Today on Tuesday Tours I happy to share David LaRochelle’s studio in White Bear Lake Minnesota! I met David at this past year’s SCBWI Wisconsin annual conference. David was on faculty at the conference and he was a big hit on the first night with his funny presentation about his work as a children’s book illustrator and author. David has written or illustrated thirty books, including picture books, puzzle books, craft books, and a very well-received young adult novel Absolutely Positively Not. His books have won numerous awards, including the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Award, and the Minnesota Book Award.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
For four years I was an elementary school teacher, but for the past twenty-five years I’ve been working as a children’s author and illustrator. My recent titles include How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans and Moo! At the start of my career I was doing more work as an illustrator. Watercolors were my main medium, with a lot of black and white line work. My very first book was illustrated with linoleum block prints. In recent years, I’ve been working mostly as a writer, although last year I released my first book as both author and illustrator–Arlo’s Art-rageous Adventure.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
I just moved this past year so my workspace is relatively new. In fact, agreeing to this interview was good motivation to finish getting things on my studio walls!
The first several books I illustrated were done at a kitchen table in a very small apartment. For the next twenty years I had a small alcove where I crammed my writing desk anddrawing table, with my computer in my bedroom and art supplies overflowing into the hallway. Now, in my new townhome, I have an entire room as well as a loft area devoted to my workspace. I have a built in window seat with storage areas, shelves where I keep sketchbooks and drafts of stories organized in folders, and cabinets with wide flat drawers to store large sheets of paper and drawing tablets. All of this space feels like a luxury…and I love it!
I am by no means a handyman, but this summer I lined two of my studio walls with cork, something I’ve always wanted. This allows me to pin up sketches while working on a book. Being able to come back to these sketches over and over throughout the day is very helpful with my thinking process as my ideas need a long time to simmer. The cork wall also lets me display postcards, photos, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, anything that reminds me of a happy memory.
In my living room I have several large bookcases where I keep my collection of children’s books. I often sit there and write. Having easy access to my favorite authors and illustrators is both inspirational and motivational. Before I moved, all my books were in towering stacks on my bed’s headboard. Trying to access any book was like playing a game of Jenga!
Describe a typical work day. Do you have any rituals you do before you start creating?
If I’m not visiting a school to give an author visit, I usually start the day by swimming at the YMCA. When I get home, having a can of Pepsi and a cookie is my reward for sitting down to work (I suppose this is counterproductive to going to the Y!). Staying away from the Internet is imperative. Once I start checking my email, I can say good-bye to being creative for the rest of the day. Writing, drawing, and generating new ideas is best done earlier in the day before I attack business correspondence which I try to leave till late in the afternoon or evening.
Please tell us about a time you had the most fun working in your studio.
I’ve only been in my studio a short while, but this summer I was working on creating puppets for a program the illustrator Mike Wohnoutka and I are presenting to preschoolers based on our book Moo! It was so nice to have large areas of space to spread out my supplies…and to be able to leave them out without worrying they’d be in the way of making dinner!
Who are some of the picture book writers and illustrators that have had an influence on your work?
Each new book by Mac Barnett (Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Count the Monkeys) is creative in a different way, and I greatly admire that. Phyllis Root (Rattletrap Car, Plant a Pocket of Prairie) is a master at writing beautiful picture book text. Marla Frazee (Roller Coaster, All the World Over) captures entire stories in the expressiveness of her characters. All three inspire me to do better work.
What’s your music of choice while you work?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m writing or doing the initial creation of a project, I need to have quiet. If I’m at the stage where I’m doing mid-level sketches or final paintings, relaxing instrumental jazz, folk music, or show tunes are my favorites.
Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you? Please tell us about it.
Pinned on my cork wall I have a name badge from my mother and a business card from my father’s welding service. Both of my parents have been gone for many years but these reminders make me feel like they are still present in my life.
If you could add a new tool, piece of furniture, or machine to your studio, what would it be?
I would love to have a computer desk that feels comfortable. I have not yet figured out the proper height for my screen and chair, and consequently I end up achy after several hours of working.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Include things that make you happy, not what you think other people would tell you to include. I have book awards and fan mail from students on my walls to lift my spirits during those stretches when the writing is difficult and rejection letters are all that I seem to receive. Don’t feel like your personal space needs to be perfect before you can start work; your studio can be a work in progress. The main thing is to start doing the work that you love.
What’s new for you now and where can we find out more?
I’m excited that my book Moo! was just released as a board book. I have several books under contract, but it still might be a year or two before they appear on bookshelves. Even though it’s past Halloween, your readers might enjoy seeing my creative jack-o’-lanterns at http://davidlarochelle.net.
Thanks, David! I love the cork wall and all of your storage. You seem to be very organized, especially for someone who just moved!