David LaRochelle’s Studio Tour

Today on Tuesday Tours I’m happy to share David LaRochelle’s studio in White Bear Lake Minnesota. I met David at this past year’s SCBWI Wisconsin annual conference. David was on faculty at the conference and he was a big hit the first night with his funny presentation about his work as a children’s book illustrator and author. David has written or illustrated thirty books, including picture books, puzzle books, craft books, and a very well-received young adult novel Absolutely Positively Not.  His books have won numerous awards, including the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Award, and the Minnesota Book Award.


DavidTell us a little bit about yourself.
For four years I was an elementary school teacher, but for the past twenty-five years I’ve been working as a children’s author and illustrator. My recent titles include How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans and Moo! At the start of my career I was doing more work as an illustrator. Watercolors were my main medium, with a lot of black and white line work. My very first book was illustrated with linoleum block prints. In recent years, I’ve been working mostly as a writer, although last year I released my first book as both author and illustrator–Arlo’s Art-rageous Adventure.

David LaRochelle

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I just moved this past year so my workspace is relatively new. In fact, agreeing to this interview was good motivation to finish getting things on my studio walls!
The first several books I illustrated were done at a kitchen table in a very small apartment. For the next twenty years I had a small alcove where I crammed my writing desk anddrawing table, with my computer in my bedroom and art supplies overflowing into the hallway. Now, in my new townhome, I have an entire room as well as a loft area devoted to my workspace. I have a built in window seat with storage areas, shelves where I keep sketchbooks and drafts of stories organized in folders, and cabinets with wide flat drawers to store large sheets of paper and drawing tablets. All of this space feels like a luxury…and I love it!

David LaRochelle1
I am by no means a handyman, but this summer I lined two of my studio walls with cork, something I’ve always wanted. This allows me to pin up sketches while working on a book. Being able to come back to these sketches over and over throughout the day is very helpful with my thinking process as my ideas need a long time to simmer. The cork wall also lets me display postcards, photos, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, anything that reminds me of a happy memory.David LaRochelle14
In my living room I have several large bookcases where I keep my collection of children’s books. I often sit there and write. Having easy access to my favorite authors and illustrators is both inspirational and motivational. Before I moved, all my books were in towering stacks on my bed’s headboard. Trying to access any book was like playing a game of Jenga!David LaRochelle3

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
If I’m not visiting a school to give an author visit, I usually start the day by swimming at the YMCA. When I get home, having a can of Pepsi and a cookie is my reward for sitting down to work (I suppose this is counterproductive to going to the Y!). Staying away from the Internet is imperative. Once I start checking my email, I can say good-bye to being creative for the rest of the day. Writing, drawing, and generating new ideas is best done earlier in the day before I attack business correspondence which I try to leave till late in the afternoon or evening.

David LaRochelle8

Please tell us about a time you had the most fun working in your studio.
I’ve only been in my studio a short while, but this summer I was working on creating puppets for a program the illustrator Mike Wohnoutka and I are presenting to preschoolers based on our book Moo! It was so nice to have large areas of space to spread out my supplies…and to be able to leave them out without worrying they’d be in the way of making dinner!

David LaRochelle9

Who are some of the picture book writers and illustrators that have had an influence on your work?
Each new book by Mac Barnett (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Count the Monkeys) is creative in a different way, and I greatly admire that. Phyllis Root (Rattletrap Car, Plant a Pocket of Prairie) is a master at writing beautiful picture book text. Marla Frazee (Roller Coaster, All the World Over) captures entire stories in the expressiveness of her characters. All three inspire me to do better work.David LaRochelle5

What’s your music of choice while you work?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m writing or doing the initial creation of a project, I need to have quiet. If I’m at the stage where I’m doing mid-level sketches or final paintings, relaxing instrumental jazz, folk music, or show tunes are my favorites. David LaRochelle10

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you? Please tell us about it.
Pinned on my cork wall I have a name badge from my mother and a business card from my father’s welding service. Both of my parents have been gone for many years but these reminders make me feel like they are still present in my life.

