Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s Studio Tour

Tuesday Tours has been on an impromptu hiatus for the last few weeks because I was on vacation, and although I thought I could handle getting a post done while I was away, the weather was just too beautiful to be inside on a computer 🙂 But, the wait is well worth it because today we have the fabulous author and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton sharing her studio in North Carolina. Vanessa’s images bring instant smiles and joy, and her scenes are the kind of images I’d love to jump inside. She has created an amazing amount of work—over 20 picture books, which have been inspired by her celebration of self-love and acceptance of all cultures. Growing up with a musical and creative family also influenced her art and you can read a little about it in her bio on her site

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

My name is Vanessa Brantley-Newton and I am a freelance illustrator. I love and adore all things retro and old! I work in traditional and digital mediums to create my brand of art. I workout out of my make shift office in my dinning room right now as we are looking to move very shortly.

 

 

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
My family moved to Charlotte, NC about 3 1/2 years ago and while it’s been wonderful and good for us, we still haven’t gotten settled just yet so that has been interesting to say the very least. I do make it my first business to find a big apartment or town home where I can stretch out and create a workspace for myself. We have moved twice since we have been here and it could really throw you a curve ball if you a creature of comfort which I am! LOL!! When I am not settled and happy it does affect my work. I try not to let it, but creative people are wired that way. My husband really gets a handle on it tho and comes beautifully to the rescue by setting me up with my computer and the very important and immediate things that I need to get to work. That helps a great deal and gets me to moving forward in the creative process.

14Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Yes I do. I am a woman of faith so I do take about an hour or so and really mediate, cry, pray and listen. I sometimes burn essential oils which help me to get creative and focus. Listening after prayer helps me a great deal. I believe that what we think about we bring about so I really take time to think on good things and beautiful things. I daydream for a bit. 5I say affirmations over myself. Things like, ” Every word has power. You have been equipped with every good and perfect thing. Today is filled with greatness and you are a part of that. Dream big and then dream bigger. Good, better, best, never let it rest, till the good is better and the better gets best!” These are just some of things I say. I get daughter and husband out and I start with my emails from the day or night before and I try to answer as many as possible before 9am and then I start working on whatever project I happen to have on my desk and there are many.

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When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
It was in the former apt we had here in Charlotte. I had just finished putting away all my pencils, markers, paints and fabric. Everything was in it’s place and the felt really good. Then I got a call from Scholastic asking me to make a book for an employee that was leaving. I make handmade storybooks. I went in and pulled out everything that I had just put neatly away and had the best time creating! It was awesome and the book came out so beautiful!!!
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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
My watercolors, oil pastels, and my fabrics. These are things that you will see a lot of in my office, but my all time favorite thing to have in my space to inspire me are BOOKS!!! Children’s books, art books, how to books. Just books of all and any kind!

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Artist friends that call during work hours and there are few. LOL! One illustrator I talk to every day sometimes 2 and 3 times during the day. We are super close like siblings.
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What are the three best things about your studio space?
It’s cozy, bright, and filled with the things that I love!

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Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Oh there are so many, Alex T. Smith, Michael Robertson, Yasmeen Ismail, everything Beatrice Alemagna! and those are just the illustrators. Writers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, David Cali, Lauren Castillo, Lauren Child and so many, more.

If you could add a new tool or piece of furniture to your studio, what would it be?
A Cintiq 24hd Graphic monitor!!!! Yeah Baby!

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to create a cute personal space. Look around and see what you have first. Maybe take an old desk and paint it white or whatever color suits your fancy. Use large peach or tomato cans and take scrapbook paper and cover them to give them pop! Store your pencils and what have you in them. Find creative ways to store things that you are going to need like fabric and papers. Find somewhere that has light!! That is really important. Bring the things that inspire and make you feel creatively fabulous after all it’s your personal creative space.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I am working on so many wonderful projects. A few new books are due out later this year: Sewing Stories (Knopf Books), A Birthday Cake For George Washington (Scholastic Books), The Plans I Have For You (Zondervans). My site is being rebuilt, but you can visit my active blog Oohlaladesignstudio.blogspot.com and Painted-words.com and my facebook page at Vanessa Brantley-Newton@facebook.com.

Thank you for sharing your studio with us, Vanessa! Your daily meditation and mantra practice is inspiring, and your positive spirit shines through in your artwork, which is gorgeous! I can’t wait to read Sewing Stories when it releases. I love picture books about artists!

RowboatJoin us next week when we have debut author/illustrator Rowboat Watkins showing us around his studio. 

