Rowboat Watkins’s Studio Tour

A couple of weeks ago I came across the most unusual and charming picture book called Rude Cakes, and fell in love with the storytelling and the illustrations. It wasn’t until I’d re-read it that I glanced at the authors name—Rowboat Watkins. Rowboat? Hmmm… I turned to the bio page and was informed that his wife gave him the name. Intrigued, I went to his website and was thoroughly entertained by his longer bio. I thought it’d be a kick to see where he’s creating all this great stuff, and I’m thrilled he agreed give us a peak at his studio this week on Tuesday Tours! His creative style extends to his Brooklyn workspace, where he wrestles with the option of tackling household chores or creative pursuits each day, and where he keeps company with marshmallows and clay gorillas (you’ll see what I mean).


pic_of_me_1200wTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Although you would never suspect if from looking at me, I’m an incurable neat freak living amongst crumb Visigoths. I live in the middle of a black hole in which all of Life’s unread mail and unpaid bills seem to gather, and in which most of Humanity’s dishes, and spoons, and whisks seem to daily convene in our sink. Which is notable only because there are but three of us living here. And nothing we eat during most days would seem to require a whisk. Or a cleaver. I have no idea why there are fourteen butter knives covered in peanut butter (or jelly) when it is only 10:00am…and maybe one sandwich (that I know of) has been invented since we all woke up this morning. But it is a sandwich which has apparently lived on 6 or 7 plates during its construction. Or at least before its eventual departure or demise. Which is all to say that my preferred creative medium is order. At this point I’m willing to settle for a spotty impersonation of tidiness. And some pencils and pens without syrup on them. Or whatever that sticky stuff might be. And a pad or two. And a window of desk space not occupied by marshmallows. Or little gorillas. The latter, I concede, are no one’s fault but my own.desk1_1200w

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We have lived here for 10 years. My wife and I, that is. My daughter’s only been here for 9 and a half. The dog for 4 and a half. And the marshmallows and gorillas for maybe a year. Depending on who you ask. In defense of my odd familiarity with the migratory patterns of cleavers and whisks, I would like to note that I work next to the kitchen. Out of the corner of my left eye, at this very moment, I can see a synod of greasy spatulas on the counter. A loaf of unwrapped bread. And a gaggle of foggy glasses.


In front of me is a computer screen. Most of the marshmallows are gone. Thankfully. There are a couple stragglers, but what can you do? At least all of the gorillas are back in their boxes. Or over on the mantel. It was starting to look like The Battle of Hastings on my desk. As you might suspect, it kind of becomes impossible to do anything when you are living in the middle of the Norman conquest.



Out of the corner of my right eye I can see the couch. Where my dog is currently asleep. And behind her, the playground across the street, peeking out from behind the trees. The window is open and I can hear the sprinklers sprinkling, and birds chirping, and someone dribbling a ball, and little kids talking on the jungle gym. And the skittering of plastic wheels rolling. And the faint beep of a truck backing up somewhere in the distance. And a plane flying overhead. But it’s all heard softly, and is mostly just one sound of a nice summer day.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I wish I were organized enough to have a ritual, but most days are a clumsy dance of getting my daughter off to school or camp, drinking a cup of coffee (or two), walking the dog, and trying to remember worrying about spatulas is not a valid reason not to be making more headway on whatever’s directly in front of me. Things are thrown into even greater disarray when my latest fatwa against Facebook has been repealed for no good reason. The current ban is mercifully still in place, so at least there’s some hope of getting something done before picking up my daughter from camp, and taking her to the orthodontist to see if they can save the retainer she stepped on yesterday during lunch.


When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Whenever I forget what I can see out of the corner of my eyes, and am drawing in my sketchbooks and not worrying about what everything means, it’s usually pure delight. The same was true when I first realized that, if marshmallows look so fun to draw on, no one but ME was stopping me from drawing on them. Or that maybe all those gorillas I made out of sculpey for no good reason would be happier if they had a rocket ship made out of construction paper? Or a bed? Or a boat? Why? Why not? Fun pretty much never happens in my studio when I’m tarrying over technicalities like WHY.




Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Nope. I have all kinds of things piled around my desk, or taped onto the blackboard, or propped on the chalk shelf over my computer screen. Lucky wheatshaft pennies found in pocket change. Rusty washers. Drawings by my wife and daughter. Drawings by friends. Pink Pearl erasers. Japanese masking tape. I like it all. And it all becomes like a messy bouillabaisse of inspiration.


What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Worrying about dishes. Or that I don’t know how to do what I am doing. Someone else, who actually knows what they are doing, should be doing this. There must be a better way to draw this bed. Or that forest. If I were a different me, I would draw this whatever more persuasively. And Facebook. And email. What are the rules again? Weren’t those yesterday’s rules? Ugh…yesterday’s rules totally sucked. If I had better rules in place I would surely be further along. THERE ARE TOO MANY GORILLAS ON MY DESK! I can’t think with all this crap around my keyboard. With all those soiled whisks in the corner of my eye! If only I were my dog, I’d be living the Life of Riley. Look at my dog over there. Maybe I should take her for a walk? Maybe if I drove a Zamboni over my desk I would be able to see my thoughts again? Maybe I’m not liking what I’m working on because it all feels like TORTURE, and I should start all over, and pretend I am having fun? Wasn’t that the problem with yesterday too? Oh yeah. Torture=bad. Fun=good. I should write that down. I’ll do it tomorrow.


What do you like to nibble/drink when you’re working?
Coffee. Root beer. Pink lady apples. Popsicles. Peaches when in season.


Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
At this very moment, the first two names that come to mind are Joshua Oppenheimer and Petit Pierre. The former is the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. Both of which are too bracing and lovely for words. And the latter is the French guy who spent his whole life making this joyous wonder of a thing.

I only discovered Petit Pierre the other month when my friend Sergio sent me a link. You should watch the link. There are too many picture book writers and illustrators to name, so I won’t even try.


Does music influence your work? What are you listening to now?
I can’t listen to music while I work. Lately I have been listening to The History of the World in 100 Objects. Which I listened to when it first came out. It is great, but I am terrible at doing two things at once so I either have no idea what I’m listening to, or I am not paying attention to what I am drawing. And I have no idea why I keep putting it back on. But you asked. I’m best served when listening to nothing at all.


What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Hmm…I don’t think I would take advice from a guy who perpetually worries about whisks and cleavers, and listens to podcasts he can’t remember, and lets himself be overrun with marshmallows.



What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new picture book Rude Cakes was just published by Chronicle Books in June. I’m working on two more books for them, which are supposed to come out in 2016 and 2017. But I’m still doing line work for the first of them, so I can’t swear the time-space continuum will necessarily comply. All I know for sure is there are no greasy spatulas or horrific piles of mail in either. You can visit me at

Thank you for sharing your studio, Rowboat! In addition to laughing out loud at some of your marshmallow escapades, I love the youtube video you shared of Petit Pierre work. Can’t wait to see your upcoming books—maybe some clay gorillas will grace the pages? 

i-dont-like-koala-9781481400688_lgI’m heading to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference, so Tuesday Tours will return in a few weeks with a look inside illustrator Charles Santoso’s studio in Sydney, Australia.

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Your Life is Your Message to the World—Professional Development Workshop

IMG_9764Twenty-six Milwaukee Public School teachers designed an exhibit about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) as part of a Kid Curators® professional development experience that took place at Cardinal Stritch University in June of 2015. I worked with the teachers to create an artistic response to all they learned, prompted by this question: In what ways does the story of the AAGPBL and Joyce Westerman inspire you? Teachers’ AAGPBL exhibits are on display in the Arts @ Large Civil Rights and Baseball exhibition, open July through September 2015. Teachers’ artwork and writing, which is documented in the book Your Life is Your Message to the World, reveals the impact Joyce Westerman and the AAGPBL had on all.

