Marla Frazee’s Studio Tour


GOD GOT A DOG written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marla Frazee

I’m beyond excited to have Marla Frazee visit Tuesday Tours today! I have been an admirer of Marla’s work since The Seven Silly Eaters (written by Mary Ann Hoberman) and Mrs. Biddlebox (written by Linda Smith)—one of my all time favorites. Through the years I’ve been incredibly impressed by Stars (written by Mary Lyn Ray) and two other all-time favorites of mine, All the World (written by Liz Garton Scanlon) and God Got a Dog (written by Cynthia Rylant). I’m not the only one enamored with Marla’s artwork, a number of her books are NYTimes Bestsellers, she’s a Golden Kite winner, and has taken home two Caldecott honors for All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. I was fortunate to meet Marla at the SCBWI LA Conference this August and get my own signed copy of her newest book The Farmer and the Clown. Today she shares with us her cozy cottage in California where she creates her award-wining illustrations, as well as her in-house writing room where she works on penning new and fabulous stories.


Marla Frazee2

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I’m a children’s book author and illustrator. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and I feel very lucky that I’ve spent most of my working life doing it. It did take me a long time to get published, however. During those somewhat frustrating years, I worked in commercial illustration. Most of the projects I did even then were directed toward children (Disney, Mattel, Milton Bradley, lots of text book stuff), but my heart has always belonged to picture books—and now that’s pretty much my focus.

Marla Frazee3

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
My studio was built by a guy named Tony during the last months of 2000. I did a couple of quick drawings of what I imagined, and he made it happen. I’ve been in it since January 2001. My three (now grown) sons were born and raised in the house I still live in and for a long time all three of them shared a room with a triple bunk bed. At that time my studio was one of the three bedrooms inside the house. That was great when they were little, but it was terrible when they were approaching the teen years.

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GOD GOT A DOG written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Making the decision to build a separate studio, especially at a time in our family’s life when money was extremely tight, was one of the hardest things I had to come to terms with—as a mom. There was just no precedent for it in my whole extended Lebanese family. It felt selfish. And yet, I knew deep down that it was the right decision. Not only for me, but for my sons. They saw firsthand how much I loved it, how productive I could be in it, how passionate I was about my work, and how building a life around creativity was possible. Now that they are all out of in the world living their own highly creative lives, I recently turned the bedroom that used to be my studio into a writing room. So I draw and paint in my outside studio. And I write inside. I really love moving back and forth between the two spaces.
Marla Frazee4

all the world

If you could live inside the world of one of the picture books you’ve illustrated, which one would it be and why?
Oh, All the World. When I received Liz Garton Scanlon’s evocative text, I was worried about illustrating a book about “all the world”—how is that even possible? Instead I thought about the times when I have felt that I was very much a part of the world—and it’s always been when I’m either with people I love, in a place I love, or both. So I set the book in one of my favorite places in the world, the central coast of California. And I populated it with characters who clearly are connected to each other in a variety of ways. I would be happy to live in that book. Maybe in that house by the pier.

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The house on the pier from ALL THE WORLD

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STARS written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Marla Frazee

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Letter from Charlie Higgins

If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
I have a letter from a kid named Charlie Higgins taped up right behind my drawing table. To me, Charlie represents the picture book reader I am trying to reach. The child who is perhaps still struggling to read and write words, who is full of gratitude for the books they love, and most importantly, is a master at reading pictures and will happily study the pictures for story, for meaning, for details. Sometimes in the middle of puzzling out something, I will think about Charlie Higgins and all the kids like him and ask myself if Charlie would like what I’m doing. Would he laugh? Find it fascinating? Or, god forbid, would it bore him? He is my touchstone, even though I never met him.

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Ceramic sculpture by Marla’s friend Elaine Carhartt

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THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Just do it. Don’t feel guilty for wanting it. Make it yours. Claim it. (Especially if you are a mom.)

Marla Frazee

Illustrating IS MOMMY? written by Victoria Chang

Is Mommy

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My fall book is called Is Mommy? It is written by Victoria Chang, an accomplished adult poet. I did the illustrations in tempera paint on manila paper. It’s a primal, joyful, funny take on the very honest feelings kids sometimes have about their mommies.

Thank you, Marla—your studio cottage is adorable! I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you in person this past August, and I’m looking forward to getting my copy of Is Mommy? when it comes out!