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Harriet Muncaster’s Studio Tour

1Today on Tuesday Tours we’re joined by author and illustrator Harriet Muncaster who creates magical worlds by photographing her illustrated characters within doll-size sets that she forms out of mount board and paper. From her studio set on a hill in Bedfordshire, England, Harriet has created the books I Am a Witch’s CatHappy Halloween Witch’s Cat!, and illustrated the Glitterbelle series—which might explain why she has shelves of fabulously-filled jars of glitter.  skyberg-tuesday-tours-logo

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am an author and illustrator of children’s books. Up until now I have worked mainly in 3D – building dollshouse-size sets out of card and fabric and then photographing them.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?   I haven’t had my studio for very long. My husband and I just moved into our first house in January. Before that we were actually living with my parents and my studio was just in my bedroom! It’s so nice to be able to have my sleeping space and working space in different rooms now. It’s also a lot less messy. I find that the configuration of my studio can affect my creative process. When we first moved in I arranged everything in a different way to how it is now. It just didn’t work as well – especially my desk being pushed up into the corner of the room. It felt constricting and I didn’t feel compelled to want to go and sit in there and work. I rearranged it all a couple of months ago and it feels so much better now! 

15Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
There isn’t really a typical workday for me. It’s always different, depending on what I need to get done and the workload. There are periods of time that can become more typical though. For example if I’m sketching out roughs for a 120 page book, that might take me about 3 weeks. So each day will become very similar for around 3 weeks. But then I’ll move on to something different and things will change.

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When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio? 
The time when I had the most fun working in my studio has been these last few weeks actually. I am working on a project – which I can’t really say much more about right now, that I am so so so excited about. I am really passionate about it and I wake up every day at the moment just so excited to work on it like there’s a fire under my feet! I can’t wait until it’s published (autumn 2016 I hope) and I can talk about it more!

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You’ve done a fabulous job of mixing three dimensional sculptures with two dimensional illustrations. Do you think illustrating in a nontraditional way is more challenging? What are some of the bigger challenges?  
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Thank you! In a way I don’t think illustrating in a non-traditional way is more challenging. Making models to photograph means you don’t have to worry about depth in the image because it’s already there. Or getting things looking like they are the right perspective. Because it’s just there automatically! That’s not the reason why I do it though. It’s not just laziness. It’s because I have such a passion for tiny things. I have always been fascinated by miniatures and spent my childhood making tiny things. It felt very natural to me to create my work that way. I think I find it easier than drawing flat pictures in fact! There are challenges though, like if you want to create a scene that isn’t a room, a scene with a big landscape, you need a lot of space. Also it can get quite expensive with all the materials and lighting that are necessary to buy. The photography can be a challenge sometimes too. I am not always sure exactly how the scene will turn out once it’s photographed. 

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What do you do with all of your characters and props when you’re finished photographing them?   
To be honest they end up dismantled most of the time. I just don’t have the space to keep them all. Also, because they are only made of mountboard and card and paper, they start to warp and fall apart and look shabby after not too long anyway. 

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If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?    
I’m not sure I could share a studio with anyone. I would get too distracted. I work much better on my own. I watch stuff and listen to audiobooks while I work. I remember at university working in the big studio with everyone else and I definitely didn’t get as much work done there. I just ended up chatting too much! Saying that, I guess I can share a studio with my little mascot Celestine. She’s very quiet and no trouble. Sometimes she sits and works with me in my studio at her own tiny desk. She’s a jewellery designer.

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Harriet’s mascot Celestine.

Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I am always inspired by the Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs. They are my favourite books of all time! I got a big Dorrie poster printed for my studio so I can see her all the time in there. I also get very inspired by Pinterest. I love love love looking at images on there and I love making mood boards for characters and books.

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If you could add a new tool or piece of furniture to your studio, what would it be?   
I’m not sure there’s anything I would add but I wouldn’t mind it being a bit bigger. At the moment my mac sits in front of my window so I have to close the blind whenever I’m on the computer in the daytime which is not ideal. 

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Well everyone’s different but I would say surround yourself with pictures you love or that inspire you. I hate blank walls so I have just covered my walls in other artist’s work and also my own work. I like to see other peoples work because it is inspiring but I also like to see my own published work because it boosts me up if I am feeling under confident. I also find it useful to stick up pictures of characters and things that I am currently working on. 

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?

My next book—Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat! is out around July/August. I also illustrated a version of The Night Before Christmas in 3D, which should be out sometime this year too. You can find out more on my blog.

Thank you, Harriet! I’m eager to hear about your new project and also to check out Happy Halloween Witch’s Cat! 

Join us next week when author/illustrator and my good friend and conference buddy Amy Ward will be sharing her studio in Peoria, IL.

