Marla Frazee’s Studio Tour

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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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THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN by Marla Frazee

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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!

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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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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.
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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!”
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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
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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

If you’d like to get monthly updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s Studio Tour

Laura Lee - 20Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the Virgina studio of author and illustrator Laura Lee Gulledge. I had such fun meeting Laura Lee at the Sheboygan Book Festival this past fall where we were both presenting. After hearing about how she was transforming the woods behind her house into art, I knew I had to have her on Tuesday Tours. In addition to her earthworks, Laura has created two fabulous graphic novels—Page by Paige and Will & Whit. Laura’s an active teaching artist, giving presentations and leading workshops for both students and adults. Her collaborators (or what she calls Artners) and herself are at work on turning Will & Whit into a play opening sometime in the new year.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I love art, drawing, and storytelling! I write and draw magical-realism-style graphic novels geared towards young adults. Besides making books I also enjoy performing drawing & painting live. My personal (and therapeutic) creative outlet has usually been illustration, but this past year has taken the form of landscaping. I’ve been carving out a “writer’s grove” in the woods behind my house: building terraces with chunks of quartz, digging a firepit, planting ferns. It’s fun world building. Then my Artners and I (AKA: partners in art) are currently making a musical adaption of Will & Whit for young performers which is an exciting new outlet for me. I also love another form of storytelling: Teaching. I enjoy connecting with students and sparking inspiration. Recently I gave comic workshops through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and was the Art Director at Camp Sequoia for young men with ADHD.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve been in my current space here in Virginia for a year and a half. I love the big windows and the view of the woods! It’s far superior to the view I had in my last studio in New York: a brick wall. The natural light really, really helps. My last studio was so dark I had to use one of those sun/ion lamps!  So depressing. Here I have deer, squirrels, and birds outside my window. Much more inspiring.Laura Lee - 19

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I have a typed schedule posted on my wall to give myself structure, because when you work for yourself you have to be a good boss! Schedule wise…I typically give myself “computer time” in the morning to handle emails, admin tasks, and internet work. (No internet exploring after this point unless it’s for reference!) After 10:30am is then “studio time,” when I become really cranky if interrupted. I try to make myself get up every hour to stretch or make tea. I give myself an hour “away from the desk” break usually at 4:00 when I take a walk or so something else active. Then 9:00pm is my personal cut-off time for being at my desk, because otherwise I’ll sit there until midnight!
My big ritual before starting work is that I always have to tidy the room I’m in before working so I don’t have any visual distractions. It’s the OCD in me. Then I also usually need to get myself OUTSIDE before settling into to work at my desk. Whether it’s visiting my grove in the backyard for a quick hello or simply walking outside and feel what the weather is, it’s a helpful transition ritual for me as someone working from home.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I had the most fun while sharing a studio with penciller Reilly Brown and writer Chris Irving in Brooklyn while I was making Page by Paige. Our studio, Outpost 54, was down the hall from other studios of comic artists such as Dean Haspiel and Simon Fraiser. It’s the only time I rented out studio space for myself and it was invaluably helpful for me as I was starting out!

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a lot of whimsical souvenirs from my days working as a scenic artist on Macy’s Christmas windows. From the colorful rainbow circuit board to the giant cartoon glove, they remind me to dream big and work hard! I also have trinkets from other past projects I’m proud of, like the shadow puppet from our debut production of the Will & Whit Musical. I also have images of those who share my dreams with me: my dear friends, inspiring Artners, and my ancestors who I feel are cheering me on in spirit.
I also have a lot of “reminders” in my studio. Laura Lee - 16Some are illustrations I’ve made that read things like, “Stress Doesn’t Improve Production” and “Let’s Be Revelationaries.” (I sell these as prints on my website for $7-10.) Others are post-it reminders to take care of myself, or to “Start with what you know” which is my mantra for when getting the ball rolling on a project (also handy for when I’m having trouble picking an outfit to wear).

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Laura Lee - 14What colors inspire your creativity.  Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love complimentary colors, colors that vibrate when they’re near each other. Teal green and poppy red is my favorite such combination, salmon orange & sky blue is another one I love.  But I love all colors! Periwinkle blue, the color of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia is probably my all time favorite hue. These colors appear as pops of color throughout the collection of artifacts that adorn my space. (they used to adorn my walls but my current walls are white) I pepper in a lot of color, especially yellow when I can. Yellow/ gold is always good to create warmth & make a space feel inviting.

