Kate Messner’s Studio Tour

Kate Messner - 1 (1)Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the writing room of Kate Messner, which overlooks Lake Champlain. Kate creates beautiful books written in multiple genres, and she also blogs on her website about a variety of topics. Some of my favorite posts from her site include Picture Book Math, Bullet Journaling (Children’s Authors Version), and Owning Our Words. Kate also gives her time and expertise for free to teachers and librarians interested in learning how to write for children in her summer series Teacher’s Write! And she helps her fellow authors connect with schools by showcasing the listing of Authors Who Skype on her blog.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I write books for kids of pretty much all ages – from picture books to chapter books to novels for older readers. My best-known picture books are HOW TO READ A STORY, OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, and UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT, all from Chronicle Books. I have three series with Scholastic Press – the Marty McGuire books, the Silver Jaguar society mysteries for middle grade readers, and the Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time traveling golden retriever. And I also write stand-alone novels with Bloomsbury, including THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE, EYE OF THE STORM, WAKE UP MISSING, ALL THE ANSWERS, and coming this June, THE SEVENTH WISH. I draft all my books on my MacBook Pro, using Scrivener, but I also do a lot of brainstorming, off-draft pondering, planning, mapping, and outlining using colored markers on big sheets of paper.

Kate Messner - 6

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process
Several years ago, when I transitioned to writing full time, we built a separate writing room in the back of the house, overlooking Lake Champlain, and it’s been absolutely wonderful. The room is tiny – just enough space for a big desk, a chair, and a wall of bookshelves – but it’s soundproof, which means that I can work quietly no matter what’s happening with my family upstairs. I also love that I have to go down to the basement, step out into an unheated storage area, and then go back in another door to get there. That really gives me the feeling of “going to work” when I transition to the writing part of my day.

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I generally wake up at about six, get my daughter off to school, check email, and try to settle in to my writing. I used to work out first thing in the morning and write later on, but lately, I’ve been writing from about 8 to 11:45 and then taking a break for a noon fitness class at the gym. I’ve found that after an hour of boot camp or kickboxing, I find a second burst of creative energy, so I’ll usually take a quick lunch downstairs and go back to writing until it’s time to pick my daughter up from sports practice after school.

Kate Messner - 2

Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a shell full of incredibly smooth, polished pebbles on my desk. I picked them up on a magical little beach during a family trip to California a couple of summers ago. They are fabulous rocks, and I play with them when I’m stuck. I’m also lucky enough to have art from illustrators Brian Floca and Mark Siegel on my walls, which just makes me happy to be in the room, even when it’s not the easiest writing day.

Kate Messner - 3

Kate Messner - 7

If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, whom would you pick?
My day to day writing habits are probably too weird for me to share a studio with anyone. I talk to myself constantly and sometimes act things out in my little room so that I can find the right words to describe what a character is doing. Yesterday, for example, I was writing a scene where a girl has to lift a heavy wooden shelf that’s fallen during an earthquake to free her brother, who’s trapped underneath. I was struggling to describe how she did that, so I pretended I was lifting the (attached) bookshelves in my studio and used that experience to think about what my body was doing and what it would look and feel like for my character. Also, I take little exercise and yoga breaks while I write, so it’s not unusual for me to stop working for two minutes to plank or stretch or do jumping jacks. I’d be a terribly disruptive studio mate, but I do love writing when I’m on retreat with other writers. There’s something about the collective creative energy.

Kate Messner - 8 What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Personal space for creativity doesn’t have to be a huge space – mine is tiny – and if you can’t swing even a small dedicated space right now, it’s always possible to carve out temporary sanctuaries. I know people who set up desks in corners and closets and laundry rooms, and I think just the act of saying, “I go to this place to write” can be helpful.Kate Messner - 4

sketchy ocean waves background

sketchy ocean waves background



What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I have two books coming out in June and I’m super excited about both. The first is THE SEVENTH WISH, a retelling of the old fairy tale where a fisherman catches a magical, wishing fish. My version is set in an ice fishing community on Lake Champlain and is about not only ice fishing and wishes, but also Irish dancing, addiction’s impact on families, and the limits of magic. The lovely, lovely Anne Ursu read an early copy and called it “An empathetic, beautiful, magical fiercely necessary book that stares unflinchingly at the the very real challenges contemporary kids face and gently assures them they are not alone.”
My other June 2016 title is book 4 in my Ranger in Time series, RACE TO THE SOUTH POLE, in which Ranger travels to early 20th century Antarctica with a Maori-Chinese boy who’s stowed away on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova, hoping to be part of the first expedition to reach the South Pole. You can find me on Twitter or my website  

Thank you for sharing your writing room with us, Kate! It’s great seeing where you work. I’d also like to personally thank you for sharing your thoughts on gender issues in kid lit and speaking up about sexism in the industry. Whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, or on your blog, you’ve given us all some food for thought. Best of luck on THE SEVENTH WISH!

Tuesday Tours will be return in May when illustrator Christina Forshay shares her newly-moved-into studio in California. If you’d like to get updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.

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 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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