Matthew Cordell’s Studio Tour

Matthew Cordell - 9 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours we have the talented author and illustrator Matthew Cordell sharing his studio from just outside of Chicago. I love Matthew’s illustrations and I’m not the only one, as he’s the illustrator of over 25 books and counting. One of which is the New York Times Notable picture book, HELLO! HELLO! He’s currently busy at work finishing up the artwork for two picture books, as well as developing sketch dummies for two others, one of which he’s also writing. This busy workload might create a bombed out studio—his words, not mine 🙂 . But it also lends itself to an amazing energy that flows throughout Matthew’s work.


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It ain’t beautiful. But it is ugly beautiful.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I was born and raised in a small town in South Carolina and moved to Chicago when I was 24 years old. I’m now married to my lovely author wife, Julie Halpern, and we have two kids (6 and 2) in suburban Chicago. My schooling was in graphic design and fine art, but after a detour or two, I made my way into the world of art and storytelling with books for children. And thankfully so. It reignited my nearly flamed out artistic passions and I really, really love it here. I like messy, expressive, unconventional (dare I say ugly) art. I also like humor in art. Not so much the knock-you-over-the-head-with-it kind, I guess I’m more drawn to the subtle stuff. Generally speaking I like people and things that don’t always take themselves so terribly seriously. A sense of humor and humility in work and in life. These are musts. My art is primarily created by drawing in pen and ink and coloring in watercolor. I’ve strayed from this particular combo here and there, but pen and ink is what I love (sometimes hate) and end up doing the most.

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There’s a ton of books on bookshelves down here. Some of which are pertinent to my work, some of which are just books we’ve accumulated as a family over these many years. And, of course, more clutter.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
When I went full time book maker back in 2007, I was working in one of the 3 bedrooms of our house, on the upper level. A little small, but lots of natural light with a nice view of the backyard. But when our second child was born in 2013, I had to vacate that room and move my operation down to the basement. Since it’s mostly subterraneous down here, there’s very little natural light (2 window wells) and it’s basically cold year round, I don’t love it, but I can certainly get by. I thrive off of natural light, so truthfully it can be a bit of a bummer working in a basement. Lately when I’m painting, so I can bet a better handle on color, I’ll temporarily set up a table in our master bedroom by a window and get the natural light fix. My wife suggested this a couple of books ago for me. Great idea, really, to mix it up. Truth is, I’m not terribly picky about stuff. I don’t need a beautiful or organized (or clean for that matter!) space to be happily at work. I do like daylight and I miss that in my current workspace. Eventually I’ll have to figure something else out. Eventually. With young kids and a heavy workload, stuff like having the studio you want takes a backseat in life.

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My drawing table. On the table here are a few studies for the next picture book I’ll soon be starting final art for, WOLF IN THE SNOW. I think I’ll be trying something new (new to me) drawing with several layers of colored inks. To be determined…

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Half of my day—the morning—is spent working as a Dad for my 6-year-old (driving her to school) and my 2-year-old (doing stuff 2-year-olds like to do). My wife (author Julie Halpern) works in the morning and takes over with the kids usually around lunch time. I spend the rest of the day (and sometimes nights after everyone’s in bed) down in the basement. No rituals to speak of really. Usually I start the work day by answering emails and social media upkeep. Then it’s draw, write, repeat.

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Corkboard with odds and ends and some favorite pics of the fam.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
It’s hard to pinpoint any one moment that has been fun or rewarding. I think my favorite part of the process of creating a book comes just after all sketches are approved and it’s time to make the final art. But the favorite part is just after THAT. When it’s finally time to make the final art, I really set in dreading making that very first mark on paper. I’m afraid of what it will or won’t look like. Then, when I finally work up the nerve to start, and it’s looking good, there’s a huge rush of relief. The ice is broken. And then I’m up and running and it feels great. Give or take the snags and self-doubt speedbumps along the way. Oh! And FINISHING a book and being DONE and mentally fat and happy with all that has just been accomplished. That final, final moment after all the days, weeks, months, years (?) that went into making a book from very beginning to very end. That is absolute bliss, man.