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
I’d relocate to beautiful Vermont for the Summer because my Artner Lauren Larken lives there. I love the lakes and rivers and especially the creative community. (Plus this plan also rescues me from the muggy hot Virginia in the Summer!)

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Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I MUST have music on while I’m working. Lately I’ve been listening to New York radio station WFUV online. Their listener request hour is stellar. If I’m writing or thumbnailing and require more focus, I tend to listen to my Yann Tierson (more instrumental) station on Pandora. When I’m inking & shading I tend to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I’ve listened to the entire Harry Potter series via audiobook more times than I would like to admit.I’m currently reading the “Lumberjanes” (so fun!) and “Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota.” Before that I read  “Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” and I cannot praise enough. Next up is the graphic novel “The Story of My Tits” by my friend Jennifer Hayden which I’ve been really looking forward to diving into.

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If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
Definitely Scott McCloud. Not only is he super inspiring, but he and I also get along really well! I could see us having some really good conversations but then also knowing when to shut up and get work done.


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

If you want to make a space to be creative then just CLAIM it!  If your artistic outlet is a priority then you must stand up for your needs. Treat it with respect, keep it tidy, and schedule time for you to spend there. Display things to keep you inspired, such as what I mentioned earlier about personal reminders and images of the supportive people in your life. I’d also say it’s helpful to display your accomplishments in your studio. Whether it’s an award for something big or merely a souvenir from something you did that you’re proud of, I find it really grounding. Because we often don’t let ourselves celebrate out successes! I also enjoy including my fuzzy friend Rory cat in my space, hence there’s multiple surfaces for him to hang out. (as well as the oh-so-essential cat grass) Having an animal around makes working alone at one’s desk feel much less lonely and much less stressful.

A new painting that adorns my wall that was a Christmas gift. It's by a local artist named Erin Murray and I'm obsessed with it!

A new painting that adorns my wall that was a Christmas gift. It’s by a local artist named Erin Murray and I’m obsessed with it!

Laura Lee - 25What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m currently working on writing & drawing TWO new books for Abrams and I’m so excited! I’m also developing the Will & Whit musical with my Artners here in Virginia. Then this January I have a residency at the innovative Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas where I will be working with kids making Peace Books. There is much afoot for 2016!  To learn more (and if you’d like to buy prints) here’s my website: whoislauralee.com

Thanks so much, Laura Lee! Great seeing all of your creative endeavors. Excited to hear you have two new  upcoming books!

Tuesday Tours will be back in February with author and illustrator Lori Nichols who’ll be sharing her studio in Alabama.

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Mike Curato’s Studio Tour

Mike Curato - 5Today on Tuesday Tours I’m thrilled to welcome Mike Curato creator of the books featuring the adorable polka-dotted elephant Little Elliot, which have won multiple awards and have received several starred reviews. The newest book Little Elliot, Big Family just released this fall, and the next one—Little Elliot, Big Fun will be coming out in August. Mike’s Brooklyn studio has the same spirit of Little Elliot—white and bright with punches of color, and full of fun and adventure!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
My name is Mike and I write and illustrate picture books! You may know a certain polka-dotted pachyderm from my books, Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family. I work in pencil on paper with digital color.

Here are some of my tools that I use all the time.

Here are some of my tools that I use all the time.

 

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve been in my current space for two years, and I love it. I actually work from home in Brooklyn, and part of choosing an apartment included good light and an extra room to work in. I used to have studio space outside of my home. Though I miss being around other creatives, there’s something to be said for being able to run into the workroom when inspiration strikes, and to be able to roll into bed whenever I want. It’s an easy commute, and I don’t have to deal with the weather!


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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Full disclosure, I definitely start my day with email, Facebook, and Twitter while I eat breakfast. I’m not sure this is the healthiest way to begin, but that’s how I do. I wish I could tell you that I have a regular discipline, but I’m just not built that way. Some days I can dive right in, and others I need a bit of coaxing. Sometimes I have to clean my whole space before I can put pencil to paper. I’m not OCD, but clearing the clutter also clears my mind.


When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I immediately thought of when my friends came over to help me build a paper mache Elliot for a window display at Books of Wonder. I always like company, and it was exciting watching Elliot come to life in 3-D. We made a pretty good mess, but it was well worth it!