If you could add a new tool, piece of furniture, or machine to your studio, what would it be?
I would love to have a computer desk that feels comfortable. I have not yet figured out the proper height for my screen and chair, and consequently I end up achy after several hours of working.David LaRochelle4

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Include things that make you happy, not what you think other people would tell you to include. I have book awards and fan mail from students on my walls to lift my spirits during those stretches when the writing is difficult and rejection letters are all that I seem to receive. Don’t feel like your personal space needs to be perfect before you can start work; your studio can be a work in progress. The main thing is to start doing the work that you love.

David LaRochelle6


What’s new for you now and where can we find out more?
I’m excited that my book Moo! was just released as a board book. I have several books under contract, but it still might be a year or two before they appear on bookshelves. Even though it’s past Halloween, your readers might enjoy seeing my creative jack-o’-lanterns at http://www.davidlarochelle.com.

Thanks, David! I love the cork wall and all of your storage. You seem to be very organized, especially for someone who just moved!

Tia Chianti Richardson’s Studio Tour

Today on Tuesday Tours we’ll look inside the studio of artist and owner of Cosmic Butterfly Design Tia Chianti Richardson, who’s studio is part of the Kunzelmann-Esser artists lofts in Milwaukee—an apartment building that offers galleries and a workroom for the residents to use. Tia refers to herself at a Community Integrated Artist because a large portion of what she does centers on the process of creating the work in collaboration with community members. Working together, Tia and her group paints large colorful murals that incorporate issues that are of concern to the community where the mural is being created. During these residences Tia also teaches people new art skills, helps build relationships among the participants, and offers art as a tool for healing in the community.



Milwaukee Environmental Services School mural (8’x26′ acrylic on panel)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I call myself a “community-integrated artist”. I’m a muralist. My approach is holistic in that I facilitate making art—specifically murals—by group listening in a way that integrates the voice of the community and the collective spirit of working together to build a new vision. I work with youth and adults of all ages. I’m less interested in working on my own paintings in my studio. I get occasional private commissions like portraits and paintings in oil and acrylic but I prefer to work on community art and teach people how to do something they’ve never done before, by working together around issues they care about.

Tia facilitating a talking Circle

Tia facilitating a talking Circle

I like to do this by using talking circles and group exercises that build relationship during our design planning phases. In this way art becomes a tool for healing community. That is my practice. The final, permanent mural is done in acrylic. I’ve led over 25 residencies around Milwaukee in public schools and community organizations. Three murals are outdoors.

full studio view

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve had my space for nine years. My building is a renovated furniture factory turned into artists live/work apartments. If I’m working on a painting late in the evening I get to take breaks by lounging on my couch where I still have a view of my painting, cook dinner, eat and watch my painting until I see how I need to approach it again. Plus I like to multi-task. I might do home-stuff while working on a painting. I wouldn’t feel as relaxed if I weren’t in my own home.



Portrait of a Bride (22″x24″ oil on canvas)

Describe a typical work day.
If I’m not scheduled with a school that day, its open for planning, appointments with any potential clients, or relaxing. A typical day during a residency involves preparing any props that I make so the students have a 3D example of their project. Making a class outline. Transporting materials/props to the school where I leave them in storage, if I can, to minimize hauling. I ‘ll do an hour in-class with anywhere from 8-24 students, guiding them each step of the way. The first half-hour might be an introduction, a talking circle or brainstorming, followed by a demonstration and instructions for that day, followed by work— individual sketching or group painting. I always close with each student saying something they appreciated about the day or about something someone else in the room did. Sometimes I have two or three classes back to back. Repeat weekly for three to eight weeks. I have managed up to six different residencies at five different schools in one semester.




Goddess of the Dawn Raven (22″x36″ acrylic on canvas)

What do you like to nibble on or drink while you work.
At home I have water or hot tea—my favorite is Egyptian Licorice and Equal Exchange 85% dark chocolate—nothing tastes better.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
Kofi Annan. I know, he’s not an artist, but he’s an exemplary ‘artist of bringing humanity together’ and that is what I strive for in my work. Second choice: Lily Yeh. Third choice: Milwaukee’s Sara Daleiden because I like the way she listens, and her ability to put inner processes into language I can relate to. That would make for some great conversations.


