Today 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!
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.
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!
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!
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!”
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.
I like books.
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!
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.
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!
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 😉
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 website, blog, Facebook, 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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