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Is there any special trinket in your space that inspires you?
My favorite thing to look at when I need a pick-me-up is this drawing that my friend and former studio mate, Sarah Jane Lapp, made for me. When I was in Syracuse University’s illustration program, Hallmark came to review our senior portfolios. We sat through a mind-numbing slide-show of Hallmark imagery. The rep either described each piece as “cute” or “beautiful”, with an occasional “whimsical!” We were asked to leave our portfolios, and they would post a list of people they’d like to meet with after viewing them. When we returned, none of the illustrators were asked back, only surface pattern designers. When I relayed this story to SJ, I said “Apparently, my work is neither cute nor beautiful,” and she was inspired to make this for me. When I look at the drawing, I think to myself “I’ll show YOU cute and beautiful!”

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My husband gave me this elephant bakery as a birthday present! In case you didn’t know, I love sweets and elephants.

My husband gave me this elephant bakery as a birthday present! In case you didn’t know, I love sweets and elephants.

What colors inspire your creativity.  Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love color. I use lots of color in my work. However, I’ve also been a graphic designer for over a decade, so I appreciate whitespace, both on a page and in my workroom. The other rooms in my apartment are quite colorful, but my workspace has white walls, a white drafting table, white flat-files, and white bookcases. The white allows me to focus on whatever is in front of me.

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I like books.

Here is a line-up of Little Elliot prototypes from MerryMakers from start to finish.

Here is a line-up of Little Elliot prototypes from MerryMakers from start to finish.

If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Somewhere WARM and DRY. Maybe Palm Springs? Argentina? Spain? I was really inspired by Aaron Becker, who up and went to Spain for ten months with his family! It’s actually been my dream and goal to live abroad for a month in a different country each year. I’m not quite there yet, but I think it’s doable!

Here are a few of my shelf friends!

Here are a few of my shelf friends!

Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I definitely listen to music and audiobooks while I’m drawing, and I even watch shows and movies while I’m coloring. At this very moment, I am listing to the soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. My musical taste is a bit all over the map, so I just put on whatever I’m in the mood for. I love listening to biographies. Yesterday, I started listening to Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano, and it’s been really great so far. Sometimes I’ll have a show on in the background that I’ve watched a million times, that way I’m not distracted by the screen, but have something to fill the silence. I’m a big 30 Rock and Absolutely Fabulous fan. I can use a good laugh during the weary hours.

Among my prized possessions is this “Mike Mic”--a Disney Princess karaoke microphone on which Samantha Berger drew my portrait. That’s a photo strip of Samantha and her pup, Polly Pocket. Sam and I sing together a lot.

Among my prized possessions is this “Mike Mic”—a Disney Princess karaoke microphone on which Samantha Berger drew my portrait. That’s a photo strip of Samantha and her pup, Polly Pocket. Sam and I sing together a lot.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
ONLY ONE!?!? You are going to get me in trouble. Actually, Ruth Chan and I have often talked about how much fun it would be to have a studio together, though we both agree that it may prove counter-productive. We share a passion for all things picture book and dessert related. Ruth’s first picture book, Where’s the Party, comes out this Spring!

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Think about what you need to be productive and comfortable. If you haven’t had a creative space before, you’ll figure it out, just be flexible! I’d also say that it’s really important to adjust chairs and desks to be as ergonomic as possible. You can’t be too creative when you’ve pulled your back or have a stiff neck, trust me.

Here is a water tower painted by Marcos Chin, a picture of my best friend, Jill, and this model Chevy that I bought to help me with some reference on a new secret project I’m working on ;)

Here is a water tower painted by Marcos Chin, a picture of my best friend, Jill, and this model Chevy that I bought to help me with some reference on a new secret project I’m working on 😉

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m very excited for my upcoming title, Worm Loves Worm, which I illustrated for debut author JJ Austrian. It’s about two worms who want to get married, but all of their insect friends have something to say about it. Don’t worry, love conquers all in the end! Worm Loves Worm is available January 5th, 2016. You can find me at my websiteblogFacebook, or Twitter.

Thanks so much, Mike! Your space makes me feel creative, and it definitely makes me want to try out your Disney Princess karaoke microphone. 🙂  I’m looking forward to Worm Loves Worm!

Tuesday Tours will be back on December 29th when Laura Lee Gulledge, author and illustrator of some pretty fabulous graphic novels, shows us her Virgina digs.

