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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Christina Forshay’s Studio Tour

Christina Forshay - 3Welcome back to Tuesday Tours! April’s studio tour with Kwame Alexander has been rescheduled for August. Make sure to check back for that. In the meantime, I’m happy to showcase illustrator Christina Forshay’s studio in California. Christina’s newest book A Morning with Grandpawritten by Kidlit 411 co-founder Sylvia Liu, just hit the shelves! It beautifully tells the story of a grandpa and granddaughter sharing tai chi and yoga with each other. Christina and Sylvia will be touring around virtually with their new release. To see where they’ll be visiting, check out the schedule HERE.
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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.

I was born and raised in Southern California and always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort when I grew up. In elementary school, I always “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over the new box of crayons the teacher handed out to me on the first day of school. I think what my creativity really comes down to is wanting to create worlds the viewer can get lost in and think “I want to go there!”
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How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
The story of my creative workspace is crazy! It’s definitely been an ever-changing situation. As my family has grown, my desk has moved all over the house from this room to that room and into the living room to accommodate my kids. I even spent a few months last year in an actual office space in an office building because a great space at a great price came up. Since then, we’ve purchased a bigger house where I will eventually have MY OWN studio room again! Yay! I say “eventually” because we are in the middle of a major renovation and my soon-to-be studio is currently housing our refrigerator, boxes, and a lot of dust! So for now, my studio is in the corner of the living room in a small duplex where we are temporarily staying while our new house (and my new studio) is being remodeled.

I also work remotely now and then at my local Starbucks, the library, and even at my son’s soccer practice. I’ve worked on preliminary sketches and even bits of my final art either traditionally in sketchbooks or on my SurfacePro while out and about. Overall, all this moving and inconsistency really doesn’t affect my creative process because as long as I have my tools and some peace and quiet every now and then, I’m good to go. Of course finally having my own dedicated room in a few months (that I won’t have to share) is going to be a DREAM! I’ll finally be able to hang all the artwork from fellow illustrators I’ve purchased over the years! Visit me in six months to see the end results, haha!Christina Forshay - 10
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Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating? 

Being that I work mostly from home and I have two very busy kids ages 6 and 9, I don’t really have a typical work day. Also, my husband is a firefighter and his atypical schedule means I have to be very flexible with my work time. I’m hoping that once my youngest starts first grade and is in school full time in the fall I’ll be able to have a more systematic work week. But I do have somewhat of a ritual every time I sit down to work. First, I look at all my social media sites because, I don’t know, maybe I’m addicted? 🙂 Then, I find something to listen to. What am I in the mood to hear? Sometimes its a podcast, sometimes it’s music, sometimes its a movie or tv show. Next, I do about 15-30 minutes of warm-up drawing and painting to get the “uglies” out and then I get to work.

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What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?

The biggest self-imposed distraction is definitely social media. How I deal with that is by giving myself a good 15 minutes or so to binge on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and then I turn on the Self Control app. Self Control is a computer app that blocks any websites for a specified amount of time. However my really REAL distraction is trying to figure out how to balance life as a mom of young kids with life as an artist. Over the years, I’ve tried dealing with it in many ways, but I think at this point I’m dealing with it by convincing myself that there may never be a true balance and that that’s OK. I’ve gotta go with the flow! If I have a serious amount of work to do and/or a deadline, try to schedule out my work time on our family calendar for the week so that everyone knows that I’m going to be working and I need uninterrupted work time.

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What other artists, writers, or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?

Oh, there’s so many! One of my Pinterest boards is a treasure trove of all the artists I love. Right now I’m in awe of Cory Loftis’ work. His drawings are so expressive and I just love his use of color. I’m also in love with painter Carol Marine’s work. Her paintings are luscious and full of amazing colors and textures. These are qualities I’d like to incorporate a bit more into my work. You can see all the work that gets my creative juices flowing at my “Illustration Candy” Pinterest board.
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What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?

Since my creative space seems to be always moving and changing, the one thing I really consistently need is TIME. Time to get in the zone so the work begins to flow. That can happen anywhere I can find alone time: at the coffee shop, the library, or the park. Another thing I ALWAYS have or bring with me when I work is a pile of picture books. I get super inspired by the work of my current faves!

What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I recently illustrated a few covers for a Simon & Schuster middle grade series called Angel Wings by Michelle Misra. The first book in the series comes out in June, 2016 and the rest will be released every few months. And, I’m always working on a couple of story ideas that have been percolating for a while now! You can find samples of my work and book info on my website. I’m all over the website with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram!

Thank you, Christina, for sharing your studio in the middle of a busy move! I love your practice of getting the “uglies” out—I’ll have to give that one a try!  Best of luck to you with your book A Morning with Grandpa, and your upcoming release Angel Wings!