Workshop in the artist live-work studio building where Tia lives

List three of your favorite things in your studio.
My red micro-suede futon couch, my colored turkish wall tapestries given to me by my mother from her travels, and my six-foot high, 10’x15′ wooden loft that my dad built—all add coziness and warmth.
living room

What would you say is the most useful tool in your studio?
Probably my laptop and wifi. I use google and photoshop a lot for image references, photo-manipulation and research. It’s a lot quicker to mock-up a mural composition or portrait in photoshop for me than by hand and takes less resources.


Silver Spring neighborhood Center food pantry mural (4’x6′ acrylic on canvas)

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Allow space for self-care. Having my futon, bed and kitchen nearby means I can sleep, eat real food and relax when I need to. Personally, organization is ultra important for me so I have storage that ‘hides’ because I like the feeling of openness and not clutter. Understand your unique work style and design your workspace accordingly.


STITCH Milwaukee 2013 Community Mural (8’x8′ Acrylic on plywood)

As an art educator, how do you use art to inspire youth–is there a story you could share about someone that was inspired after your workshop/residency?
Many of the teachers I work with are inspired. I often see young people I work with around town after a residency and enjoy hearing their feedback about how their family or parents responded to a project they took home, or how they kept creating after the residency. I co-facilitated a group of adults on the STITCH Milwaukee community mural project, many of whom did not have art backgrounds. I got feedback from someone who had no prior art experience who was deeply inspired by the meditative space that happened when we were painting, and did not know painting could feel like that. She says the 3-month long process catalyzed a sense in herself that an artistic identity was starting to form she never knew she could identify with. I know her personally and she continues to nurture that creative expression through photography and poetry.


Gallery in the artist live-work studio building where Tia lives

1st floor gallery in the artist collective building where Tia lives

1st floor gallery in the artist live-work studio building where Tia lives

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m currently doing a bookmaking residency at Pierce St School. We are making traditional hand-bound illustrated books used as autobiographies or journals. The highlight of my year happened the weekend of October 4th when I collaborated with a group of four other artists through BeIntween, and with international community artist Lily Yeh, on a project called Urban Alchemy Phase I. We were trained in her methodology of using art as a tool for bringing community together. In one day we transformed the swing park under the Holton Bridge with temporary art made with the help of many community members. Urban Alchemy Phase II recently happened Nov 15th; community members and the core artist team shared stories about family and painted story sticks and built a large chandelier made of the sticks that we installed in the Swing Park.

Beinbetween--Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy Phases I

Beinbetween–Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy Phases I


Playback Milwaukee Theatre Company performance at UWM (2013)

That same weekend Playback Milwaukee Theatre Company, of which I’m an active member, hosted a separate event with Lily in person and screened her documentary using playback as tool for facilitating the workshop. In Playback, an audience member tells a true life story then watches as its played back by trained playback players using spoken word, movement, visual art, music and… magic!

Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy Phases I and II installations

Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy Phases I and II installations

Lily Yeh’s film documents her journey to honor and heal personal pain in her own family and how that has strengthened her authenticity and solidarity within the communities she serves around the globe. Those of us who attended are community artists and activists who wanted to use her film to inspire and inform our own work here in Milwaukee. Playback Milwaukee Theatre Company’s next public performance will be Amani United Uplifted! Everyday Heroes and Sheroes of the Amani Neighborhood Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society in Milwaukee.You can find out more about me on my website.

Thank you, Tia for sharing your amazing studio space, as well as all of the inspiring work you do in our community!

Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy project

Group working on the Lily Yeh-inspired Urban Alchemy project

Maggie Rudy’s Studio Tour

I’m a sucker for picture books that go beyond traditional illustration, so I was blown away when I saw Maggie Rudy’s fantastical mouse environments that make you want to jump into the pages of the book. Maggie started creating these little creatures as a project to help incoming kindergartners make the transition to school, giving them an object to connect with, and from there it’s turned into a empire she calls Mouseland. Maggie’s first book The House That Mouse Built is a takeoff of The House That Jack Built. Her newest book, I Wish I Had A Pet, places her mice into contact with other animals, as they offer their advice on pet care. Maggie’s illustrations in both of these books have the ability to turn me into a kid, trying to see all the little things in the pages and reminding me of when I was young and could very easily imagine worlds of wild creatures creating little homes out of discarded human material.