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Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s Studio Tour

JJK_author_pic_Ollie_color_We have the multi-talented author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka joining us today on Tuesday Tours to share his studio in Massachusetts. I’m a big fan Jarrett’s TED talk advocating for arts education–which is a cause close to my heart. After hearing about his famous drafting table, which he received from his grandparents on his fourteenth birthday and still uses today, I knew he’d make a great guest on Tuesday Tours. Jarrett’s popular Lunch Lady series and Punk Farm are both in development to be a feature films. The next book in his Platypus Police Squad series was just released and his newest picture book It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon, will be available in September.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am an author and illustrator of children’s books—picture books, graphic novels and middle-grade novels. My picture books are printed in full color, so the art for those are painted or are digital collages of paintings, depending on the specific title. My comics and novels are printed in limited color or grayscale, so the art in those books are created with brush and ink drawings that are scanned and colored/shaded digitally.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?We moved in August, so I am still settling. My old space was a detached garage that was renovated to be my studio. While it had skylights and high ceilings, I quickly ran out of space. My new workspace is in the basement. While I don’t have the natural light I had before, I have the space! In fact, I have three rooms—one for writing, one for making art and one for storage, promotional materials and shipping supplies, etc. I’m now able to compartmentalize the various parts of my work. I need very different environments for writing and making art.

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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
There is no such thing as a typical work day in my life. I have two small children, aged six and three, so they are always throwing me for a loop. I also have to travel quite a bit for my work. As I aim to travel less, I will be able to have somewhat of a structured life. Who am I kidding? Things will still be unpredictable. I’m also at the mercy of deadlines. So my management of time is constantly evolving.

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What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re writing/illustrating? How do you deal with it?
Social media. My friend Lisa Yee just introduced me to a new app called Anti-social; it blocks your computer from all the Facebook Twitters of it all. I’m also trying to only post in the evenings, so I hope that helps boost my productivity. My new studio space is also adjacent to the kids’ playroom, but that isn’t much of a distraction, really. I travel so much that it’s nice to be connected to my kids while I am home and working.

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If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
My pug, Ralph, is the only one in the world that I could share a studio space with. As much as I’m an extrovert, when I am working I am as equally an introvert.
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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
There are a lot of special trinkets. I have many of my childhood toys and books. I have a lot of robots and doodads. I also have a guitar that I keep promising myself that I will learn how to play.

Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
My two daughters, hands down. I love their marks and how they view the world through art. They are so uninhibited. We spend a lifetime trying to get our art to a certain level, and then we look back and realize we had something great working for us all along.
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What are the three best things about your studio space?
I really like the rails that I keep on the walls to hang art that is in progress. I also have a bulletin board that is filled with notecards for every book that I am working on—it helps me keep track of what is due. I also really love having just one chair in each room, so I can wheel myself from desk to desk. (I keep a drafting table for clean media, one for messy media and a separate desk for digital media.)
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Share with us a memory of one of the best times you had working in your studio.
That is a difficult question. I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one, but I’d say anytime where I have consecutive hours or days of uninterrupted work. Our furnace broke on a Friday afternoon this past January, and it wouldn’t be fixed until Monday. While my family went to the in-laws house for the weekend, I stayed back and put space heaters in front of all of our sinks so the pipes wouldn’t freeze and just worked. I binge-listened to every single episode of the Serial podcast and just got artwork done!Jarrett K. 4jarrett

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
You definitely need to draw the line between home and work. You also need to know what works for you—do you need natural light or would you rather be closed off in a box with no distractions? Even though my space is next to the playroom, the kids know their boundaries and don’t come in to the space when I’m not around. We may try to recreate what we had at our old house by building a separate structure in the backyard. There is definitely something nice about walking our your back door, letting the air hit your face and feeling the separation of home and work.
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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My website is StudioJJK.com. My latest middle-grade novel, Platypus Police Squad: Last Panda Standing, was just published and in September my next picture book It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon will be released—it will be my 30th book to be published!

Thank you, Jarrett! I love how you separate all your creative spaces—what a great way to train your mind to go between different creative pursuits. Best of luck with your new releases and I’ll be watching for The Lunch Lady to hit the silver screen!