Join us next week when Liz Garton Scanlon (author of Caldecott-wining book All the World) shares her writing space in Austin, Texas.

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I’m the new SCBWI Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Wisconsin!

I’m excited to be the new Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI Wisconsin, working together with author Miranda Paul. Big thanks to Michael Kress-Russick for co-leading our chapter for the last five years!

Miranda and I, along with Illustrator Coordinator Deb Gross, are busy planning the Wisconsin Fall Conference, which takes place October 21-23. Check out our stellar lineup HERE.

I had a great time at the Wild Wild Midwest this past weekend, meeting other state RA’s and gleaning so much from the amazing faculty. In addition to all the learning, we took a break Friday night for a Roaring 20’s costume party. Here’s a picture of Miranda and me in our aviator costumes inspired by Amelia Earhart.

Miranda & Andrea_WWMW


Christina Forshay’s Studio Tour

Christina Forshay - 3Welcome back to Tuesday Tours! April’s studio tour with Kwame Alexander has been rescheduled for August. Make sure to check back for that. In the meantime, I’m happy to showcase illustrator Christina Forshay’s studio in California. Christina’s newest book A Morning with Grandpawritten by Kidlit 411 co-founder Sylvia Liu, just hit the shelves! It beautifully tells the story of a grandpa and granddaughter sharing tai chi and yoga with each other. Christina and Sylvia will be touring around virtually with their new release. To see where they’ll be visiting, check out the schedule HERE.
Christina Forshay - 14
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

I was born and raised in Southern California and always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort when I grew up. In elementary school, I always “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over the new box of crayons the teacher handed out to me on the first day of school. I think what my creativity really comes down to is wanting to create worlds the viewer can get lost in and think “I want to go there!”
Christina Forshay - 12

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
The story of my creative workspace is crazy! It’s definitely been an ever-changing situation. As my family has grown, my desk has moved all over the house from this room to that room and into the living room to accommodate my kids. I even spent a few months last year in an actual office space in an office building because a great space at a great price came up. Since then, we’ve purchased a bigger house where I will eventually have MY OWN studio room again! Yay! I say “eventually” because we are in the middle of a major renovation and my soon-to-be studio is currently housing our refrigerator, boxes, and a lot of dust! So for now, my studio is in the corner of the living room in a small duplex where we are temporarily staying while our new house (and my new studio) is being remodeled.

I also work remotely now and then at my local Starbucks, the library, and even at my son’s soccer practice. I’ve worked on preliminary sketches and even bits of my final art either traditionally in sketchbooks or on my SurfacePro while out and about. Overall, all this moving and inconsistency really doesn’t affect my creative process because as long as I have my tools and some peace and quiet every now and then, I’m good to go. Of course finally having my own dedicated room in a few months (that I won’t have to share) is going to be a DREAM! I’ll finally be able to hang all the artwork from fellow illustrators I’ve purchased over the years! Visit me in six months to see the end results, haha!Christina Forshay - 10
Christina Forshay - 4
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating? 

Being that I work mostly from home and I have two very busy kids ages 6 and 9, I don’t really have a typical work day. Also, my husband is a firefighter and his atypical schedule means I have to be very flexible with my work time. I’m hoping that once my youngest starts first grade and is in school full time in the fall I’ll be able to have a more systematic work week. But I do have somewhat of a ritual every time I sit down to work. First, I look at all my social media sites because, I don’t know, maybe I’m addicted? 🙂 Then, I find something to listen to. What am I in the mood to hear? Sometimes its a podcast, sometimes it’s music, sometimes its a movie or tv show. Next, I do about 15-30 minutes of warm-up drawing and painting to get the “uglies” out and then I get to work.

Christina Forshay - 2
What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?

The biggest self-imposed distraction is definitely social media. How I deal with that is by giving myself a good 15 minutes or so to binge on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and then I turn on the Self Control app. Self Control is a computer app that blocks any websites for a specified amount of time. However my really REAL distraction is trying to figure out how to balance life as a mom of young kids with life as an artist. Over the years, I’ve tried dealing with it in many ways, but I think at this point I’m dealing with it by convincing myself that there may never be a true balance and that that’s OK. I’ve gotta go with the flow! If I have a serious amount of work to do and/or a deadline, try to schedule out my work time on our family calendar for the week so that everyone knows that I’m going to be working and I need uninterrupted work time.