Milwaukee Environmental School Mural Installed!

I just installed the 9′ x 33′ tree mural for the Milwaukee Environmental School, which includes almost 500 metal engraved leaves. Each leaf was created by a student as either a self portrait or a designed word that featured one of their schools six character traits: Respect, Grit, Craftsmanship, Leadership, Integrity, and Stewardship. Even the parents joined in and created a leaf for the tree. The art residency took place during three months in the Spring. Over 200 K4-7th grade students worked with me on this mural. The project was funded by Arts@Large and a grant from Toyota Family Learning.

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Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s Studio Tour

Tuesday Tours has been on an impromptu hiatus for the last few weeks because I was on vacation, and although I thought I could handle getting a post done while I was away, the weather was just too beautiful to be inside on a computer :) But, the wait is well worth it because today we have the fabulous author and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton sharing her studio in North Carolina. Vanessa’s images bring instant smiles and joy, and her scenes are the kind of images I’d love to jump inside. She has created an amazing amount of work—over 20 picture books, which have been inspired by her celebration of self-love and acceptance of all cultures. Growing up with a musical and creative family also influenced her art and you can read a little about it in her bio on her site



Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

My name is Vanessa Brantley-Newton and I am a freelance illustrator. I love and adore all things retro and old! I work in traditional and digital mediums to create my brand of art. I workout out of my make shift office in my dinning room right now as we are looking to move very shortly.



How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
My family moved to Charlotte, NC about 3 1/2 years ago and while it’s been wonderful and good for us, we still haven’t gotten settled just yet so that has been interesting to say the very least. I do make it my first business to find a big apartment or town home where I can stretch out and create a workspace for myself. We have moved twice since we have been here and it could really throw you a curve ball if you a creature of comfort which I am! LOL!! When I am not settled and happy it does affect my work. I try not to let it, but creative people are wired that way. My husband really gets a handle on it tho and comes beautifully to the rescue by setting me up with my computer and the very important and immediate things that I need to get to work. That helps a great deal and gets me to moving forward in the creative process.

14Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Yes I do. I am a woman of faith so I do take about an hour or so and really mediate, cry, pray and listen. I sometimes burn essential oils which help me to get creative and focus. Listening after prayer helps me a great deal. I believe that what we think about we bring about so I really take time to think on good things and beautiful things. I daydream for a bit. 5I say affirmations over myself. Things like, ” Every word has power. You have been equipped with every good and perfect thing. Today is filled with greatness and you are a part of that. Dream big and then dream bigger. Good, better, best, never let it rest, till the good is better and the better gets best!” These are just some of things I say. I get daughter and husband out and I start with my emails from the day or night before and I try to answer as many as possible before 9am and then I start working on whatever project I happen to have on my desk and there are many.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
It was in the former apt we had here in Charlotte. I had just finished putting away all my pencils, markers, paints and fabric. Everything was in it’s place and the felt really good. Then I got a call from Scholastic asking me to make a book for an employee that was leaving. I make handmade storybooks. I went in and pulled out everything that I had just put neatly away and had the best time creating! It was awesome and the book came out so beautiful!!!


Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
My watercolors, oil pastels, and my fabrics. These are things that you will see a lot of in my office, but my all time favorite thing to have in my space to inspire me are BOOKS!!! Children’s books, art books, how to books. Just books of all and any kind!

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Artist friends that call during work hours and there are few. LOL! One illustrator I talk to every day sometimes 2 and 3 times during the day. We are super close like siblings.

What are the three best things about your studio space?
It’s cozy, bright, and filled with the things that I love!



Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Oh there are so many, Alex T. Smith, Michael Robertson, Yasmeen Ismail, everything Beatrice Alemagna! and those are just the illustrators. Writers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, David Cali, Lauren Castillo, Lauren Child and so many, more.

