Today on Tuesday Tours, we’ll take a look at where illustrator Carol Schwartz creates her art. Carol has worked with a wide variety of clients and her illustrations have been published in magazines, newspapers, advertising, and books for children. Her artwork has appeared in over 50 picture books. Today she shares her beautiful wooded studio in Bayside, Wisconsin, and fills us in on why having a cat sleep on your lap while working, might be problematic
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I’ve been working as a children’s book illustrator for 24 years. Before that, my focus was for a wider variety of clients, including newspapers, advertising agencies and institutional venues. I’ve been illustrating for the educational market since college when one of my professors at Rhode Island School of Design put me in touch with Houghton Mifflin. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, I always knew I wanted to be an artist. It was at the Kansas City Art Institute that I realized artists were creating illustrations for magazines and books and that’s what I wanted to do. I moved to Maryland after college where I was busy raising a family and building my illustration business. There were many illustration opportunities in the Washington, DC area. My clients included The Washington Post, Time Life Books and the National Geographic Society, to name a few. I began illustrating children’s books while there and joined The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, which fueled my knowledge and passion for books. I began to enjoy success. One of my first books, Sea Squares, by Joy Hulme was selected as an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council. It was also a Children’s Choice for 1992 and selected for the Original Art Exhibition. More than fifty other books followed. One of my highest honors is to say I was included in an exhibition at the Society of Illustrators in New York, Female Illustrators Past and Present. In the summer of 2014 I earned my MFA in Illustration from the University of Hartford. My thesis project was a children’s book about the Everglades which I wrote and illustrated. I am now trying to get it published. I have had many studios since living in Maryland. I moved with my family to Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and now Wisconsin. I’ve been in Milwaukee for 7 years. My studio in Bayside, fourteen miles north of downtown Milwaukee, is a sunroom with big windows on two sides, facing East. I look out on several acres of wooded ravine. It feels like a state park in my backyard. Wildlife is everywhere and it’s easy to get caught up in watching a flock of turkeys or several deer grazing on things I wish they weren’t eating. One year we even had a family of coyotes make a den under the deck and have five pups. That’s a whole other story. In the morning when the sun is shining in, getting to work is delightful and I am grateful for such a beautiful view. My illustrations are done in gouache, which are opaque watercolors. I began working with this media in college and quickly learned to love it. I like how versatile these paints are. I can get small details easily which is important for my science and nature work. It can be used in a transparent way as with traditional watercolors or in a more opaque way as with acrylics. I can also put it in my airbrush which gives me a smooth look. It’s great if I need to paint a sky, going from light to darker tones, or a smooth creature such as a shark or whale.
How does your space affect your creative process?
Having good light is very important so the many windows in my studio give me an open feel and the freedom to create. The studio has a slate floor which is good because if I spill paint, it’s easy to clean up. Because it’s a sunroom in its former life, the studio has a wet bar, complete with a mini frig. I store art supplies in the mini frig and use the sink for cleaning brushes and washing my palette. My drawing board is a World War II era metal monster that can move up and down and tilt to any angle. I have two large lamps that light up my board like an operating room. All the better to get the detail in my work. My iMac computer, Cintiq and large format scanner are in the next room, a den that started out looking like a dark paneled cave until I painted it. All of my traditional work is scanned and then taken into Photoshop where I spend additional time on each piece.
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I try to start working at 9 am unless I have a deadline and then I could be in the studio at 6 am. I don’t have any rituals. I turn my lamps on and get to work! I teach at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design two days a week so each day is a bit different depending on my schedule. If I have a whole day at my desk, I work till about 6 or 7 with a short break for lunch and dinner. Then I’ll often work till 11 or midnight. I don’t get up and move around as much as I should. I have a cat, Milkshake, that keeps me company. She likes to be on my desk demanding my attention. Often she curls up on my left arm and takes a nap. These naps don’t last long if I need to get to my paint water or my hand goes to sleep. My desk is tilted at about a 30 degree angle and sometimes she digs her claws in to keep her footing. I am not happy when I find claw marks on my artwork. Photoshop has saved me many times with this.
Please tell us about a time you had the most fun working in your studio.
I had two very talented illustrator friends, Paige Billin-Frye and Jennifer O’Connell, visit me from Washington, DC. We spent a day in my studio together experimenting with a new technique. It was fun having company and trying something new. Being an illustrator is often isolating and lonely. Getting together with others is very important.
Does music influence how you work? What’s on your playlist now?
I’m not sure how much music influences how I work. I will say that if I am listening to a good beat, I get more done. I get in a zone. My favorites include Beck, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bela Fleck and any Blues or R&B. If I’m not listening to music, I’m watching, or I should say listening, to, an old movie on TCM.
Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Everything comes to a stop if I don’t have all my tools. Sometimes I misplace my kneaded eraser or my ruler. There are things I really can’t live without.
Is there a favorite drink or food that you have while you work?
I always start with coffee in the morning and water during the day. You’ll often find me having a glass of white wine if it’s 5 o’clock.
What are the three best things about your studio?
1. Being able to enjoy the view of woods and wildlife out my window is the best thing about my studio.
2.The way the light streams into my space.
3.Having a room large enough to have all my reference books and children’s book collection right there with me. I have a thousand children’s books which I have collected through the years, many of them vintage. I treasure them all.
If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
It would be another illustrator. Of illustrators of all time, I’d choose Howard Pyle became he was an incredible illustrator and teacher. What I could learn from him!
What would you say is the most useful tool in your studio?
That is simple, a pencil. It all starts with sketching an idea. Second would be tracing paper. It allows me the freedom to experiment. I begin with a rough pencil sketch. Then I cover it with another piece of tracing paper and refine my image. Sometimes I find I need to reduce or enlarge something. I have an old Canon copier which makes the process quick and easy. I may cut up my sketch and move things around. Whatever it takes to get it right.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Find a room where you can be comfortable. Put in it things that inspire you. Make sure you arrange it with everything you need to make the creative process flow and not be interrupted.
What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
Right now I’m working on illustrations for a book for Sterling Publishing called How Hot is Lava? I’m also working on an educational book about the rain forest and lots of other smaller jobs. For more information about my work, please check out my website at http://www.csillustration.com.
Thank you, Carol! It was so much fun seeing where you work. Best of luck on your upcoming projects.