Christina Forshay - 11
What other artists, writers, or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

Oh, there’s so many! One of my Pinterest boards is a treasure trove of all the artists I love. Right now I’m in awe of Cory Loftis’ work. His drawings are so expressive and I just love his use of color. I’m also in love with painter Carol Marine’s work. Her paintings are luscious and full of amazing colors and textures. These are qualities I’d like to incorporate a bit more into my work. You can see all the work that gets my creative juices flowing at my “Illustration Candy” Pinterest board.
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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?

Since my creative space seems to be always moving and changing, the one thing I really consistently need is TIME. Time to get in the zone so the work begins to flow. That can happen anywhere I can find alone time: at the coffee shop, the library, or the park. Another thing I ALWAYS have or bring with me when I work is a pile of picture books. I get super inspired by the work of my current faves!

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I recently illustrated a few covers for a Simon & Schuster middle grade series called Angel Wings by Michelle Misra. The first book in the series comes out in June, 2016 and the rest will be released every few months. And, I’m always working on a couple of story ideas that have been percolating for a while now! You can find samples of my work and book info on my website. I’m all over the website with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram!

Thank you, Christina, for sharing your studio in the middle of a busy move! I love your practice of getting the “uglies” out—I’ll have to give that one a try!  Best of luck to you with your book A Morning with Grandpa, and your upcoming release Angel Wings!

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Upcoming Events

WEMTAApril 10, 2016
Event website
Writing for Children Panel & Author Fair
A presentation from a number of children’s writers from Wisconsin, covering multiple genres such as, picture books, middle grade, and young adult.




WWMWFriday, April 29, 2016 – Sunday, May 1, 2016

SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest
Event website
Independently Published Panel
Join a Q&A session with the 2015 Spark Award winner, W. Nikola-Lisa, writer/journalist Silvia Acevedo, and author/illustrator Andrea Skyberg as they share their journey to publishing independently and provide tips, terms, and advice for anyone considering this exciting option — or for those who are actively publishing. This is a special opportunity to ask an expert, so come with questions! Moderated by Trina Sotira, indie writer, editor and assistant professor.

Saturday, May 7, 2016
Greendale Public Library’s
First Annual Children’s Book Festival
Event website
Join feature presenter Andrea Skyberg as she offers her Big Picture presentation for kids, parents, educators, and librarians.

Kate Messner’s Studio Tour

Kate Messner - 1 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the writing room of Kate Messner, which overlooks Lake Champlain. Kate creates beautiful books written in multiple genres, and she also blogs on her website about a variety of topics. Some of my favorite posts from her site include Picture Book Math, Bullet Journaling (Children’s Authors Version), and Owning Our Words. Kate also gives her time and expertise for free to teachers and librarians interested in learning how to write for children in her summer series Teacher’s Write! And she helps her fellow authors connect with schools by showcasing the listing of Authors Who Skype on her blog.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write books for kids of pretty much all ages – from picture books to chapter books to novels for older readers. My best-known picture books are HOW TO READ A STORY, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, and UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT, all from Chronicle Books. I have three series with Scholastic Press – the Marty McGuire books, the Silver Jaguar society mysteries for middle grade readers, and the Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time traveling golden retriever. And I also write stand-alone novels with Bloomsbury, including THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE, EYE OF THE STORM, WAKE UP MISSING, ALL THE ANSWERS, and coming this June, THE SEVENTH WISH. I draft all my books on my MacBook Pro, using Scrivener, but I also do a lot of brainstorming, off-draft pondering, planning, mapping, and outlining using colored markers on big sheets of paper.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
Several years ago, when I transitioned to writing full time, we built a separate writing room in the back of the house, overlooking Lake Champlain, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. The room is tiny – just enough space for a big desk, a chair, and a wall of bookshelves – but it’s soundproof, which means that I can work quietly no matter what’s happening with my family upstairs. I also love that I have to go down to the basement, step out into an unheated storage area, and then go back in another door to get there. That really gives me the feeling of “going to work” when I transition to the writing part of my day.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I generally wake up at about six, get my daughter off to school, check email, and try to settle in to my writing. I used to work out first thing in the morning and write later on, but lately, I’ve been writing from about 8 to 11:45 and then taking a break for a noon fitness class at the gym. I’ve found that after an hour of boot camp or kickboxing, I find a second burst of creative energy, so I’ll usually take a quick lunch downstairs and go back to writing until it’s time to pick my daughter up from sports practice after school.

