Marla Frazee’s Studio Tour


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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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!


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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Yuyi Morales in Madison October 20th!

WI book festivalI’m very excited to get a chance to hear Yuyi Morales speak in Madison tomorrow evening as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. I featured Yuyi’s studio on Tuesday Tours a year ago and it remains one of my favorite studio tours. Not surprisingly as Yuyi creates some of my favorite books. If you’re around Madison tomorrow, join me at the Marquee Theater at 7:30pm to get a look at the work of this Caldecott-honor winning author and illustrator.



Liz Garton Scanlon’s Studio Tour

AllThe WorldI’m thrilled to have Liz Garton Scanlon share her Austin, TX bungalow with us on Tuesday Tours today! Liz is the author of one of my favorite picture books All the World (illustrated by Marla Frazee), as well as many other great stories that have entertained my family over the years. Each of her stories is full of authenticity—so true and touching that it pulls at the heartstrings and gets straight to the emotion of the story, such as my favorite phrase from All the World—“Babies passed from neck to knee”. With her new book A Great Good Summer, Liz joins forces with illustrator Marla Frazee once again, but in a very different way. This time instead of a picture book, Liz has released her debut middle-grade novel, and it’s been receiving great praise and reviews. She hasn’t forgotten about picture books though, as she’s also recently released In the Canyon (Illustrated by Ashley Wolff) about a young girl experiencing the Grand Canyon for the first time. To get a signed copy of any of Liz’s amazing books, visit her at the Sheboygan Book Festival, where she’ll be presenting along with me and thirteen other authors/illustrators October 9-11th.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write poetry, picture books and novels on my laptop in my own little nook in Austin, Texas.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your writing process?
My husband and I bought this tiny 40’s bungalow about 12 years ago and after a few years we were popping its seams. (When we moved in, we had little girls and they eventually got big.) So we added on a little space, including a kind of closet-ish room for me. Big enough for the old library table I use as my desk.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start writing?
Do you mean besides coffee? 😉 I send my kids off to school and then I either walk or run with my dog before I get to work. That gets my blood flowing, and I often get ideas while I’m moving. Sometimes I remember them long enough to write them down.


If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
I DO have quotes above my desk — lots of them. One thing I read every day, because it’s right there, is William Stafford’s When I Met My Muse, in which the muse says, “When you allow me to live with you, every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” Here’s a link to the whole thing.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?8unnamed
My space is full of talismans. I have baby pictures of my daughters that keep me grounded. There’s a drawing I did as a little girl at that stage where you don’t draw bodies — you just draw arms and legs coming straight out of a person’s head.
I like to think it keeps me child centered. And I’ve got a candle that looks like a rock. My editor Allyn Johnston sent it to me after we did All the World together with a note that said, “It all began with a rock” (because that’s the first word of that book). It’s my most tangible reminder that we can make something out of nothing, all of us, at any time, and that in so many ways it is simple…



What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
Because I work at home, there is NEVER not laundry to be done or a floor that could use a good sweep. Sometimes I’m good at ignoring those things (ask my family) but other days I’m wild with distraction. That’s when I just have to pick up and go elsewhere. There’s a coffee place just 2 blocks away with a very good decaf latte. That’s the beauty of a laptop.


If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
I actually already do spend about a month every summer at our family cottage on a lake in Wisconsin. I’m not always very good about working there, but I definitely re-charge there. And find inspiration there. And I think that as my kids get older, and as I do too, that I may use it as a work space more and more. Like, when water skiing becomes less important.


What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Oh, this morning I was in tears over a radio interview with architect Frank Gehry. Seriously. I’m inspired by brave, wild, imaginative people every day.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
You can create a lot of amazing art — written or visual — at the kitchen table, at a coffeehouse, in your bedroom if you have to. To me, almost more important that claiming space is claiming time. Time that you demarcate and value. Put it on your calendar. Make it important and unmissable. And then sit down somewhere and do what you do.

InTheCanyonWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My newest books are the brand new picture book IN THE CANYON, which takes place in the Grand Canyon and is exquisitely illustrated by Ashley Wolff, and my first-ever middle grade novel, THE GREAT GOOD SUMMER, which takes place in a made-up Texas town, features a crooked preacher called Hallelujah Dave, and sends a couple of 12-year-olds on a Greyhound adventure! I’m working on my next middle grade now. Visit me at and check out some really great activity guides (teacher-created) for each of my books at

Thank you, Liz! I can’t wait to sink into a Great Good Summer and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Sheboygan Book Festival in a couple of weeks!

coverJoin us on September 22nd when we take a look inside author and naturalist Stacy Tornio‘s writing space.

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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.


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 My website is or write me at 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.

Molly Idle’s Studio Tour

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.skyberg-tuesday-tours-logo

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.

What a nifty trick!



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.


Molly’s frog Stewart, handmade for her by her sister.

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.

camp_rex_pgs_18_19_color_lowresWhat’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:

Thanks, Molly! What a creative family you have and what an excellent place to create art together. Best of luck on your upcoming book! 

Join us next week when Hug Machine’s author and illustrator Scott Campbell shares the place he creates his lovable work.