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.
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.
Describe 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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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!
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.