Sophie PagePlease join us on May 26th when we’ll get a chance to see inside the studio of illustrator Sophie Page

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Pat Schmatz’s Studio Tour

Today on Tuesday Tours we get a look inside the Minnesota writing studio of award-winning author Pat Schmatz. Pat divides her time between her Minneapolis apartment and her rural home in Wisconsin, when she’s not traveling across the country for school visits or abroad for inspiration. Wherever she finds herself, is the perfect place to write. Pat is the author of five novels for teens. Her newest book Lizard Radio (Candlewick) will be available in September of 2015. Pat’s novel Bluefish (Candlewick) won the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship, Bank Street College of Education’s 2012 Josette Frank Award for fiction, and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the midwest. It was also a Junior Library Guild Selection, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, and winner of the Wisconsin Library Association’s Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award. Pat’s other novels include Mousetraps (Carolrhoda), Circle the Truth (Carolrhoda ) and Mrs. Estronsky and the UFO (Little Blue Works). In addition to writing, Pat works for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, teaches on-line writing courses for The Loft in Minneapolis, and makes frequent visits to middle school classrooms to talk about writing, reading, and creativity.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

The written page, specifically fiction for teens, is my go-to creative medium. That’s where I gravitate, that’s where I’ve put most of my attention, and it’s been a source of income and recognition. But I’m currently in an exploration phase. Picture books, dance, visual arts, music, poetry, translation – they are all on the table right now.

 

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
For the past 40 years, my workspace has been a spiral notebook. A teacher gave me one when I was 13 and said “if you want to be a writer, then write.” And so I did. I have stacks and stacks of them. My ideas usually appear there first, and when I’m stuck in a story, I go back to a spiral notebook to work out the emotion and experiment.
My other consistent workspace is the outdoors. I fully believe in and engage in “shinrinyoku” – a Japanese concept that means, basically, “forest bathing.” I walk out the door to work through logistical problems or shake loose the cobwebs or shift my frame. I go outside to remember what the point is.
As for the indoor space where I actually type, it’s entirely mutable. I do love my bookshelf, which currently lives in my apartment in Minneapolis. I travel a lot, and I have a laptop that usually goes with me, but not always. Wherever I go, I take a spiral notebook and the first thing I do when I arrive is explore the outdoors.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start writing?
No matter what I’m working on, I start my day off around 5am with language study. Years ago, I heard that reading or writing in a different language resets your brain in a different way. I’ve read all 7 Harry Potter books in Spanish – that took me several years. I always have a novel going in Spanish, and I read a few pages in the morning. Lately I’ve been using the Duolingo app, too. I also study Japanese – at least one kanji per day. Sketching is another recent addition to my morning routine. I spend maybe a half an hour drawing. Once I’ve done all of that, I might start work, or I might go outside and exercise first. The morning is for focused creativity and exercise. Afternoons, I work on projects for pay or my day job. I’m basically worthless after 5pm.

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What’s the biggest distraction when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
If I’m on focus, nothing distracts me. If I’m off-focus, everything does. I don’t have much trouble getting focused when I need to. If I’m not focused, I figure I’m working on something subterranean and that’s okay. Maybe it’s time to go out for a walk!

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Which other writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment? 
A youtube video of a 12yo named Greyson Chance doing a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” at his school talent show is high on my inspiration list. That kid had no idea what he had, no reason to hold back, and he just belted it out with no fear. That video moves me deeply. Anything in any medium that comes across my path and hits me emotionally, I’ll take that for inspiration. I recently saw “Into the Woods” and that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I’m very fond of trinkets and toys – “endowed objects,” Jane Resh Thomas (extraordinary teacher, on the faculty for Hamline’s MFA program) calls them. I always have them on hand, and generally have a particular one for each story.

Pat 4Is there a favorite drink or food that you have while you work?
Nope, I don’t really combine eating and drinking with work.

Pat 3 What book’s currently on your nightstand/desk?
Complete Anatomy and Figure Drawing by John Raynes, The Art of Drawing People, A Collector’s Series, Steampunk!, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, Devolver a Remitente by Julia Alvarez, My Father’s Dragon (Japanese edition) by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and Boxers by Gene Luen Yang.

Pat2How do you organize your books/bookshelf? Is there a formula you use?
It starts off very organized – segmented into kid fiction, adult fiction, picture books, books on craft, and everything else – and alphabetized within each section. Then it descends into messiness, because I often refer to books when I teach or speak, or when I’m working on my own writing, and I just sort of jam then back in anywhere..

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Whatever your space is, go outdoors. The trees and water and wind shift energy, and bring movement and wonder and light and vitality to the process.

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What’s coming up for you next and where can we find out more?

My teen novel Lizard Radio is coming out in September from Candlewick. It started at a small lake house in western Michigan, grew through the central Wisconsin winter woods (on skis) and polished off at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz, California. I’m not sure I could have written it without those spaces.
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Thanks so much for sharing your writing space with us, Pat! I’m very excited to read Lizard Radio this fall. The story sounds intriguing and the cover is gorgeous!