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a poster of Mister Rogers hanging above my computer desk. Folks who don’t know much about Fred Rogers, I highly suggest you poke around and see what you find. As far as I can tell, he was, like, THE perfect human being. Selfless, kind, wise, accepting, curious, sincere, humble, funny… I find him—his life and his life’s work—tremendously, incredibly inspiring.

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My computer desk. Underneath all those papers (lots and lots of sketches!) is my trusty lil’ scanner. Underneath that other pile of papers (more sketches!) is my trusty lil’ laser printer. Underneath that other big pile of papers (sketches!) … that’s just a big pile of papers (sketches).

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This shelf houses all of my favorite books. Picture books, comics, image ref, dictionary, thesaurus, etc. It’s sort of organized.

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

A bunch of weird, random, keepsakes. Including some things friends have made for me, an old cheap chalkware statue that will always remind me of my Nana’s house, and some old weird kid busts that my wife got from somewhere!

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Social media. Facebook, specifically. I’m on Twitter too but I never really grabbed onto that one. I don’t do instagram, tumblr, or anything else. I just don’t have the mental capacity to keep it going on more than one platform. I mostly use Facebook in a creative/professional capacity. I love sharing work and discovering and seeing new work and works-in-progress from my contemporaries. I accept that it’s become a part of the job, in a sense, but it does get super distracting. I usually just try to take little breaks (equivalent, I guess, of, like, smoke breaks) and check in on the Facebook between chunks of drawing/painting. That kinda keeps it at bay.

Matthew Cordell - 8

If you could live inside the world of one of the picture books you’ve illustrated, which one would it be and why?
Definitely SPECIAL DELIVERY (written by Philip Stead). It’s totally weird and wild and fun and exotic. High adventure! Lots of animals! Beyond that, it’s basically only kids and old folks in that book. My favorites.

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A pile of books on my floor that have been recently inspirational, or recently purchased, or recently looked at, or recently useful in SOME way.

What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
I love John Burningham. I think he might be my #1 book making inspiration. He’s so… out there. I also really love Quentin Blake, William Steig, Jules Feiffer, Bernard Waber—folks who have been or were so very loose-limbed with the pen. I’ve really been getting into the picture books Quentin Blake and Russell Hoban did together. Sendak, of course. Saul Steinberg is always in the back of my mind somewhere. Arnold Lobel is amazing. Virginia Lee Burton is great—often for nostalgic purposes too. Lately, I’ve been digging into Leo Lionni’s books. In terms of more contemporary inspirations… I’m always super diplomatic answering this sort of question! Truth is, there are a great many authors and illustrators today that I find inspiring. But I hesitate to name just a few, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving folks out! (Total cop out.)

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Hmm. That is a great question! Since my daughter’s in first grade and fully entrenched in school now, we don’t have this option. But I love the idea of it. Since it’s fantasy at this point, how about one of two places that don’t really exist? Um… Northern Exposure’s Cicely, Alaska. Or Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow.

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A small couch where I often sit when it’s not covered in stuff. On top of the understuff here, are character sketches and color studies for a picture book I just finished, BOB NOT BOB.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
My advice would be… don’t get too hung up on making THE perfect space. Often times, that is ultimately procrastination anyways. Just find the room or area you need, set yourself up more or less, and get to work! Everything else will fall into place. Let the making of the work define the space, not the other way around.

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There’s shelves on the walls with various toys and tchotchkes collected by the wife and me over the years. They used to be “collectibles”, but since we’ve had kids, the “collectibles” are just “toys” that come off and go back on the shelf at any given time.