If you could add a new tool or piece of furniture to your studio, what would it be?
A Cintiq 24hd Graphic monitor!!!! Yeah Baby!


What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to create a cute personal space. Look around and see what you have first. Maybe take an old desk and paint it white or whatever color suits your fancy. Use large peach or tomato cans and take scrapbook paper and cover them to give them pop! Store your pencils and what have you in them. Find creative ways to store things that you are going to need like fabric and papers. Find somewhere that has light!! That is really important. Bring the things that inspire and make you feel creatively fabulous after all it’s your personal creative space.

GW cake sewing stories


What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I am working on so many wonderful projects. A few new books are due out later this year: Sewing Stories (Knopf Books), A Birthday Cake For George Washington (Scholastic Books), The Plans I Have For You (Zondervans). My site is being rebuilt, but you can visit my active blog and and my facebook page at Vanessa

Thank you for sharing your studio with us, Vanessa! Your daily meditation and mantra practice is inspiring, and your positive spirit shines through in your artwork, which is gorgeous! I can’t wait to read Sewing Stories when it releases. I love picture books about artists!

RowboatJoin us next week when we have debut author/illustrator Rowboat Watkins showing us around his studio. 

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Getting to (officially) stick together!

When I was in high school, we had to create a bill for government class—a kinda hands-on project that would help us understand how bills are passed. My bill was to legalize gay marriage. My teacher refused to let me pick it as my topic, and when I continued to do so, he denied me the ability to present it to the class. That was 20 years ago. Today I’m thrilled that times have changed. To celebrate the SCOTUS decision, I had my little character Matías (from my new project Matías Makes a Friend) make his moms a congratulatory poster.


Sue Ganz-Schmitt’s Studio Tour

Sue Photo #2Today on Tuesday Tours we have author Sue Ganz-Schmitt sharing her beautiful studio and ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains. I recently read Sue’s new book Planet Kindergarten and was immediately smitten. The use of language in this humorous take on a new kindergartener experiencing school the way an astronaut would when exploring new worlds, was fresh and authentic. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Sue has had experience working with NASA as a Social Media correspondent. She also has two other children’s books, produces children’s musical theater, and hosts community events and classes at her ranch.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
My name is Sue Ganz-Schmitt. ​ I am a mother, philanthropist and children’s book author. I also produce children’s musical theater/kids music videos. I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators , and co-founder of the Topanga Author’s Group. I serve on the Marketing Advisory Baord at San Diego State University, and have been a NASA Social Media correspondent. Two of my children’s books are medically planet kindergarteninspired to help kids and families face new diagnosis (Even Superheroes Get Diabetes, and The Princess and the Peanut: A Royally Allergic Fairytale) and my newest book is a space-themed book to ease kids fears about the transition to kindergarten (Planet Kindergarten). I get ideas for my writing from kids in my community, and many of my stories have come from watching my daughters’ and their friends grow from a baby group to teenagers.

