Lori Nichols Studio Tour

Lori Nichols - 16Today on Tuesday Tours I’m thrilled to have Lori Nichols join us and share her Alabama studio. Lori won the SCBWI New York Winter conference portfolio award in 2014, and since then, she’s published a number of books, including her adorable Maple and Willow series, with the newest book in the series coming out this November. She’s also illustrated the Orq books written by David Elliott, and is working on illustrations for a new book by Candace Fleming, set to come out in 2017. I was lucky enough to meet Lori last August at the SCBWI LA conference, and she is as fun to talk with as her books are to read!


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I am from Pennsylvania but have lived in Alabama since I was married 25 years ago. I like to work in a range of media from pencil, watercolor, quill pen and ink and Photoshop.
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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
I’ve had my studio in a spare room on the first floor of our house for the past 12 years. It’s been a hodge podge environment. There are lots of  thrift-store finds, stacks of children’s book in baskets, scattered and loved objects here and there, along with Margaret our cat who naps on my keyboard. The space is also the familia office and art-supply rental store for my kids and the neighbors’ kids. I hear this a lot: “Mom, do you have any ________.” Fill in the blank with tape, red paint, thread, string, canvas, poster board, glitter, hammer, etc. I recently invested in some beautiful built-in bookcases and I’m so happy in my space now. Order is a good thing. There’s still the occasional cat-on-the-keyboard I have to deal with, but other than that, I love it. Actually, I love Margaret too.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
My typical day starts at 5:50 a.m. waking up my three girls 15, 14 and 12 followed by the divine chaos of breakfast, backpacks, and rushing humans here and there. I get home at 8 a.m. Sometimes I walk the neighborhood, other times I clean the kitchen, load the dishwasher or make coffee. I then go into my office, move the cat,  Lori Nichols - 24answer email, check Facebook and start my day. Since I work both traditionally on paper and electronically on my Mac, my day may be sitting at my drawing table for several hours or on the Mac for a few hours. Sometimes it’s a dance between workstations. Draw, scan, edit in Photoshop. Draw, scan, edit in Photoshop. At 2:30, I become a pumpkin and start picking up girls from schools. I come home for a little while to work more while the girls do their homework and I’m off to move these humans from point A to point B again.

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When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Every time I can open up paints and use my brushes and pencils I have the most fun. I enjoy the traditional part of my work more than the electronic part.

Lori Nichols - 14Lori Nichols - 13

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I love bird’s nests and have several around the studio. I also love terrariums.

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
New York City so I could meet with my editors and art directors more frequently. I try to make it up once a year now, but more frequent visits would be beneficial.

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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Creating a working space is such a personal endeavor. For me, it was important to start creating even though I didn’t have the perfect space.  I would also suggest surrounding yourself with things you love, objects that speak to you, images that inspire you. If I had waited to create until I had the perfect office, I would have missed out on so many opportunities. With that said, there were a few things I did that helped me get organized:
1) I have a box for each and every job I work on. All the boxes are the same size, color and shape and I label them with the cover of the book and store them once a book is published. I have several boxes as idea boxes. This way I can keep a sketchbook and if I happen to work on a few different ideas at a time in one sketchbook, I can tear out the sketchbook page and put it in the accompanying box.

2) Baskets!!! When I’m extremely organized I don’t create well. I have to see works-in-progress in order to keep the process moving. If you’re reading this and are like me, give yourself the freedom to find what works for you. My husband is extremely organized and neat. For years I compared myself to him wondering why I wasn’t more tidy…but each time I tried to be that way I found myself lacking the energy to create. I have found that baskets are good because they don’t have lids and I can still see things inside them. They help me stay somewhat tidy and organized without really putting things up and out of sight.
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Lori Nichols - 17What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m super excited that book four in the Maple and Willow series is coming out this Fall, 2016. Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree, under Nancy Paulsen Books. I love these two girls and their stories keep coming. I’m also really excited to be working on a different book with Nancy …but it’s still a work-in-progress and I can’t really share what we’re doing yet. 
I have the amazing honor to be illustrating one of Candace Fleming’s picture books Go Sleep in Your Own Bed, which is scheduled to come out sometime in 2017. Her writing is so funny and I loved the text the minute I read it.

Kate MessnerThank you so much, Lori! It was great to get a glimpse of where you work. I really love your box idea to help keep projects organized—I’m gonna give that a try. Best of luck with your upcoming books!

Tuesday Tours will be return in March with author Kate Messner who’ll be sharing her writing sanctuary located on Lake Champlain.