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Charles Santoso’s Studio Tour

I’m excited to have Charles Santoso sharing his studio in Sydney, Australia today on Tuesday Tours. A couple of months ago I discovered my newest favorite book I Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso and I knew if I loved the book as much as I did, I’d love a look inside the creative space where the images were created. I Don’t Like Koala is one of those beautifully illustrated books that points at a classic while remaining fresh and original. It’s also a great example of a picture book that allows children the space within the images to connect the dots, as well as witness a secondary visual storyline in addition to the text. To me, this book is a clever and child-appropriate take on horror–it has just the perfect dose of creepiness without being scary. My four year old has requested it repeatedly over the last month and I’m happy to oblige as even after the 100th read, I’m still chuckling at the ending. In addition to illustrating I Don’t Like Koala, Charles has also illustrated picture books Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent written by Jessica Young and Peanut Butter & Brains written by Joe McGee. He also works as a concept artist and art director and is credited on feature films like The Lego Movie, Walking With Dinosaurs 3D, and The Legends of the Guardians.


charless_profile_photoTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
Hello! I’m Charles and I’m an image maker that creates illustrations for picture books & novels. I also work as a visual development artist at an animation studio in Sydney, Australia. My working tools include pencils (my favorite), pens, watercolors, and acrylics for traditional medium. I use Photoshop for my digital work.


charless_work_04How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I currently live in a two bedroom apartment and I use one of the room as my home studio. I’ve lived here for about four years now. It’s not big but I love it. I try to put things that inspired me in my working space. Things like books, artist’ artwork, and interesting objects work great. My aim is to have a mini library-gallery-studio type of space.


Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
Most of my weekdays I work in the animation studio for about nine hours and then continue my 2nd shift home to do my book and personal projects. When I have a full day to do my book projects home, I start around 9am and have an hour break around midday and continue until my brain or hand tell me to stop. Between breaks is when I usually try to doodle some ideas for personal projects (very important). As for rituals, not so much. I think about stories and art non-stop, so my mind and hand can jump into creating mode in a short period of time.


When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I have fun most of the days working in my home studio. The best time is when everything flows as what is intended—when ideas, stories, and pictures dance in harmony. Unfortunately this best scenario rarely just happens, and I usually wrestle with these elements a lot before decent things starting to arise. I enjoy the whole process though.


Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
It’s hard to choose one or two special ones. Letters and drawings from children are greatly inspiring. They make me really happy! I also collect and display original artwork from artists that I admire. Some of whom I can call friends, which is amazing and very humbling.


What’s the biggest distraction for you when you’re creating? How do you deal with it?
Working from home can be a little bit tricky in the beginning as the boundary between home and work space is a bit blurry. There were many times when my procrastinating brain asked me to do home chores or to have a quick nap (which can turned into a long nap in the end) instead of work. To deal with this, I forced myself to work on daily schedule, similar to the daily session at my animation studio work. I have to-do list everyday which ‘guide’ me to get through the day.


What’s the most useful tool in your studio?
My pencils and Wacom Cintiq (Graphic Tablet).


Which other artists, writers or creative people are you most inspired by at the moment?
Oh, it’s impossible to mention just two or three names for this! I keep getting inspired by lots of different people every day and this keeps changing too. I was reading a book by Quentin Blake the other day and got really inspired. Watched documentaries on Studio Ghibli, Saul Leiter (one of my favorite photographer), Maurice Sendak and Road Dahl make me really happy. Wes Anderson films spark ideas in my mind. charless_space_06
Listening to Iain McCaig’s latest interview gave a huge boost to my motivation. Norman Rockwell, Bill Watterson, Frédéric Back and Yuri Norstein work give me never ending supply of stories and joy. The list is going on and on and on. And most importantly, I get inspired by unique stories from different people that I’ve met. A few months ago, my wife and I had a random conversation with an 83 years old writer/editor in a casual restaurant in Tokyo, and I’m still super inspired by this chat session even today.


Does music influence your work? What are you listening to now?
Yes! The right music for the right kind of work will give added values to the process of creating my work. I do like quiet moment without music in my initial idea generation process. At this preliminary stage where I need to fully concentrate and try to find a unique solution to a particular project, I find music can be an extra distraction as they have embedded creative values in them. As I move along to the next step (finishing stage), I usually choose music that suits the project—happy music for happy themed projects, sad music for a more emotional themed project, etc. The music that I like ranges from jazz and ambience to film soundtracks. Occasionally pop, classical, and rock can be fun too.



What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
I personally find that having things that I like around my working space can greatly boost my productivity and happiness level. Books, interesting objects, and pin-boards with images are critical to keep me inspired. I cycle and mixed them up every now and then. I also sometimes try to put something that’s out of my usual taste too. Doing this has helped me cultivate my personal taste and more importantly, helped me to get to know myself more.



What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
A few of picture books that I illustrated were out recently (2015). These include I don’t Like Koala (Simon & Schuster), Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent (HMH), and Peanut Butter & Brains (Abrams). They are all different from one another and I had a really fun time working on them. I just finished a picture book called Ida, Always (written by the lovely Caron Levis) due to be released in Feb 2016 by Simon & Schuster, and I’m also currently finishing The Snurtch by the same writer as I don’t Like Koala book, Sean Ferrell! You can find updates and my personal work on my website and on tumblr.

Thank you, Charles. Ida, Always looks amazing and I can’t wait to see the next collaboration between you and Sean Ferrell!

Please join us next week when we visit the California cottage studio of one of my all-time favorite illustrators Marla Frazee.

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