Maggie Rudy authorpic

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Illustrating children’s books has been an unexpected career for me. I worked for years in pastels and acrylics, and I showed at Mark Woolley Gallery in Portland, Oregon, where I still live. I also made little felt mice to entertain myself, and later as a project with my sons’ school. I began taking photos of the mice, and to think about using them as illustrations. My second book was published in July. To make the mice I only need a few things…grey felt, pipe cleaners, cotton and beads. But their environments require lots of materials to choose from, so much of my studio is taken up with bins of fabric, paper, wooden boxes, cloth flowers, old books and miscellaneous salvage.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?

I set up my studio in 2010, in a room over our garage. I call it Mouseland. Having a home studio means that I can work anytime I want, without having to get in the car. I love being able to go up at night and look at what I’m working on, so it’s in my mind before I go to sleep. I’ve gotten a lot of ideas that way.
I need to have my materials and tools out where I can see them, otherwise I’ll forget what I have. Plus I’ll often get an idea when my eye falls on some random object.
Another bonus is that we live in the woods, so I can go outside and collect materials easily.

drawersDescribe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I usually get in the studio by 9:00. I do my best work in the late morning, so that’s when I’ll work on things that are particularly small or detailed. I break for lunch at noon and then go back up. If I’m shooting that day I’ll figure out the lighting and take pictures, or clean things up in Photoshop. Otherwise, I’ll just keep making stuff.
I try to remember to get up and walk around every hour, and I’ll take my dog for a walk most afternoons. The only ritual I have is turning on the heater at 8:30, because the studio isn’t heated! Plus I use it to dry things that I’ve glued or painted.


serenade copy
Please tell us about a time you had the most fun working in your studio.

The most fun time is when I stumble onto a new technique or idea, which usually happens when I bollix something up. Then I get a huge surge of creative energy.potato forest

Does music influence how you work? What’s on your playlist now?

Music helps keep the flow going. I have an eclectic mix on my ipod. Radiohead, Amalia, Iris Dement, & Beck are some of the latest things that played. I also listen to Desert Island Discs, on BBC 4. They have an archive going back to the forties, and the interviews are fascinating.

Sam's drawing

Drawing by Maggie’s son Sam.

What is your greatest source of inspiration as an artist? Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?

My best inspiration is the natural world. I also have a drawing that my son made for me, of this little creature sitting under a tree, holding a steaming cup. It’s hanging in my studio and it always makes me feel encouraged.

Is there a favorite drink or food that you have while you work?
Any drink I take into Mouseland ends up with a paintbrush in it, so I’ve learned not to do it!

cardgamepostcard copy

What are the three best things about your studio?
It looks out into the trees, it’s a 10 second walk away, and I don’t pay rent.

studio tools

If you could add a new tool or piece of furniture to your studio, what would it be?
I have more tools than I need..what I’d really like is a storage space or a ceiling that doesn’t slope, so I would stop whacking my head!

What colors inspire your creativity. Are those colors incorporated in your space?
Since my workspace doubles as a photography studio, I keep the walls and ceiling white.

studio dog
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?

A big, beautiful studio is every artist’s dream, but we don’t usually get them right away. It’s a big step to graduate from the kitchen table! So you may just start out with a dedicated corner of the living room that you can screen off. Have a window if possible, and spend some money on great lighting. Start calling it “my studio” and make it off limits to anyone but the artist (you). Sit there every day, even if you don’t know what to do. You can make great art there, just as you will someday make great art in your big beautiful studio!
mice skating 

reading petsWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My latest book is called I Wish I Had A Pet. I post new Mouseland pictures every week at my blog, MousesHouses.

Thank you, Maggie! It was a delight getting to peak into your studio. Just like your illustrations, your studio is a feast for the eyes, with so many things to look at. Best of luck with I Wish I Had A Pet! It’s adorable!

Join us next week when we’ll get the chance to visit the studio of Milwaukee painter and art educator Tia Richardson.

Scott Campbell’s Studio Tour

On this week’s Tuesday Tours Scott’s Campbell takes us inside his Brooklyn studio where he creates his hilarious illustrations. I feel like the best way to introduce Scott is to share this video he made to advertise his new book Hug Machine.

