Marla Frazee’s Studio Tour

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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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THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN by Marla Frazee

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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!

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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!

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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.

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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.

If you’d like to get monthly updates on Tuesday Tour guests, please subscribe to my mailing list.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s Studio Tour

Laura Lee - 20Today on Tuesday Tours I’m excited to share the Virgina studio of author and illustrator Laura Lee Gulledge. I had such fun meeting Laura Lee at the Sheboygan Book Festival this past fall where we were both presenting. After hearing about how she was transforming the woods behind her house into art, I knew I had to have her on Tuesday Tours. In addition to her earthworks, Laura has created two fabulous graphic novels—Page by Paige and Will & Whit. Laura’s an active teaching artist, giving presentations and leading workshops for both students and adults. Her collaborators (or what she calls Artners) and herself are at work on turning Will & Whit into a play opening sometime in the new year.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I love art, drawing, and storytelling! I write and draw magical-realism-style graphic novels geared towards young adults. Besides making books I also enjoy performing drawing & painting live. My personal (and therapeutic) creative outlet has usually been illustration, but this past year has taken the form of landscaping. I’ve been carving out a “writer’s grove” in the woods behind my house: building terraces with chunks of quartz, digging a firepit, planting ferns. It’s fun world building. Then my Artners and I (AKA: partners in art) are currently making a musical adaption of Will & Whit for young performers which is an exciting new outlet for me. I also love another form of storytelling: Teaching. I enjoy connecting with students and sparking inspiration. Recently I gave comic workshops through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and was the Art Director at Camp Sequoia for young men with ADHD.

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I’ve been in my current space here in Virginia for a year and a half. I love the big windows and the view of the woods! It’s far superior to the view I had in my last studio in New York: a brick wall. The natural light really, really helps. My last studio was so dark I had to use one of those sun/ion lamps!  So depressing. Here I have deer, squirrels, and birds outside my window. Much more inspiring.Laura Lee - 19

Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
I have a typed schedule posted on my wall to give myself structure, because when you work for yourself you have to be a good boss! Schedule wise…I typically give myself “computer time” in the morning to handle emails, admin tasks, and internet work. (No internet exploring after this point unless it’s for reference!) After 10:30am is then “studio time,” when I become really cranky if interrupted. I try to make myself get up every hour to stretch or make tea. I give myself an hour “away from the desk” break usually at 4:00 when I take a walk or so something else active. Then 9:00pm is my personal cut-off time for being at my desk, because otherwise I’ll sit there until midnight!
My big ritual before starting work is that I always have to tidy the room I’m in before working so I don’t have any visual distractions. It’s the OCD in me. Then I also usually need to get myself OUTSIDE before settling into to work at my desk. Whether it’s visiting my grove in the backyard for a quick hello or simply walking outside and feel what the weather is, it’s a helpful transition ritual for me as someone working from home.

When was a time you had the most fun working in your studio?
I had the most fun while sharing a studio with penciller Reilly Brown and writer Chris Irving in Brooklyn while I was making Page by Paige. Our studio, Outpost 54, was down the hall from other studios of comic artists such as Dean Haspiel and Simon Fraiser. It’s the only time I rented out studio space for myself and it was invaluably helpful for me as I was starting out!

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Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
I have a lot of whimsical souvenirs from my days working as a scenic artist on Macy’s Christmas windows. From the colorful rainbow circuit board to the giant cartoon glove, they remind me to dream big and work hard! I also have trinkets from other past projects I’m proud of, like the shadow puppet from our debut production of the Will & Whit Musical. I also have images of those who share my dreams with me: my dear friends, inspiring Artners, and my ancestors who I feel are cheering me on in spirit.
I also have a lot of “reminders” in my studio. Laura Lee - 16Some are illustrations I’ve made that read things like, “Stress Doesn’t Improve Production” and “Let’s Be Revelationaries.” (I sell these as prints on my website for $7-10.) Others are post-it reminders to take care of myself, or to “Start with what you know” which is my mantra for when getting the ball rolling on a project (also handy for when I’m having trouble picking an outfit to wear).