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What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I just finished a picture book called BOB NOT BOB which I loved illustrating through and through. The story is clever and unique and funny and a just the right amount of weird and was written by authors Audrey Vernick and Liz Garton Scanlon. Currently, I have several plates in the air: about to start final art for my next author/illustrator picture book, WOLF THE SNOW (Feiwel and Friends, 2017); writing and sketching up another picture book that will be a follow up to my 2015 book, WISH (Disney-Hyperion); and I’m about to start a sketch dummy for THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA, a follow-up to this year’s SPECIAL DELIVERY (Roaring Brook). wishMy next book out will be another picture book I had the great fortune to illustrate called LOST. FOUND. by author Marsha Diane Arnold. Super clever and fun and sweet despite there only being two words in the whole book! (Guess what they are?) That’s out November 3. I had three other books out in 2015, WISH, SPECIAL DELIVERY, and FIRST GRADE DROPOUT by Audrey Vernick. It’s been a blockbuster year! My website is but it’s shamefully out of date. Better yet, maybe, connect with me on Facebook!

Thank you so much, Matthew! Looking forward to seeing you this weekend at the Prairie Writers Day. And I’m anxious to see what BOB NOT BOB is all about—I just love the cover. Best of luck on all the books you have coming up!

Little ElliotTuesday Tours will be back on December 8th when Mike Curato, creator of the adorable Little Elliot books,  shows us his Brooklyn studio.

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Eliza Wheeler’s Studio Tour

Eliza Wheeler Today on Tuesday Tours I’m delighted to welcome Eliza Wheeler, an amazing illustrator and author who’s penned the New York Times Bestseller Miss Maple’s Seeds and illustrated award-wining books like Doll Bones by Holly Black and Wherever You’ll Go by Pat Zietlow Miller. Eliza offers illustrators incredible advice on her blog about preparing a portfolio and she has one of the best blog posts I’ve read recently—The I Suck Dilemma, which addresses how to roll with the continual self-doubt that creators have. Eliza is as delightful as the beautiful worlds she paints, and I’m excited to see what she’ll do when she teams up with Pat Zietlow Miller again on a book called Brave.skyberg-tuesday-tours-logoPainting table
work_Miss Maple
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

I grew up in a small northern Wisconsin town, and went to school for graphic design at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. While in school, it was the drawing and painting classes that I loved, rather than the computer work that my major consisted of. I didn’t really think that drawing (in any form) could be a viable career option for me, so I finished school with the design degree. My husband and I moved to Los Angeles in 2007 so that he could pursue film work, and I found in-house and freelance design jobs, and drew whenever I could on the side. In 2009 I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference for the first time and it felt like the stars aligning for me. I focused on building and refining an illustration portfolio over the next few years, and in 2013 my first book, Miss Maple’s Seeds was published by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Books (which debuted on The New York Times Bestseller List!). Since then, I’ve been working full time to create illustrations for both picture books and middle grade novels. I work with dip pens in India Ink, paired with watercolor paints on Arches paper.
Studio pic
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?

I’ve been living in and working out of a small studio apartment in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles since 2011. My bedroom, living room, and studio are all in one space – and all shared with my husband, Adam. Some people wonder how we don’t go crazy (admittedly, sometimes we do), but being both artists pursuing creative fields, we had to make a choice between having more space and less time (getting jobs to support the space), or living in a smaller way. We decided on the latter.

couch table
work_doll bonesHaving a small space can be restricting to the creative process, and I try (and usually fail) to be as organized as I can. When I’m sketching or inking, things stay cleaner, but once I start painting, the whole process sort of explodes all over the place. The biggest sacrifice in a small space is having surface space on which to spread out. I often fantasize about the day I might have a large studio space apart from my living space – with tables and storage galore! That said, my current space has taught me the art of being able to make things work; to be flexible and roll with the punches in limiting circumstances. Adam built a little lap-table for computer work or sketching on the couch (isn’t it the cutest?), which is a nice break from the drawing table and we can use while watching TV. I also bring work to coffee-shops and the library when possible.

Painting tools

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
The past two years I’ve had heavy project loads, and I usually work from about 10am10pm. Ideally I would try to keep a more normal schedule. My mornings start quiet and unplugged – my two rituals are 1) lighting a candle when I start working, 2) setting a timer every 45 minutes to meditate, stretch or read. If I’m doing something that needs mental focus I listen to music, otherwise I listen to lectures, podcasts, radio, audiobooks and as the day goes along I end up watching (mostly terrible) TV. It has to be entertaining enough, but not too good so as to be distracting!