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Pat Zietlow Miller’s Studio Tour

I’m excited to welcome award-winning author Pat Zietlow Miller to Tuesday Tours. Pat wrote one of my favorite books–Sophie’s Squash (illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf)which is one of those beautifully told stories that, as a parent, you don’t mind reading again and again when your child just can’t get enough 🙂 Today Pat shares her Madison home office where she’s worked for the last seven years during her road to publication. Her story is truly inspiring–she heard 126 no’s before she got her first yes, but she didn’t let the rejection stop her. In her mind, it just meant the work wasn’t ready yet, and she loved writing, so she kept plugging away. Now, after the great success of Sophie’s Squash, Pat has seven new books coming out, starting this April with Wherever You Go (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler), a beautiful looking book about the possibilities that lie beyond the next bend in the road, which is the same road that also leads you home. skyberg-tuesday-tours-logo

PatTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium. I write picture books. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I got serious about it seven years ago, and it took me four years of writing, revising, submitting and being rejected to sell my first book, Sophie’s Squash, to Schwartz & Wade. Sophie’s Squash did well, winning the Golden Kite award and being an honor book for the Charlotte Zolotow Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award. That was thrilling, and now I have seven other picture books that will be coming out in the next few years. It’s really been a dream come true. I hope to be doing this for many, many years to come.

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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?I’ve had this space for four years or so. Before then, I wrote throughout the house. I still do that, but it’s nice having a spot that is specifically mine and that can be a permanent home for all my book-related stuff.
book cover 4Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I know it would sound much more impressive if I said I ate green eggs and ham, chanted the text of Goodnight Moon and then bowed in the direction of Kevin Henkes’ house before I started writing, but I don’t. I just open my laptop and start. Usually, I write in the evenings because I work during the day.

What’s the biggest distraction when you’re writing? How do you deal with it?
My biggest distraction is the rest of my life and finding time to write. I have two very active kids, an upcoming high school graduation to plan, a full-time job, endless piles of laundry and a house that seems to cause groceries to evaporate within seconds of their arrival. Sometimes, I just have to ignore all the stuff I think I should be doing and write anyway.

Does music influence how you work? What’s on your playlist now?
I don’t listen to music while I write because it’s too distracting. But when I’m not writing, I love music. Show tunes, Top 40, a cappella, oldies. My current favorite song is “Uptown Funk.”  Listening to it makes me smile. Plus, it has great lines like “Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” (Feel free to hum along …)


Pat ZM4Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have several items that belonged to my aunt, Faye Clow, who was the director of the Bettendorf Public Library. Two of my favorites are the nameplate from her desk and a piece of artwork that shows a chair by some bookshelves. I like to imagine I’m in that chair reading quietly. Faye loved books. She always gave me books when I was growing up and was very supportive of my writing. unnamed3I also have a sign from my day job at an insurance company that says “Preparation = Confidence = Success.” It’s a good reminder.
And, I keep some of my very favorite books on my desk in hopes their good writing karma will rub off on me.

Is there a favorite drink or food that you have while you work?
I normally don’t eat or drink while I’m writing. That happens when I get stuck and I get up and wander around by the pantry.

What are the three best things about your writing space?
1. It’s warm and comfortable. 2. I can lose myself in whatever I’m working on. 3. My cats sometimes sit next to me while I write.

How do you organize your books/bookshelf? Is there a formula you use?
I organize books by height, with the tallest on the left down to the shortest on the right.

Pat ZM6What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
While it’s nice to have a specific space that’s all your own, you can be creative anywhere. Don’t be so worried about creating the perfect space that you forget to do the creative work. I’ve written books largely at my kitchen table surrounded by dirty dishes. It’s nice to have somewhere nicer, but it’s not necessary.
Pat ZM3

book coverWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My second picture book, Wherever You Go, comes out April 21 from Little, Brown. It’s a book about all the paths you can take in life. I wrote it in anticipation of my daughter Gwen’s high school graduation – which is in May. It’s for young children, but it also contains a lot of things I want Gwen to remember and know as she moves on to college. It’s illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, and her artwork is truly, truly lovely.

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I have other books coming out after this one, and you can learn about them at my website, http://www.patzietlowmiller.com. I also blog about picture book writing at http://www.picturebookbuilders.com with some other talented book creators. Check us out!

Thank you, Pat for sharing your writing space with us. I’m really looking forward to reading Wherever You Go and Sharing the Bread. You have busy year of releases ahead of you 🙂

Join us next Tuesday when we get a chance to see the beautiful home studio of creative couple Amy Arnold and Kelsey Sauber Old’s!

CommuniTree by Andrea Skyberg and the Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts

CommuniTree available June 5th, 2013!CommuniTree-Skyberg-Cover-053013-Med

Check out the Youtube trailer/making of CommuniTree

About CommuniTree:

On the surface we look like individuals, but hidden below, like the roots of the great Quaking Aspen trees, we’re connected. In the same way a family has a family tree, our community has a CommuniTree. On a family tree, each branch represents a person. On a CommuniTree, individuals are connected by our roots of shared values and collective ideas. Our connections take form in our collaborations, the music we make together, our trust in one another, and in the seeds of love that we continuously plant.

About the project:

CommuniTree was created in collaboration with 686 students (K4 – 8th grade) from Dover School and Tippecano School for the Arts & Humanities, during a time when these two separate schools were merging together to form Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts. In an effort to take an active role in building their new school, students worked with artist and author Andrea Skyberg to develop a children’s picture book about community.