I haven’t personally met Scott yet, but after watching his promotional video and admiring all of his amazing illustrations (which often make me laugh out loud) I can tell he’d be a pretty fun person to share a studio with. The lucky folks at the Pencil Factory in Brooklyn get to do just that, as his studio is part of the well known building that houses a diverse group of creative people. In addition to just releasing his first book as author/illustrator, Scott is also the illustrator of the Zombie in Love books, written by Kelly DiPucchio and East Dragon,West Dragon, written by Robyn Eversole. He has a witty illustration series called Great Showdowns, and he’s art directed a number of video games (not for children), including Psychonauts and Brutal Legend



Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
My name is Scott and I paint pictures of pleasant creatures, usually enjoying themselves. Sometimes they do not get along, but most of the time they are buddies. I have been painting in watercolor for the past 10 years or so for gallery shows, comic books and magazines, and most recently children’s picture books. I have also created concepts and art directed a number of video games for Double Fine and Lucas. I am known for good vibes depictions of things because I myself am a fairly good natured fellow.


How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I have worked out of my studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, for about a year and a half. Before that I worked out of my house and before that I worked in a games studio in San Francisco. I very much enjoyed working at home, I felt I could get so much more work done than when I was in the games studio. But I did begin to miss being surrounded by creative people. I was recently blessed with the opportunity to join up with a space in a building in Greenpoint that is sort of legendary in the illustration world because of the array of incredibly talented artists that work there. It is called the Pencil Factory. It was an actual factory that made pencils way back in the day. You can even see number 2 pencils in the molding on the outside of the building! It is a pretty exciting place to work. There are not just illustrators in the building, there are production companies, music companies, design blogs, carpenters, all kinds of cool things go on in there. IMG_0695I share my particular space with a typeface designer, book jacket designer, and an illustrator/fine artist. I absolutely love being around such talented people. It really gets me so pumped to make cool things. And I feel like I am finally in touch with things going on in the illustration world. There is a camaraderie at the Pencil Factory that I just love so much. I enjoy talking with everyone and getting their opinions on business things as well as creative endeavors.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Once I had moved to New York about 6 years ago and started to work at home, I began to very much enjoy that moment when I step outside my front door into the morning air for the first time each day. I am a morning person, so I scramble to get out of my house as soon as possible in the morning and head to a local coffee shop to relax and read and come up with ideas. I do not usually come up with ideas and brainstorm in my house or studio. I do that out amongst people I do not know in a coffee shop or library. IMG_0636I enjoy being around other people working on their own things with whatever music and chatter is going on. I begin my day by reading whatever book I am reading, to relax my mind a bit and take it elsewhere. Give it some time to collect itself. Then I start scrawling notes and drawings all over my pieces of copy paper. I spend about an hour or two working on whatever I need to work on at the time then I look at my to do list and make a little list for the day of goals to meet. I journey into the studio in the late morning and that is when I begin to check my email. I paint whatever I need to paint that morning or in the late afternoon. I know that my golden hour of working is about 9 – 11am and then about 4 – 7pm. That middle zone is a no-man’s land of distractions! But I let myself have that time to do other random stuff. I can sometimes riff on ideas later in the day on my computer if I am feeling in the zone. I think I get stuff done at the end of the day because it is like extra credit stuff. Whatever I can get done is just an added gift to the day.

zombi 2 coverDescribe a time you had the most fun working in your studio.
When I hit my stride on a project and am just painting everything up over the course of a few weeks, I am just super happy. The most recent zone like that was when I was painting the pages for the next Zombie In Love book called Zombie In Love 2 +1.  I enjoy listening to podcasts and books on tape when I am in that homestretch zone and this particular time, I got addicted to Mark Maron interviews. I learned about comedians creative processes and just interesting life experiences for a few weeks. It was great. And I forced myself to take lunch breaks and coffee breaks with my studio mates.
zombie 2 inside
Who are some of the picture book illustrators that have had an influence on your work?
Well, the book that inspired me to actually become a picture book illustrator was Stinky Cheeseman by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. That was the first time I realized how clever a book could be for the enjoyment of adults as well as children. I wanted to appeal to absolutely everyone after that. But some of the illustrators that have directly influenced the look and feel of my stuff through the years are Richard Scarry, Maurice Sendak, the Provensons, Arnold Lobel, J. Otto Seibold, and my friend Jon Klassen!