Drawing with Jen Rofe

Drawing with Jen Rofe

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
When I first got my agent, Jen Rofe, she came for a visit and asked me to give her a drawing lesson. I didn’t know her well at this point, and I was nervous! I thought maybe she was expecting me to prepare a lesson, but right away she started asking about how to draw a box, so I showed her two-point perspective. That blew her away! It was a hoot. She was so enthusiastic and excited to learn—the dream student.

Los Angeles Apartment_web
If you had to pick a quote to hang above your desk for inspiration, what would it be?
“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”― A.A. Milne

Inspiration Board

What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
TJ61-9-2013 JKT 175L CTP_Layout 1
Social interactions are by far the biggest distractions. I’m unfortunately the kind of introvert that gets drained by any amount of interaction; face-to-face, by phone, and online. I’ve had to be really diligent and intentional about staying unplugged most of the time in order to allow the kind of creative mental space that I need. I check work email twice a day, and personal email far less. I look at social media one day a week. I found an app (CritiCall) that only allows calls from my husband and my agent. Someday I’m sure I’ll whittle things back down to a land-line and P.O. Box!
Our Baby painting

If you could live inside the world of one of the picture books you’ve illustrated, which one would it be and why?
I love this question! When I illustrated Wherever You Go I decided I was going to draw the world that I wanted to live in – but I do also prefer the quiet country lifestyle of Miss Maple, so it’s a toss-up. So maybe, I would live in Miss Maple’s treehouse, INSIDE the world of Wherever You Go!


What other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on a picture book biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, so I’m steeped in both his real world and story world. It’s been a bottomless well of inspiration! I’m also referencing Harry Clarke, Sidney Sime, Franklin Booth, and as always, Lisbeth Zwerger.

LA Library

LA Library

If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
Another fun question—I would choose a river house in the forest by the Brule River in Wisconsin, a river that my family canoed growing up. It’s a beautiful, magical place.

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Get creative with your space. Don’t need perfect circumstances in order to work—be flexible and mobile when possible. Be solution-oriented when it comes to having housemates around and needing time to focus. My headphones have become a great tool for letting my husband know that I’m in the zone and shouldn’t be interrupted.

work_CodyWhat’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My newest illustrations out are in Wherever You Goa picture book by Pat Zietlow Miller, as well as a middle grade, Cody and the Fountain of Happinessby Tricia Springstubb. Coming next spring and summer will be two picture books: Tell Me A Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, and This is Our Baby Born Today, by Varsha Bajaj.
See more online at

Thank you so much, Eliza! The map of your apartment is an extra treat and I love seeing how you use your space to the max! Your advice to people for being flexible and solution-oriented when finding a place to work is fabulous. Looking forward to seeing your upcoming projects!

Join us on November 10th when the talented Matthew Cordell shares his Illinois studio with us.

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Recap of SCBWI Wisconsin Fall Conference

Great times at SCBWI’s Wisconsin Fall Conference. My top five favorite memories:

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FUN: Hung out with my LITtle Ladies critique group—Sheri Roloff, Rachelle Lisiecki, and Rochelle Groskreutz, and my “conference wife” Amy Ward.

FACT: Presented The School Visit Toolbox and shared what to do if you’re presenting to a class and have sharp pencils thrown in your direction.

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FUN: Learned from Dan Santat that font is important, and unless you’re an artisanal goat cheese restaurant in NYC, Helvetica might not be the best choice.

FACT: His advice—pick design over execution, meaning you can have a great painting/illustration, but it won’t matter if the design isn’t considered.


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FUN: Crashed a formal fundraiser with Katherine Harrison and Sheri Roloff.

FACT:  Circumstances can change and be imagined, but write what you know emotionally says Katherine in regards to voice and character.

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FUN: Embarrassed by my tear-streaked faced during Pat Zietlow Miller’s closing keynote, until I looked around and realized I was not the only one.

FACT: Writing success takes Talent, Luck, and most importantly, Tenacity says Pat.

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FUN: Found out why you should never leave a bird’s nest close to your house (i.e. bird mites are the new bed bugs) from Bruce Coville over a BLT at Roots Cafe.