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Laura Lee - 14What colors inspire your creativity.  Are those colors incorporated in your space?
I love complimentary colors, colors that vibrate when they’re near each other. Teal green and poppy red is my favorite such combination, salmon orange & sky blue is another one I love.  But I love all colors! Periwinkle blue, the color of the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Virginia is probably my all time favorite hue. These colors appear as pops of color throughout the collection of artifacts that adorn my space. (they used to adorn my walls but my current walls are white) I pepper in a lot of color, especially yellow when I can. Yellow/ gold is always good to create warmth & make a space feel inviting.

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If you could relocate your studio for part of the year to another geographical location, where would it be?
I’d relocate to beautiful Vermont for the Summer because my Artner Lauren Larken lives there. I love the lakes and rivers and especially the creative community. (Plus this plan also rescues me from the muggy hot Virginia in the Summer!)

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Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
I MUST have music on while I’m working. Lately I’ve been listening to New York radio station WFUV online. Their listener request hour is stellar. If I’m writing or thumbnailing and require more focus, I tend to listen to my Yann Tierson (more instrumental) station on Pandora. When I’m inking & shading I tend to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I’ve listened to the entire Harry Potter series via audiobook more times than I would like to admit.I’m currently reading the “Lumberjanes” (so fun!) and “Black Elk: The Sacred Ways of a Lakota.” Before that I read  “Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype” and I cannot praise enough. Next up is the graphic novel “The Story of My Tits” by my friend Jennifer Hayden which I’ve been really looking forward to diving into.

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If you could share a studio with anyone in the world, who would you pick?
Definitely Scott McCloud. Not only is he super inspiring, but he and I also get along really well! I could see us having some really good conversations but then also knowing when to shut up and get work done.


What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?

If you want to make a space to be creative then just CLAIM it!  If your artistic outlet is a priority then you must stand up for your needs. Treat it with respect, keep it tidy, and schedule time for you to spend there. Display things to keep you inspired, such as what I mentioned earlier about personal reminders and images of the supportive people in your life. I’d also say it’s helpful to display your accomplishments in your studio. Whether it’s an award for something big or merely a souvenir from something you did that you’re proud of, I find it really grounding. Because we often don’t let ourselves celebrate out successes! I also enjoy including my fuzzy friend Rory cat in my space, hence there’s multiple surfaces for him to hang out. (as well as the oh-so-essential cat grass) Having an animal around makes working alone at one’s desk feel much less lonely and much less stressful.

A new painting that adorns my wall that was a Christmas gift. It's by a local artist named Erin Murray and I'm obsessed with it!

A new painting that adorns my wall that was a Christmas gift. It’s by a local artist named Erin Murray and I’m obsessed with it!

Laura Lee - 25What’s coming up for you and where can we find out more?
I’m currently working on writing & drawing TWO new books for Abrams and I’m so excited! I’m also developing the Will & Whit musical with my Artners here in Virginia. Then this January I have a residency at the innovative Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas where I will be working with kids making Peace Books. There is much afoot for 2016!  To learn more (and if you’d like to buy prints) here’s my website: whoislauralee.com

Thanks so much, Laura Lee! Great seeing all of your creative endeavors. Excited to hear you have two new  upcoming books!

Tuesday Tours will be back in February with author and illustrator Lori Nichols who’ll be sharing her studio in Alabama.

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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?
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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!

work_WYG

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.

work_ink
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 www.wheelerstudio.com.

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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Yuyi Morales in Madison October 20th!

WI book festivalI’m very excited to get a chance to hear Yuyi Morales speak in Madison tomorrow evening as part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. I featured Yuyi’s studio on Tuesday Tours a year ago and it remains one of my favorite studio tours. Not surprisingly as Yuyi creates some of my favorite books. If you’re around Madison tomorrow, join me at the Marquee Theater at 7:30pm to get a look at the work of this Caldecott-honor winning author and illustrator.
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