David Catrow’s Studio Tour

Stand Tall Molly Lou MelonToday on Tuesday Tours I’m happy to feature the Springfield, OH studio  of NYT bestselling author and illustrator David Catrow. David is the Illustrator of over 70 children’s books, including some of my all time favorites—I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More (written by Karen Beaumont) and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (written by Patty Lovell). I never grow tired of hearing these stories and absorbing the over-the-top, energy-infused illustrations. My daughters and I laugh out loud every time we get to the end of I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, and the protagonist, who has painted most of his body, decides to drop his tighty-whities and extend his living canvas to his tush—until that is, he runs out of paint. And who wouldn’t love Molly Lou Melon and her buck-teeth that she stacks pennies on, and her adorable short stature?I aint gonna paint David creates fantasy worlds of the best kind in his illustrations–tempting us to see a better reality, one which buck-teeth are beautiful and creative energy can’t be stilled, even by a mom who’s had enough with the mess. I’ve been drawn to David’s work for years, never knowing he was a self-taught artist, but it doesn’t really surprise me–some of the best artists (and most of my favorites) are. In addition to his multitude of books, David is also credited with the visual development for 20th Century Fox’s Horton Hears a Who and Despicable Me. He has worked on the animated television series Stuart Little and Plantzilla (based on the popular children’s book by Jerdine Nolan). His syndicated editorial cartoons have run in over 1000 newspapers across Canada and the US. And his scholastic book series Max Spaniel has sold over a million copies.

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headshotscrapbookTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I was born an artist—there isn’t any better way to say it than that. From the moment I was able to hold a crayon in my hand and not eat it, I have been communicating visually. I am comfortable being a self-taught artist, but at times it’s a double-edged sword. The up side is when I am forced to rely on one of my jury-rigged, build my wings on the way down strategies; it’s hell on the gastro-intestinal tract but in the end it yields some truly novel solutions. Life as a self taught artist is also fraught with tiger pits. I often think about the vast amounts of time wasted early in my career searching for answers in an unfamiliar technique or medium; I was like a Neanderthal carpenter searching for a rock to pound a nail—completely unaware that someone had invented a thing called a hammer. Those are the times that made me wish I’d gone to art school.
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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
While I would love to report that my studio overlooks the ocean from a wind swept hill, that is not the case. My window view is a typical city street with trucks and cars and buses—dogs barking at the UPS guy, kids playing hoop, and airplanes streaking overhead. The fantastic visions that come into my work, in fact originate from within the quiet solitude of my skull—so I think an ocean view would be a distraction.image4andrea10
I moved into my studio in 1991 and as any new space, it needed to be made mine. That process I am sure is different for every artist. Mine, for lack of a better description would be similar to any burrowing rodent or underground dwelling life form. I occupy the space and then proceed over time to cover the interior surface with an organic energy, producing tissue I can draw—this tissue is comprised of anything that suggests undiscovered potential or hints at new possibility. When I stumble upon something it’s like the Richard Dreyfus character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind— sees Devil’s Tower in his mashed potatoes and it means something. In other words, any meaningful thing I can get my hands on, I drag into my burrow.
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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I usually begin my day with caffeine. That might suggest a problem but I limit myself to two cups a day. Plus, I don’t think it’s any different from shaman who chew entheogens to put them into a trance to converse with Mother Earth—I just brew mine in a French press and add a dapple of ½ and ½.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?image4andrea9

If I could possibly share my space with someone it might be Jackson Pollack, because everything I have read makes me think we might have shared sensibilities. Responding to a critic who asked why his drip-paintings never included nature, Pollack rightly answered, “I am nature!”

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Describe how you work. Is there any rituals you do before you start creating?

Initially, the ideas for books are simply favorite characters or environments, and it is from this that the story emerges. Most importantly, I approach the visual story as if words have never existed—all I have available to me is my ability to communicate like the cave artist: visually. In my mind the only difference between editorial cartoons and picture books, is the subject. I believe my work as an editorial cartoonist was most powerful when I could tell a story without any words at all. But I do enjoy word play too, so captions are an important and easy ingredient to help crystalize the joke or the opinion. Outside of picking out my socks, I’ve never actually planned a thing in all my existence on this planet—but my path has always seemed apparent to me as I moved through life. So when an opportunity presents itself, hey you have to leap!