What’s your music of choice while you work?
When I need to use my brain, I usually listen to silence or real repetitive electronic music.  Music that acts like a brain massage.  But when I am in my zone, I listen to all kinds of things!  80’s music, new indie sorts of jams, soul music, ska and rocksteady, Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Velvet Underground, the Ramones, The Smiths, all kinds of things.


Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Honestly, not really! I have been using the same little plate as a paint palette for the last 8 years, so I suppose that holds some sort of superstitious value to me. Most recently, my friend gave me a hand carved wooden dude that looks like he is eating a hamburger and holding a beverage.IMG_0721 I have that guy next to my keyboard looking right at me as I work on the computer. Oh, and I love my flat file. It is my favorite thing in my studio. I have always fantasized about having one and once I moved into this space, I found a couple in a warehouse scavenged from an old Chrysler plant that had closed down.


If you could add a new tool, piece of furniture, or machine to your studio, what would it be?
A hammock would be nice. But I have no place to put it.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
I would recommend creating a space that is not next to your bed. IMG_0668Get out of the bedroom and out of the house if you can. But really it is all relative to the person. Do whatever makes you cozy and relaxed. Pack your area with stuff if that makes you feel good. Make it super sparse if that clears your mind. Put stuff all over the walls if you want. I would just try a bunch of stuff out. I am sort of superstitious about creativity, so if something goes particularly well for awhile and ideas flow nicely, then I examine all of the aspects of what I went through and try to maintain that until I need to find a new way to get inspired.


What colors inspire your creativity. Are those colors incorporated in your space?Interesting. I don’t really have one particular color that inspires me. There is lots of white and black around me in my space. I like the warmth of old wooden furniture, but I am not really surrounded by that in my space. So who knows.

Hug MachineWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
Hug Machine is the first picture book that I have written as well as illustrated and that is in stores now. Zombie In Love 2 +1 (written my Kelly DiPuchhio) comes out at the end of the year. Everything else I am working on is top secret! I update my site as regularly as I can and I now have a new shop where people can buy my prints and books directly from me! And I am still updating my Great Showdowns site, but not as regularly.

Thanks, Scott! Your space, and especially how you describe working in it is so inspiring! Can’t wait for Zombie In Love 2 + 1 and I absolutely adore Hug Machine!

Maggie Rudy's 'I Wish I Had A Pet'

Maggie Rudy’s ‘I Wish I Had A Pet’

I’m excited for next week’s guest, artist Maggie Rudy. We’ll get to explore the curious and creative space that she uses when creating her three-dimensional characters and sets that illustrate her picture books!


Unicorn Thinks (S)he’s Pretty Great!

I love Halloween and every year I get out my glue gun and go to town on my kids’ costumes. This year Evey wanted to be a Goat or Satyr & Celia wanted to be a Unicorn. I thought it was kinda fun that they unknowingly picked characters from one of my newest favorite books Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. They even won a costume contest and received a fabulous prize—new books!




Molly Idle’s Studio Tour

On this week’s Tuesday Tours we get to see inside the Arizona workshop of Caldecott honor recipient Molly Idle. Her studio, which she shares with her husband, sons, and parents is a very creative space, which at times might have theatrical rehearsals, woodworking, prop making, kids improvising, and of course Molly hard at work illustrating something in her go-to medium of color pencils. Molly’s books are beautiful works of art, and it’s not so surprising to find out she worked for DreamWorks Feature Animation Studios before she began her career in children’s picture books. The movement, action, and pacing that occur throughout the pages of her books are a beautifully orchestrated dance between the artist and reader.skyberg-tuesday-tours-logo

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Let’s see…Along with my husband, our boys, my folks, and three cats, I live in a comfy-cozy house in Tempe, Arizona. Arizona, is hot, just plain hot, for about half of the year. But it is precisely because it is so darn hot here, that I found a new way to work with my favorite medium…

I keep my desk by the window, and one sweltering summer day I came into the studio and noticed that the prismacolor pencils on my desk were beading up… sweating wax! At first I thought- ACK! I’ve killed them! But, when I started to draw with them, the softened pencils went onto the paper as smooth as butter- and they blended more completely than they ever had. As Bob Ross would’ve said, it was a “happy accident”. So now, whether the weather is hot or not, I keep my pencils under a lamp to warm them up.