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Matthew Cordell’s Studio Tour

Matthew Cordell - 9 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours we have the talented author and illustrator Matthew Cordell sharing his studio from just outside of Chicago. I love Matthew’s illustrations and I’m not the only one, as he’s the illustrator of over 25 books and counting. One of which is the New York Times Notable picture book, HELLO! HELLO! He’s currently busy at work finishing up the artwork for two picture books, as well as developing sketch dummies for two others, one of which he’s also writing. This busy workload might create a bombed out studio—his words, not mine 🙂 . But it also lends itself to an amazing energy that flows throughout Matthew’s work.

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Matthew Cordell - 1

It ain’t beautiful. But it is ugly beautiful.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I was born and raised in a small town in South Carolina and moved to Chicago when I was 24 years old. I’m now married to my lovely author wife, Julie Halpern, and we have two kids (6 and 2) in suburban Chicago. My schooling was in graphic design and fine art, but after a detour or two, I made my way into the world of art and storytelling with books for children. And thankfully so. It reignited my nearly flamed out artistic passions and I really, really love it here. I like messy, expressive, unconventional (dare I say ugly) art. I also like humor in art. Not so much the knock-you-over-the-head-with-it kind, I guess I’m more drawn to the subtle stuff. Generally speaking I like people and things that don’t always take themselves so terribly seriously. A sense of humor and humility in work and in life. These are musts. My art is primarily created by drawing in pen and ink and coloring in watercolor. I’ve strayed from this particular combo here and there, but pen and ink is what I love (sometimes hate) and end up doing the most.

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There’s a ton of books on bookshelves down here. Some of which are pertinent to my work, some of which are just books we’ve accumulated as a family over these many years. And, of course, more clutter.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
When I went full time book maker back in 2007, I was working in one of the 3 bedrooms of our house, on the upper level. A little small, but lots of natural light with a nice view of the backyard. But when our second child was born in 2013, I had to vacate that room and move my operation down to the basement. Since it’s mostly subterraneous down here, there’s very little natural light (2 window wells) and it’s basically cold year round, I don’t love it, but I can certainly get by. I thrive off of natural light, so truthfully it can be a bit of a bummer working in a basement. Lately when I’m painting, so I can bet a better handle on color, I’ll temporarily set up a table in our master bedroom by a window and get the natural light fix. My wife suggested this a couple of books ago for me. Great idea, really, to mix it up. Truth is, I’m not terribly picky about stuff. I don’t need a beautiful or organized (or clean for that matter!) space to be happily at work. I do like daylight and I miss that in my current workspace. Eventually I’ll have to figure something else out. Eventually. With young kids and a heavy workload, stuff like having the studio you want takes a backseat in life.

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My drawing table. On the table here are a few studies for the next picture book I’ll soon be starting final art for, WOLF IN THE SNOW. I think I’ll be trying something new (new to me) drawing with several layers of colored inks. To be determined…

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Half of my day—the morning—is spent working as a Dad for my 6-year-old (driving her to school) and my 2-year-old (doing stuff 2-year-olds like to do). My wife (author Julie Halpern) works in the morning and takes over with the kids usually around lunch time. I spend the rest of the day (and sometimes nights after everyone’s in bed) down in the basement. No rituals to speak of really. Usually I start the work day by answering emails and social media upkeep. Then it’s draw, write, repeat.

Matthew Cordell - 5

Corkboard with odds and ends and some favorite pics of the fam.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
It’s hard to pinpoint any one moment that has been fun or rewarding. I think my favorite part of the process of creating a book comes just after all sketches are approved and it’s time to make the final art. But the favorite part is just after THAT. When it’s finally time to make the final art, I really set in dreading making that very first mark on paper. I’m afraid of what it will or won’t look like. Then, when I finally work up the nerve to start, and it’s looking good, there’s a huge rush of relief. The ice is broken. And then I’m up and running and it feels great. Give or take the snags and self-doubt speedbumps along the way. Oh! And FINISHING a book and being DONE and mentally fat and happy with all that has just been accomplished. That final, final moment after all the days, weeks, months, years (?) that went into making a book from very beginning to very end. That is absolute bliss, man.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a poster of Mister Rogers hanging above my computer desk. Folks who don’t know much about Fred Rogers, I highly suggest you poke around and see what you find. As far as I can tell, he was, like, THE perfect human being. Selfless, kind, wise, accepting, curious, sincere, humble, funny… I find him—his life and his life’s work—tremendously, incredibly inspiring.