FACT: “Craft without inspiration leads to basket weaving, inspiration without craft leads to contemporary art.” —Bruce Coville

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.


Author Visits for Fall 2015

I have a few dates open for Fall 2015. If you’re interested in having me visit your school, please email to schedule a program.

I love visiting schools to share my experiences as an author and an illustrator. I have a number of presentations, workshops, and art residencies available. Below is a preview of some of my programs, but a higher quality PDF of my full program listing can be viewed here—Andrea Skyberg Author Visit Program Sheet (Full Version) 2014

Author visit_Andrea Skyberg

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Rowboat Watkins’s Studio Tour

A couple of weeks ago I came across the most unusual and charming picture book called Rude Cakes, and fell in love with the storytelling and the illustrations. It wasn’t until I’d re-read it that I glanced at the authors name—Rowboat Watkins. Rowboat? Hmmm… I turned to the bio page and was informed that his wife gave him the name. Intrigued, I went to his website and was thoroughly entertained by his longer bio. I thought it’d be a kick to see where he’s creating all this great stuff, and I’m thrilled he agreed give us a peak at his studio this week on Tuesday Tours! His creative style extends to his Brooklyn workspace, where he wrestles with the option of tackling household chores or creative pursuits each day, and where he keeps company with marshmallows and clay gorillas (you’ll see what I mean).


pic_of_me_1200wTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Although you would never suspect if from looking at me, I’m an incurable neat freak living amongst crumb Visigoths. I live in the middle of a black hole in which all of Life’s unread mail and unpaid bills seem to gather, and in which most of Humanity’s dishes, and spoons, and whisks seem to daily convene in our sink. Which is notable only because there are but three of us living here. And nothing we eat during most days would seem to require a whisk. Or a cleaver. I have no idea why there are fourteen butter knives covered in peanut butter (or jelly) when it is only 10:00am…and maybe one sandwich (that I know of) has been invented since we all woke up this morning. But it is a sandwich which has apparently lived on 6 or 7 plates during its construction. Or at least before its eventual departure or demise. Which is all to say that my preferred creative medium is order. At this point I’m willing to settle for a spotty impersonation of tidiness. And some pencils and pens without syrup on them. Or whatever that sticky stuff might be. And a pad or two. And a window of desk space not occupied by marshmallows. Or little gorillas. The latter, I concede, are no one’s fault but my own.desk1_1200w

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
We have lived here for 10 years. My wife and I, that is. My daughter’s only been here for 9 and a half. The dog for 4 and a half. And the marshmallows and gorillas for maybe a year. Depending on who you ask. In defense of my odd familiarity with the migratory patterns of cleavers and whisks, I would like to note that I work next to the kitchen. Out of the corner of my left eye, at this very moment, I can see a synod of greasy spatulas on the counter. A loaf of unwrapped bread. And a gaggle of foggy glasses.


In front of me is a computer screen. Most of the marshmallows are gone. Thankfully. There are a couple stragglers, but what can you do? At least all of the gorillas are back in their boxes. Or over on the mantel. It was starting to look like The Battle of Hastings on my desk. As you might suspect, it kind of becomes impossible to do anything when you are living in the middle of the Norman conquest.



Out of the corner of my right eye I can see the couch. Where my dog is currently asleep. And behind her, the playground across the street, peeking out from behind the trees. The window is open and I can hear the sprinklers sprinkling, and birds chirping, and someone dribbling a ball, and little kids talking on the jungle gym. And the skittering of plastic wheels rolling. And the faint beep of a truck backing up somewhere in the distance. And a plane flying overhead. But it’s all heard softly, and is mostly just one sound of a nice summer day.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I wish I were organized enough to have a ritual, but most days are a clumsy dance of getting my daughter off to school or camp, drinking a cup of coffee (or two), walking the dog, and trying to remember worrying about spatulas is not a valid reason not to be making more headway on whatever’s directly in front of me. Things are thrown into even greater disarray when my latest fatwa against Facebook has been repealed for no good reason. The current ban is mercifully still in place, so at least there’s some hope of getting something done before picking up my daughter from camp, and taking her to the orthodontist to see if they can save the retainer she stepped on yesterday during lunch.


