spend more time drawing on the computer (in the library) and I rarely use the picture files since I've discovered Google images.  So I don’t use this room as much as I used to.  Mainly it’s used to display my taxidermy collection.

The word for today: Ebay.

I love my studio.

The library is where I spend most of my time, writing or drawing on the computer.

I collect picture books and three-quarters of the bookshelf space goes to the collection.  The rest are art books and reference books, but they’re getting squeezed out as the picture book collection grows.

I hang my travel schedule in the library for quick reference.  The green days are for school visits or conferences.  The blue is for personal travel.  I'm a visual person, so I need to see it this way instead of on the computer calender.  I like to "see" time.  And I'm the queen of packing light.  I can go to Texas for two weeks with just a carry on—including my laptop and projector.

PS- This closet contains a 300 lb. Lucinda viewer which hasn't been used since 1998.  Anyone want it? I need the space for more books...

 Describe a typical workday.

I like to sleep late.  I get up about 9:00 and putz around, drinking coffee, answering emails, and thinking of ways to not work.  Maybe go to the gym, run errands, or garden.  Sometime in the afternoon, when I finally get my BIC (Butt in Chair, as Jane Yolen says), I try to work for 6 hours or so.  When I’m on deadline I may have to work 10 or 12 hours.  When I have wiggle room, I don't work at all.  My favorite kind of day is one where there’s nothing written on the calendar.  No appointments, no travel, no obligations.  Then I can do whatever I feel like doing at the moment—work, play, whatever.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

For Gilbert books, I do the sketches right in the computer, drawing with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop.  I also add color in Photoshop until it's about 80% finished.  Then I print the image on Arches 140lb. watercolor paper.  I paint on top of the digital art with Windsor Newton watercolor paint.  I do it this way so that it matches the early Gilbert books, which were done 100% in watercolor.  Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth! was done completely digitally.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1) I own a limited edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, illustrated and SIGNED by Arthur Rackham.  I'm afraid to open it.  But it's nice to know it's there.

2) I love my Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer.  It has wonderful archival pigments for giclee prints or for painting on.  (Don't try this with regular ink!)

3) The drawings and letters that kids send to me make me smile.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.


What do you listen to while you work?

I need quiet when I’m doing anything that requires a brain, but if I’m painting, I like to listen to books on tape from the library.  Kids’ books, grown-up books, everything.  I feel guilty “reading” a book when I'm at home because there’s always work to be done in the studio.  I save "real" books for planes and vacations.  (And I can’t drive more than 10 minutes without one in the car too—Note that I still have my 2003 Rav4, instead of a newer model, because it has a tape deck AND a CD player.)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I leave the room to snack because 1) it’s messy on the computer keys.  2) It gets me away from work!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?


What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

I’ve been doing more digital artwork, which I love, but I’m trying to create a whole new style for future projects.  Finding just that right style has me a bit frustrated.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I couldn’t work with another person in the room.  Maybe my dead cat?

What is the best piece of illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

Hmmm. . . I’ve been kind of winging it as I go along.  But whenever I hear someone talking about the importance of being passionate about one’s work, I feel that’s something I need to work on.   I’m still looking to do something extraordinary.  Stay tuned.