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
When I was on a mountain bike trip in central Mexico in 2006, our group stopped at a tequila ranch for a breather and a little hydration (no tequila, just water). We were all a little tired so everyone was looking for a place to plant themselves. I found an old stump that had a lot of prickly growth to lean against. When something suddenly poked me in the side, I turned around to see this gnarly horn sticking out of the brush. Carefully parting the thorny branches, I found myself face to face with the most comically evil painted wooden mask I had ever seen in my life. I am not usually this forward but I found the farmer who owned the land and asked him if I could buy this amazing thing—which he agreed to sell to me for 40 pesos (about $20, maybe?). I carried him, piggy back, out of the bush on my bike. To this day, I have absolutely no idea where this object came from or what his story is but he lives in an honored place on the wall of my studio and is, on occasion a muse that nurtures my darker side.

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Please share with us a memory of one of the best times you had working in your studio.

I have many moments working in my studio when there is no better place in the universe to be. Moments when I am discovering what no other person has laid eyes on. Like stepping onto a high ridge to see a vast new alien world for the first time; and then getting to name the planet after me.
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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice to anyone, whether they want to do art, write, be an acrobat, or just create a space where they can explore their interior universe, is to keep searching and moving forward in pursuit of what you love or seek. If you can make some sense of who you are, then maybe the guy standing next to you on the bus won’t seem as dark and threatening as you first imagined. Accepting who we truly are allows us to embrace and appreciate the differences in all the other beings that walk on this planet with us. And what kind of world would that be?
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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new book Fun in the Sun Fun in the Sunis a story about my all time favorite thing to do—pack up all my stuff and head out to the beach. Needless to say, my goal was never to make the trip vicariously as a french bulldog in a speedo. I just think anything wearing a speedo is just too funny, and I also thought a french bulldog was a fitting candidate this time around. After all I am a dog person and all of my books start out as a desire to experience something new. I hope you enjoy my new “pet” Fun in the Sun. You can see more of my work on my website or follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
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Thank you, David! I love how you described moving through life without a plan and leaping when you see an opportunity—it’s an inspiring way to work and live.
I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Fun in the Sun and seeing your speedo-wearing dog!

Join us next week when we get a chance to visit the writing studio of teen author and Pat Schmatz.

Bridget Birdsall’s Studio Tour

Today on Tuesday Tours we’re welcomed into the writing space of author Bridget Birdsall. Bridget’s newest book Double Exposure is the story of intersex teen athlete Alyx, who after moving from California to Wisconsin, starts a new life as a girl and eventually makes the varsity basketball team. Alyx’s feelings of fitting in don’t last long when one of her classmates attempts to expose her secret. Double Exposure brings to light complex gender issues, teenage insecurities, and overcoming all obstacles. It has been nominated for a Teen Choice Book award and has been recognized by Publishers Weekly who named it to the List of Anti-Bullying Books. Hanging out with Bridget is like getting a burst of energy and sunny positivity. She has a strong belief that one of the most effective ways to cultivate connection, empathy, and understanding is through sharing our stories, and I couldn’t agree more. Bridget will be signing copies of her books at Boswell Books in Milwaukee on March 1, 2015 at 3pm.