When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
Whenever I forget what I can see out of the corner of my eyes, and am drawing in my sketchbooks and not worrying about what everything means, it’s usually pure delight. The same was true when I first realized that, if marshmallows look so fun to draw on, no one but ME was stopping me from drawing on them. Or that maybe all those gorillas I made out of sculpey for no good reason would be happier if they had a rocket ship made out of construction paper? Or a bed? Or a boat? Why? Why not? Fun pretty much never happens in my studio when I’m tarrying over technicalities like WHY.




Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Nope. I have all kinds of things piled around my desk, or taped onto the blackboard, or propped on the chalk shelf over my computer screen. Lucky wheatshaft pennies found in pocket change. Rusty washers. Drawings by my wife and daughter. Drawings by friends. Pink Pearl erasers. Japanese masking tape. I like it all. And it all becomes like a messy bouillabaisse of inspiration.


What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Worrying about dishes. Or that I don’t know how to do what I am doing. Someone else, who actually knows what they are doing, should be doing this. There must be a better way to draw this bed. Or that forest. If I were a different me, I would draw this whatever more persuasively. And Facebook. And email. What are the rules again? Weren’t those yesterday’s rules? Ugh…yesterday’s rules totally sucked. If I had better rules in place I would surely be further along. THERE ARE TOO MANY GORILLAS ON MY DESK! I can’t think with all this crap around my keyboard. With all those soiled whisks in the corner of my eye! If only I were my dog, I’d be living the Life of Riley. Look at my dog over there. Maybe I should take her for a walk? Maybe if I drove a Zamboni over my desk I would be able to see my thoughts again? Maybe I’m not liking what I’m working on because it all feels like TORTURE, and I should start all over, and pretend I am having fun? Wasn’t that the problem with yesterday too? Oh yeah. Torture=bad. Fun=good. I should write that down. I’ll do it tomorrow.


What do you like to nibble/drink when you’re working?
Coffee. Root beer. Pink lady apples. Popsicles. Peaches when in season.


Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
At this very moment, the first two names that come to mind are Joshua Oppenheimer and Petit Pierre. The former is the director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. Both of which are too bracing and lovely for words. And the latter is the French guy who spent his whole life making this joyous wonder of a thing.

I only discovered Petit Pierre the other month when my friend Sergio sent me a link. You should watch the link. There are too many picture book writers and illustrators to name, so I won’t even try.


Does music influence your work? What are you listening to now?
I can’t listen to music while I work. Lately I have been listening to The History of the World in 100 Objects. Which I listened to when it first came out. It is great, but I am terrible at doing two things at once so I either have no idea what I’m listening to, or I am not paying attention to what I am drawing. And I have no idea why I keep putting it back on. But you asked. I’m best served when listening to nothing at all.


What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Hmm…I don’t think I would take advice from a guy who perpetually worries about whisks and cleavers, and listens to podcasts he can’t remember, and lets himself be overrun with marshmallows.



What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
My new picture book Rude Cakes was just published by Chronicle Books in June. I’m working on two more books for them, which are supposed to come out in 2016 and 2017. But I’m still doing line work for the first of them, so I can’t swear the time-space continuum will necessarily comply. All I know for sure is there are no greasy spatulas or horrific piles of mail in either. You can visit me at

Thank you for sharing your studio, Rowboat! In addition to laughing out loud at some of your marshmallow escapades, I love the youtube video you shared of Petit Pierre work. Can’t wait to see your upcoming books—maybe some clay gorillas will grace the pages? 

i-dont-like-koala-9781481400688_lgI’m heading to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference, so Tuesday Tours will return in a few weeks with a look inside illustrator Charles Santoso’s studio in Sydney, Australia.

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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



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.

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!!!


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.

What are the three best things about your studio space?
It’s cozy, bright, and filled with the things that I love!



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!


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.

GW cake sewing stories


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 and and my facebook page at Vanessa

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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