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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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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Sheboygan Book Festival Video

YoutubeClip SheboyganBookFestivalThanks Nick Patton for creating this great video (below) featuring the authors and illustrators appearing at the Sheboygan Book Festival in October.
Ann AngelLaura Lee GulledgeLita JudgeJoAnn Early MackenKenn NesbittMiranda PaulJustin RobertsChristian RobinsonLiz Garton Scanlon, Andrea SkybergMichael Spradlin, Tricia SpringstubbTui SutherlandStacy Tornio and Ken KefferAshley Wolff.

Visit Me at the Sheboygan Book Festival in October!

I’m really excited to be leading an art workshop on October 11th at 10:30am at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, WI as part of the Sheboygan Book Festival.

Sheboygan Poster

It’s a fantastic line-up of authors and illustrators this year, including Ann AngelLaura Lee GulledgeLita JudgeJoAnn Early MackenKenn NesbittMiranda PaulJustin RobertsChristian RobinsonLiz Garton ScanlonMichael Spradlin, Tricia SpringstubbTui SutherlandStacy Tornio and Ken KefferAshley Wolff.

Gallery tour photos - Shimmerling 1Art-making workshop with author/illustrator Andrea Skyberg
Create an original metal engraved Shimmerling feather with Andrea Skyberg, based on the artwork in her book SHIMMERLING. 10:30 a.m. at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

Book Signing to follow workshop.