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Bridgett Birdsall 9Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am a multi-faceted artist. I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in 2005. I’ve struggled with dyslexic challenges most of my life, therefore reading, writing and school never came easy. I always loved art, and though I’ve had no formal training, I do paint when I feel stuck in my writing. I also doddle a lot in my journals, but right now, my primary creative medium is words, and creating images with words through poetry and prose. Many, including myself, never thought I’d pull it off as a writer, yet it’s been a secret dream since I was eleven years old. It was then that I read the The Sojourner by Marjorie Kinnan Rawling. Bridgett Birdsall 7Not a children’s book but it changed the course of my life. While I was growing up, I was constantly told that artists starve and thus, my undergraduate degree is in Marketing Management from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. I attended on a basketball scholarship. Today, I live in Madison, Wisconsin, with my partner, Roseann and our dog, Sophie. Madison was a great place to raise my son, who is an avid reader and budding writer himself. He now lives and works in New York City.
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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?We’ve lived in this house for about four years. It’s a small house, perhaps, too small at times. My office is a wonderful space, but I have dreams of doing more with it. In the past, I have always had space where I could slop paint when I got stuck with my writing. This office is just off of our living room, so it is too nice to slop paint, but I am working to clear space in the basement near the laundry sink.
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Describe a typical work day. Do you have rituals you do before you start creating?I’m not sure I have a “typical day” but when I get up in the morning I do start my day with some journal writing, prayer and meditation. It’s a time to get myself centered. Often ideas will come to me before or after sleep, and if I can rouse myself enough, I write them in my journal, which I keep by my bedside. I’ve filled thousands of journals over the years, most illegible to the eyes of others, but incredibly healing and creative for me. I have a fireplace in my office, which I shamelessly admit turns on and off with a switch, and puts out a decent amount of heat in the winter. Often, I turn it on before I go into my space to work. Sometimes I will do yoga. This past year I completed a yoga teacher training course and I’m proud to announce that I can now stand on my head for two minutes or more unassisted! Though, just in case, I stay near the wall. Not bad for a late-blooming baby boomer. Everyday, I do go through my schedule and cross out time for writing. Sometimes I must be flexible with this, because if my partner is home it is terribly distracting, and with no door on my office it can be hard to keep a boundary around my work. But this leads to the next question.
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What’s your biggest distraction?
This is easy, my partner and my dog! Having other beings in the house, who seem to want attention every time I sit down to write has been a problem. I wish I was one of the writers who could get up at the crack of dawn, but I’m not. I’m dealing with the partner part, by getting a door on my workspace to signal a visible boundary: YES, I AM WORKING. Please stay out, even if it appears to you I am not working, or that I am doing yoga poses, or I’m taking a nap, this is what writer’s do sometimes, stare at the screen until something comes, the important thing is for me to keep focused on my work, keep my mind fertile and stay in the flow. I can get distracted enough on my own! The other big life distraction, and I’m not alone among writers, is the need to sustain myself financially. It just seems that even very successful writers have a hard time making a living with their art these days. A few do, but they certainly seem like the exception rather than the rule. Someone told me, we now live in a “gig” economy, and so today it’s more about “streams of income” so perhaps in the future my income will come from a combination of things. Hopefully advances and royalties, speaking and teaching, book and art sales, but I keep my real estate license active just in case. And I’m back in the classroom teaching high school seniors how to write plays, which I love.
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Bridgett Birdsall 8Does music influence your work? What’s on your playlist now?
Huge yes! I sometimes crank the music super high (after my partner leaves for work) and I work with theme songs. For Ordinary Angels it was Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. For Double Exposure it was Five for Fighting’s Superman, and the Doggies, Who Put the Dog Out, and more recently, Lady Ga Ga’s, Born This Way. For cleaning up my office it’s usually anything by Mavis Staples, but especially, Eye on the Prize. When I was growing up I was crazy about Elton John.

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Is there any special item/trinket that inspires you?
The picture of my son when he was young, the painting by my friend Ellen of the Honey Creek Owl, one of the first paintings I ever did above my fireplace called Healing Waters and a shamanic healing stone left to me from my late Aunt B.
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Is there a favorite drink or food that have while you work?
Tea. Gave up alcohol, coffee and soda, when my son was born. Sometimes, pistachio nuts, however other than that, I try not to bring too much food into my office. It forces me to get up and take breaks.

What are the three best things about your writing space?
(1) I have one. (2) fireplace (3) big window, with great light.

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How do you organize your bookshelves? Is there a formula?
Usually, by genre, and I learned that by stacking the books, I could fit more in the shelf while using the books themselves as bookends.My basic formula is two-fold; first I, OCD arrange them, by weight and size and of course, visual appeal. Then, I use them and it becomes interrupted chaos –until I’m inspired once again to straighten them up. Because, yes, I do use my books and I try to read as much as possible. I also read my fellow writers work, whether it’s published traditionally or independently. And I try to buy my contemporaries books and pass them along, so they don’t sit forever on my shelf collecting dust, and we keep the words flowing.
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What advice do you have for people who want a creative space?
Commit to it. Don’t wait as long as I did to demand a door. Let yourself make a mess when needed. Make sure you are comfortable and it supports you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Clean it up, change it around, do whatever you need to do to keep the energy flowing and having fun. Crank the music when you want too. Make it yours. You deserve it!

Bridgett Birdsall 10What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
Please come support local authors and independent bookstores and join me at Boswell Book Company on Sunday March, 1, 2015 at 3pm where I will be reading from my new YA novel Double Exposure, about an intersex teen athlete who learns to stand in her personal power. Check out my website which I’m learning to build and maintain myself. Keep writing my friends, it’s up to the poets to save the world!

 Thank you, Bridget! Congrats on your award nominations for Double Exposure! I’m looking forward to seeing you at your Boswell Books event on Sunday 🙂

Join us next week when award-winning Wisconsin author Pat Zietlow Miller shares the place she pens her picture books.