Sue Astro NASA
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
​I live in this magical place in the Santa Monica Mountains. It is 17 acres of park-like heaven ​We moved here in 2006. We use the property for community events and fundraisers. We also have classes for kids, including horseback riding, aerial arts, auto mechanics, metalworking, archery, and more. I feel like Snow White when I walk out the door as the garden is filled with butterflies, birds, and bunnies hopping around. There is the occasional encounter with rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widows—yikes! But mostly it is stunning beauty that inspires with every step.
Front of House
Balcony Mountain View
Are there any kind of rituals you do before you start creating?
​Tea. I must drink 1-2 cups of Earl Grey my favorite! ​Beyond that, I can usually just dive in and write anytime anywhere!
Courtyard Desk
Writing Outside
Are there other spaces outside of your studio/office that influences your writing?
​I am a roving writer. I am on the go between my schedule and my kids. So my car is sometimes my writ​ing studio, or wherever my girls are taking a class. I write in coffee shops, airplanes, hotel rooms. I write on desktops, my laptop, I=Phone, notepads, napkins. Whatever is closest when an idea strikes!Toy ShelfIs there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shelf of kids toys that keeps me in a playful and fun mindset—it is crowded with dragons, princesses, pirates and robots. I also have all my badges from NASA visits (rocket launches and such) hanging over my desk.
Hanging Tags
What’s the biggest distraction when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
​I have two desks. One is in the kitchen—the biggest thoroughfare of our home.  And the other is in the hallway—another thoroughfare. Retreat Hideway
Basically our house is like one big open room except for the bedrooms/bathrooms. So there is often a lot going on around me as I write. Dishes clanging, kids watching TV or needing me to help them with something, husband having business meetings, people coming and going, dogs barking at the mail/delivery trucks, the vacuuming blaring, gardeners with leaf blowers. On a typical day it is pretty chaotic around here. I tend to try work through any distractions, but when it gets to be too much, I retreat to our tropical patio or to the peace of my bedroom that has a little quiet room attached.
Hallway to Desk
Kitchen Desk Close

If you had a couple hundred dollars to improve your space, what would you do?
​I would get beautiful wooden organizing bins, artsy colorful files and boxes, and lots of labeling tape. I love being organized. When my my space is disorganized my head feels the same. But I daresay that in the last seven years of creating books, producing children’s theater, and running our family’s busy lives, my files and cabinets look like an explosion hit. I’d love to open my file drawers and cabinets and smile versus cringe, and shove the drawer closed. ​I just discovered that Target has these great chalkboard wood bins. I can’t get enough of them!

Target Chalk Bin

Hallway Desk

What are the three best things about your writing space?
1. My artwork: My three big prints of my published books, a collage from my one-time appearance on RENT on Broadway, a cast photo of the last musical I produced (Peter Pan) with about 100 kids, and my Author Appreciation Award from my publisher Chronicle Books—these things keep me going. Each of these represent growth opportunities that I took on and that resulted in very happy accomplishments.

2. Lots of space for photos and artwork of my two girls Jensen and India. I am surrounded by my favorite books, and trinkets, and have this amazing big project room next to my desk where I can keep my NASA/astronaut​ memorabilia out to inspire my space themed writing.

3.Picturesque nature outside every window.​


How do you organize your books/bookshelf? Is there a formula you use?
​I have my children’s books on one side of the library, and grown-up books on the other. Though really I don’t visit the grown up side very often. The picture books are on the bottom, and then the books get progressively older (demographically speaking) on each higher shelf. On the top I have pop-up books, and a collection of signed by the author books. If there were a fire, I’d grab my wedding dress, photos, and these signed books.

Project Room Next To Desk

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Surround yourself with visually inspiring beauty—whatever that means to you. Family photos, pet photos, images from magazines, beautiful quotes, art, books, a pretty mug for tea, etc…

Space MemorabiliaWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new book Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit releases in Summer 2016. It is a fun romp that celebrates a kindergartener’s 100th day in school with zany fun illustrations by two time Annie Award winner Shane Prigmore (Coraline, The Croods). I am also releasing a space themed musical video this month by an extremely talented group of 11/12 year old girls called The Songwriter Girls. You can see their recent video at Songwriter Girls. You can find information for all my books at:, and if you want to learn about the latest in space you can find me on Twitter: @planetkbooks.

Thank you, Sue!  Love your new book and your creative spaces are incredible! Looking forward to reading the sequel to Planet Kindergarten :) 

Due to a busy workload and summer activities, Tuesday Tours will be off for a few weeks. Join us back here on July 21st when the talented author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton shares her studio.

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New Illustration: Matías Makes a Friend

Here’s a look at what I’m working on—a page from the dummy for my new book Matías Makes a Friend.



And a new postcard (in progress) for the SCBWI LA Summer Conference.