Kate Messner - 2

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shell full of incredibly smooth, polished pebbles on my desk. I picked them up on a magical little beach during a family trip to California a couple of summers ago. They are fabulous rocks, and I play with them when I’m stuck. I’m also lucky enough to have art from illustrators Brian Floca and Mark Siegel on my walls, which just makes me happy to be in the room, even when it’s not the easiest writing day.

Kate Messner - 3

Kate Messner - 7

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, whom would you pick?
My day to day writing habits are probably too weird for me to share a studio with anyone. I talk to myself constantly and sometimes act things out in my little room so that I can find the right words to describe what a character is doing. Yesterday, for example, I was writing a scene where a girl has to lift a heavy wooden shelf that’s fallen during an earthquake to free her brother, who’s trapped underneath. I was struggling to describe how she did that, so I pretended I was lifting the (attached) bookshelves in my studio and used that experience to think about what my body was doing and what it would look and feel like for my character. Also, I take little exercise and yoga breaks while I write, so it’s not unusual for me to stop working for two minutes to plank or stretch or do jumping jacks. I’d be a terribly disruptive studio mate, but I do love writing when I’m on retreat with other writers. There’s something about the collective creative energy.

Kate Messner - 8 What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Personal space for creativity doesn’t have to be a huge space – mine is tiny – and if you can’t swing even a small dedicated space right now, it’s always possible to carve out temporary sanctuaries. I know people who set up desks in corners and closets and laundry rooms, and I think just the act of saying, “I go to this place to write” can be helpful.Kate Messner - 4

sketchy ocean waves background

sketchy ocean waves background



What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I have two books coming out in June and I’m super excited about both. The first is THE SEVENTH WISH, a retelling of the old fairy tale where a fisherman catches a magical, wishing fish. My version is set in an ice fishing community on Lake Champlain and is about not only ice fishing and wishes, but also Irish dancing, addiction’s impact on families, and the limits of magic. The lovely, lovely Anne Ursu read an early copy and called it “An empathetic, beautiful, magical fiercely necessary book that stares unflinchingly at the the very real challenges contemporary kids face and gently assures them they are not alone.”
My other June 2016 title is book 4 in my Ranger in Time series, RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE, in which Ranger travels to early 20th century Antarctica with a Maori-Chinese boy who’s stowed away on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova, hoping to be part of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. You can find me on Twitter or my website  

Thank you for sharing your writing room with us, Kate! It’s great seeing where you work. I’d also like to personally thank you for sharing your thoughts on gender issues in kid lit and speaking up about sexism in the industry. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, or on your blog, you’ve given us all some food for thought. Best of luck on THE SEVENTH WISH!

Tuesday Tours will be return in May when illustrator Christina Forshay shares her newly-moved-into studio in California. If you’d like to get updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.

Lori Nichols Studio Tour

Lori Nichols - 16Today on Tuesday Tours I’m thrilled to have Lori Nichols join us and share her Alabama studio. Lori won the SCBWI New York Winter conference portfolio award in 2014, and since then, she’s published a number of books, including her adorable Maple and Willow series, with the newest book in the series coming out this November. She’s also illustrated the Orq books written by David Elliott, and is working on illustrations for a new book by Candace Fleming, set to come out in 2017. I was lucky enough to meet Lori last August at the SCBWI LA conference, and she is as fun to talk with as her books are to read!


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am from Pennsylvania but have lived in Alabama since I was married 25 years ago. I like to work in a range of media from pencil, watercolor, quill pen and ink and Photoshop.
Lori Nichols - 1