Denise Fleming’s Studio Tour

Last fall my daughters and I were a few of the lucky participants to sit in on a paper-pulp art making workshop with the renowned Denise Fleming during the Sheboygan Book Festival. We were complete taken with Denise’s creative way to illustrate, and when we got home we had a lot of fun mixing toilet paper with colored water to create some Denise-inspired paper art! I’m excited to find out more about Denise’s process and take a look at her studio space today on Tuesday Tours. Denise Fleming’s the author and illustrator of eighteen picture books, and she won a Caldecott Honor award for her book In the Small, Small Pond. Denise works in clay, creates art from tin cans, makes art dolls, paints, and of course creates rich illustrations using paper pulp. Her giant studio in Toledo, Ohio is the perfect place to dive into whatever medium suits her fancy.

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Denise FlemingTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Most of my work is done using a paper making technique called Pulp Painting. Colored fiber floats in water. I pour the fiber/water mixture onto a screen, the water drains through, the colored fiber stays on top of the screen. Using squeeze bottles and hand cut stencils I build an image using the wet fiber. Denise Fleming15I love process, seeing how images are created, so this technique appeals to me. I also love the physicality of the process. The big buckets of water and pulp that I use. When the cotton pulp arrives it is white and damp. Pulp beaten medium forms the bottom sheet. Pulp beaten very fine is what I use to create the images. I add more water to the pulp, then retention aid and color pigments. I use a palette of twelve basic pigments.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I have had my present space for over twenty years. My husband and I built it ourselves. It is fairly large – 24 x30 feet. As I work in a wet medium it has a sink and a lino covered concrete floor. It is accessed off our living room by two sets of french doors. My husband is an artist also. So work and life just run together. Originally, I had half of the space, but I needed more room, paper making takes a lot of space, so we took down a center wall.

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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
There is no typical work day. Bookmaking just blends in with my life. I write my own books, so time is spent doing that. I also work in other art forms and have other studios for those endeavors. As far as rituals go, a big glass of water and a big glass of iced tea are always at hand. Music or books on CD are playing. I used to always work in PJs, now I wear big baggy pants and T-shirts.
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When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Just recently, I started back with printmaking. I had a ball trying all sorts of materials that are new and non-traditional. I had to move the printmaking out to the art doll studio, because I just started the art for a new book in pulp and the printmaking was too much temptation. Broke into my focus. Also some years back I had a group of book lovers from Delaware, Ohio visit and we all made pulp paintings. That was great fun.
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Does music influence how you work? What’s on your playlist now?
When I am writing, I play nature sounds or classical music, when I am designing I tend to like drumming or chanting, if I am tracing or cutting stencils I listen to books on cd or favorite artists which vary greatly. Pulp painting calls for Paul Simon, Norah Jones, Annie Lennox. And all are on old fashioned CDs.
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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shelf of solar figures that dance in the sunlight. They create a happy mood in the studio. They click away as they move.
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How do you organize your books/bookshelf? Is there a formula you use?
Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha. Do they all fit? would be my formula. Books are everywhere. In bookcases, on shelves, in trunks, in big cheese boxes. Oh, that is a funny question.
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What are the three best things about your studio?
LIGHT, SIZE, and the SINK.
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Where & how do you store your finished work?
My husband is in charge of this, so the storage of finished art is organized and done properly. I have a closet with shelves and archival boxes in which the art is stored with special tissue.

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
No one. I would never share my studio. Another person would use up too much of my oxygen. Quite revealing, eh? Not even David Hockney. He could have a studio next door.

 

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What would you say is the most useful tool in your studio?
China markers, which I use to sketch and draw all my designs. Or 8B pencils.

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Hang a curtain if you have to, but rope off your space. Put your bed in the tiniest bedroom and keep the biggest bedroom for your studio. That is what we did in the beginning. Studio space always came first. You can eat on TV trays, keep that big table for your art. I started on a folding card table, as we didn’t have a kitchen table and I was working in pen and ink so I didn’t need much space.

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What’s coming up and where can we find out more?
Ashley Wolff and I are leading a workshop at the Highlights Foundation, April 9 through the 12th, Color, Light, Line, and Texture – a hands on workshop. Which is going to be fabulous, really fabulous. You don’t have to be an artist. It is open to people that love creating. We want you to expand your knowledge of illustration techniques. Alternative printmaking, pan pastels, gouache resist, collage, creating decorative papers, mini edition books, and transfer techniques are all part of the workshop. For information and registration http://highlightsfoundation.org. My website is http://denisefleming.com or write me at denise@denisefleming.com. This has been a hoot. Still laughing about bookshelf formula!

Thank you, Denise! Such a fun interview and what an amazing studio space! I love how you have such versatility in so many mediums. I bet your workshop at Highlights is going to be very inspiring!

Join us next week when author Bridget Birdsall shares her cozy writing space in Madison, WI.