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My computer desk. Underneath all those papers (lots and lots of sketches!) is my trusty lil’ scanner. Underneath that other pile of papers (more sketches!) is my trusty lil’ laser printer. Underneath that other big pile of papers (sketches!) … that’s just a big pile of papers (sketches).

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This shelf houses all of my favorite books. Picture books, comics, image ref, dictionary, thesaurus, etc. It’s sort of organized.

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Social media. Facebook, specifically. I’m on Twitter too but I never really grabbed onto that one. I don’t do instagram, tumblr, or anything else. I just don’t have the mental capacity to keep it going on more than one platform. I mostly use Facebook in a creative/professional capacity. I love sharing work and discovering and seeing new work and works-in-progress from my contemporaries. I accept that it’s become a part of the job, in a sense, but it does get super distracting. I usually just try to take little breaks (equivalent, I guess, of, like, smoke breaks) and check in on the Facebook between chunks of drawing/painting. That kinda keeps it at bay.

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If you could live inside the world of one of the picture books you’ve illustrated, which one would it be and why?
Definitely SPECIAL DELIVERY (written by Philip Stead). It’s totally weird and wild and fun and exotic. High adventure! Lots of animals! Beyond that, it’s basically only kids and old folks in that book. My favorites.

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A pile of books on my floor that have been recently inspirational, or recently purchased, or recently looked at, or recently useful in SOME way.

What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I love John Burningham. I think he might be my #1 book making inspiration. He’s so… out there. I also really love Quentin Blake, William Steig, Jules Feiffer, Bernard Waber—folks who have been or were so very loose-limbed with the pen. I’ve really been getting into the picture books Quentin Blake and Russell Hoban did together. Sendak, of course. Saul Steinberg is always in the back of my mind somewhere. Arnold Lobel is amazing. Virginia Lee Burton is great—often for nostalgic purposes too. Lately, I’ve been digging into Leo Lionni’s books. In terms of more contemporary inspirations… I’m always super diplomatic answering this sort of question! Truth is, there are a great many authors and illustrators today that I find inspiring. But I hesitate to name just a few, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving folks out! (Total cop out.)

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Hmm. That is a great question! Since my daughter’s in first grade and fully entrenched in school now, we don’t have this option. But I love the idea of it. Since it’s fantasy at this point, how about one of two places that don’t really exist? Um… Northern Exposure’s Cicely, Alaska. Or Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow.

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A small couch where I often sit when it’s not covered in stuff. On top of the understuff here, are character sketches and color studies for a picture book I just finished, BOB NOT BOB.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice would be… don’t get too hung up on making THE perfect space. Often times, that is ultimately procrastination anyways. Just find the room or area you need, set yourself up more or less, and get to work! Everything else will fall into place. Let the making of the work define the space, not the other way around.

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There’s shelves on the walls with various toys and tchotchkes collected by the wife and me over the years. They used to be “collectibles”, but since we’ve had kids, the “collectibles” are just “toys” that come off and go back on the shelf at any given time.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I just finished a picture book called BOB NOT BOB which I loved illustrating through and through. The story is clever and unique and funny and a just the right amount of weird and was written by authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. Currently, I have several plates in the air: about to start final art for my next author/illustrator picture book, WOLF THE SNOW (Feiwel and Friends, 2017); writing and sketching up another picture book that will be a follow up to my 2015 book, WISH (Disney-Hyperion); and I’m about to start a sketch dummy for THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA, a follow-up to this year’s SPECIAL DELIVERY (Roaring Brook). wishMy next book out will be another picture book I had the great fortune to illustrate called LOST. FOUND. by author Marsha Diane Arnold. Super clever and fun and sweet despite there only being two words in the whole book! (Guess what they are?) That’s out November 3. I had three other books out in 2015, WISH, SPECIAL DELIVERY, and FIRST GRADE DROPOUT by Audrey Vernick. It’s been a blockbuster year! My website is matthewcordell.com but it’s shamefully out of date. Better yet, maybe, connect with me on Facebook!

Thank you so much, Matthew! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend at the Prairie Writers Day. And I’m anxious to see what BOB NOT BOB is all about—I just love the cover. Best of luck on all the books you have coming up!

Little ElliotTuesday Tours will be back on December 8th when Mike Curato, creator of the adorable Little Elliot books,  shows us his Brooklyn studio.

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