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.
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.
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.
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.
What’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!