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
I’ve had my studio in a spare room on the first floor of our house for the past 12 years. It’s been a hodge podge environment. There are lots of  thrift-store finds, stacks of children’s book in baskets, scattered and loved objects here and there, along with Margaret our cat who naps on my keyboard. The space is also the familia office and art-supply rental store for my kids and the neighbors’ kids. I hear this a lot: “Mom, do you have any ________.” Fill in the blank with tape, red paint, thread, string, canvas, poster board, glitter, hammer, etc. I recently invested in some beautiful built-in bookcases and I’m so happy in my space now. Order is a good thing. There’s still the occasional cat-on-the-keyboard I have to deal with, but other than that, I love it. Actually, I love Margaret too.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
My typical day starts at 5:50 a.m. waking up my three girls 15, 14 and 12 followed by the divine chaos of breakfast, backpacks, and rushing humans here and there. I get home at 8 a.m. Sometimes I walk the neighborhood, other times I clean the kitchen, load the dishwasher or make coffee. I then go into my office, move the cat,  Lori Nichols - 24answer email, check Facebook and start my day. Since I work both traditionally on paper and electronically on my Mac, my day may be sitting at my drawing table for several hours or on the Mac for a few hours. Sometimes it’s a dance between workstations. Draw, scan, edit in Photoshop. Draw, scan, edit in Photoshop. At 2:30, I become a pumpkin and start picking up girls from schools. I come home for a little while to work more while the girls do their homework and I’m off to move these humans from point A to point B again.

Lori Nichols - 3
Lori Nichols - 2

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Every time I can open up paints and use my brushes and pencils I have the most fun. I enjoy the traditional part of my work more than the electronic part.

Lori Nichols - 14Lori Nichols - 13

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I love bird’s nests and have several around the studio. I also love terrariums.

Lori Nichols - 5

If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
New York City so I could meet with my editors and art directors more frequently. I try to make it up once a year now, but more frequent visits would be beneficial.

Lori Nichols - 11

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Creating a working space is such a personal endeavor. For me, it was important to start creating even though I didn’t have the perfect space.  I would also suggest surrounding yourself with things you love, objects that speak to you, images that inspire you. If I had waited to create until I had the perfect office, I would have missed out on so many opportunities. With that said, there were a few things I did that helped me get organized:
1) I have a box for each and every job I work on. All the boxes are the same size, color and shape and I label them with the cover of the book and store them once a book is published. I have several boxes as idea boxes. This way I can keep a sketchbook and if I happen to work on a few different ideas at a time in one sketchbook, I can tear out the sketchbook page and put it in the accompanying box.

2) Baskets!!! When I’m extremely organized I don’t create well. I have to see works-in-progress in order to keep the process moving. If you’re reading this and are like me, give yourself the freedom to find what works for you. My husband is extremely organized and neat. For years I compared myself to him wondering why I wasn’t more tidy…but each time I tried to be that way I found myself lacking the energy to create. I have found that baskets are good because they don’t have lids and I can still see things inside them. They help me stay somewhat tidy and organized without really putting things up and out of sight.
Lori Nichols - 15
Lori Nichols - 17What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m super excited that book four in the Maple and Willow series is coming out this Fall, 2016. Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree, under Nancy Paulsen Books. I love these two girls and their stories keep coming. I’m also really excited to be working on a different book with Nancy …but it’s still a work-in-progress and I can’t really share what we’re doing yet. 
I have the amazing honor to be illustrating one of Candace Fleming’s picture books Go Sleep in Your Own Bed, which is scheduled to come out sometime in 2017. Her writing is so funny and I loved the text the minute I read it.

Kate MessnerThank you so much, Lori! It was great to get a glimpse of where you work. I really love your box idea to help keep projects organized—I’m gonna give that a try. Best of luck with your upcoming books!

Tuesday Tours will be return in March with author Kate Messner who’ll be sharing her writing sanctuary located on Lake Champlain.

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New Year! New Residency! New Book!

I’ve been working with Milwaukee Environmental Science Academy to create a new book this year. Over 200 kids along with the entire staff are working with me to write and illustrate a picture book based on their school’s character traits. The staff started the project in early January, collaging and designing the cover for our book. The school’s mascot is the yellow jacket, which is why we chose to feature them on our cover. In the next two months, the students will work with me to illustrate the interior page spreads, as well as write the story. Each page spread will feature text created around one of the school’s character traits, combined with the image of a tree and a Wisconsin animal. The big idea in the book is that just like a tree needs water, air, and nutrient rich soil to grow, we need character traits like integrity, grit, stewardship, respect, leadership, and craftsmanship to grow into strong and beautiful additions to the earth. While these illustrations will serve as the page spreads in the book, we will also have them enlarged and printed on 4′ x 6′ vinyl to be used to decorate the school. The project is made possible through funding from Arts@Large.