What a nifty trick!



How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We’ve had our workshop for just over eight years now. And having built it, we who share it are at a loss to think of how we ever got along without it! Every member of our family has a portion of the space set aside for their personal pursuits. There’s really something to be said for having a separate space for work apart from our home. For starters… There’s a door. And that may not sound like a pivotal feature, but it truly is. For years, in our last house, I worked in a room off our kitchen that was a sort of pass through to the backyard. The only way in and out was past my desk. So there were a lot of distractions with my two kiddos running happily amok. So, to be able to shut the door behind me now, and enter this great big, quiet, creative space is at once freeing and focusing. I rarely go in the workshop just to putter or pass the time of day. If I’m in there, I’m working. Just being in the space makes me want to make something. I love it. Most everybody who comes over and spends time here says the same thing—“I would love to have a space like this!” I sure do.

Please tell us about a time you had the most fun working in your studio.
Having just gone on about loving the calm and quiet of our workshop, it feels a bit incongruous to tell you one of my happiest memories of working there was a time when it was bursting at the seams with noise and activity. But it’s true. A few years ago, I was busy working on both Tea Rex and Flora and the Flamingo, whist (and at the same time) my Mom and sister were directing a summer theatre workshop for kids, in our workshop. I was drawing while the kids rehearsed and played improv games. My boys would run in and want to play too… So the theatre kids would let my little guys improvise. During breaks all the kids would come hang round my desk and we’d talk about art and books we liked… and at the end of the day, my husband and my dad would come in and help build sets and props, and clean up for the next day,… It was this wonderful summertime mishmosh of family, friends and creativity. Good times.

A beautiful memory, one I’m sure comes back to you each time you read those books!


Some of your books include dancing. Do you dance in your studio? If so, what’s your music of choice?
I am not a dancer, but I do take the occasional happy dance break in the studio, yes. I’ve got pretty eclectic tastes—so on any given day you might catch me bee bopping to a mix of big band, bluegrass, baroque pop, or the Beach Boys. (I also listen to music that starts with letters other than “b”.)


Who are some of the picture book illustrators that have had an influence on your work?
Holly Hobbie, Lane Smith, and Mary Blair.

What a great list! Especially Holly Hobbie!


I know you love working with colored pencils, but if you had to chose another medium, what would be your second favorite?
I think that would be a toss up between chalk pastels and graphite.


Molly’s frog Stewart, handmade for her by her sister.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you? 
Stuart. My sister, Amanda, made Stuart for me when she was about 9 years old. I love him. I love the care she took in making him. He may be a bit battered and misshapen, but I think he’s beautiful. You can see every stitch she made by hand. He sits on my desk, keeping me company, and reminding me that the love we put into the things we make, shows in the finished product.

Beautifully put, and very true!


If you could add a new tool, piece of furniture, or machine to your studio, what would it be?
From a practical standpoint- I should probably answer something like, more bookshelves, or a larger scanner… But what springs to mind is this deep purple, velvet upholstered, chez lounge I once saw in a shop. An entirely unnecessary, but completely fabulous piece of furniture. Sometimes you need to choose form over function.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative? Do it!

What colors inspire your creativity. Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love bright, rich, warm colors, and you’ll find a plethora of them throughout our house… but not in our workshop. We made a conscious choice to keep the colors in there pretty neutral, so that the reflected light in the space would also remain neutral. That’s important for me as I’m pinning up pieces in progress around my desk. I need to be able to see the colors in my work as they really are- not influenced by the colors of the walls or windows around them.

camp_rex_pgs_18_19_color_lowresWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
Flora and the Penguin (Chronicle Books) is in stores now, and Sea Rex (Viking Children’s Books) will be out next Summer! You can find out more about these books and the rest of my work on my site: www.idleillustration.com

Thanks, Molly! What a creative family you have and what an excellent place to create art together. Best of luck on your upcoming book! 

Join us next week when Hug Machine’s author and illustrator Scott Campbell shares the place he creates his lovable work.