Something about me
I have always been interested in folk art from around the world:
Indian miniatures, Mexican ceramics, fabrics, Chagall, Matisse, children’s art, and promitive painting, and I love to paint and experiment with pattern, texture, collage and color.
The careers I’ve had – as a costume designer, a quilt maker, a fabric artist, and a graphic designer – have taken all these interests into account. Looking back, I can see that these passions and career choices have played a large part in influencing me to become a children’s book author and illustrator.
But most importantly, it was after my husband I adopted our daughter from Guatemala that I was inspired to do a children’s book for her. My first book, Over the Moon, was the story of that magical experience of welcoming our daughter Lena into our lives. I painted, I drew, I collaged, and I wrote , and after working very hard . . . a beautiful book was born! Twenty-two books later, my daughter – fourteen years old – still is an inspiration for me.
I am fascinated by babies and little kids. The simplest words and gestures can make them laugh. Sometimes standing in line at the supermarket and watchin kids in grocery carts, my best ideas are born. I am fasinated by people from all over the world and what they look like and how they live and the differences that make us all unique.
When an idea pops into my head I ask these questions:
— will a child want to read this book?
— Will a parent want to read this book with their child?
— Will this book make a parent and child feel something?
— Is there something visual here that will hold a child’s interest?
— Will a child see something in a different way after reading this book?
— If the answer is yes, then I know I’m on the right track.
I am very lucky to get to do what I do. Everyday I go into my studio and have fun. Don’t get me wrong, some days are very frustrating. Sometimes the colors are all wrong and the words don’t sound right. But after I work at it for a while . . . and try to do it in a different way. . . and think. . . and change the words or colors . . . and try some more. . . suddenly, there it is – a great page of writign, or a great illustration..
And nothing is more satisfying than that!
I get up around 6:30. I read for an hour and drink coffee. Then around 7:30 I go into my studio. (A lot of times in my pajamas) I work in a big loft space. Immediately I look at what I did the day before. I try to focus my mornings on my most creative work, which is usually my painting. I am easily distracted so this is what my day goes like:
…Look at work from yesterday, lay it out on the floor, check e-mails (a big distraction,) check online children’s book websites, (a big distraction,) see what is new on Netflix and Amazon, (a big distraction,) make a pile of errands to run, look at e- mails to answer, make a pile of “to do” and throw it on the floor to remind me to do it. Get dressed. Sometimes throw on some makeup.
Go to drawing table and work on my current project. It depends what stage the book is in. In the beginning of a book it is thumbnail sketches, in the middle it is the final art to paint and at the end is the finishing of the book. Sometimes I switch and work on the writing in the morning.
I’m usually distracted at least once with a new idea for a new book. That takes a good hour out of my workday.
Around 2pm I remember to eat some lunch (and often get out of my pajamas if I haven’t already) I am always working on two projects at once so by now I have juggled a little work on both projects. After a bite to eat I switch to writing and doing research. Keep in mind that through out this whole day I am also shopping on the Internet and chatting through emails and reading a paragraph here and there from New York Times. Oh yes, and making the bed and picking up clothes and loading the dishwasher. (Although my husband does a lot of that)
Around 3 o’clock I go outside to get some air and take a walk around my neighborhood. I live in New York City and its very stimulating. It’s a little too stimulating so sometimes I find myself in the Art Store, or Uniqlo clothing store for hour and then remember I have to go home and work. I do a few errands and come home. From five to six o’clock I prepare dinner. After dinner I clean my studio and flop on the couch and watch whatever I found on Netflix. Sometimes I go back into my studio and peek at what I painted that day. I chat with my husband, and go to bed…that’s my day.
After my husband and I adopted our daughter from Guatemala I decided I wanted to illustrate children’s books. I had been a graphic designer for many years. For nine months I painted pictures of kids and anything that looked like it could be in a children’s book. Then I put together a portfolio to show. My second appointment was at Henry Holt with someone I had known in adult publishing. She asked if she could pass my portfolio on to one of the editors. There were paintings in my portfolio that represented a poem that my husband had written about adopting our daughter. Two weeks later I got a call from Laura Godwin a senior editor who wanted to meet with me and talk. We met and talked for an hour about adoption and what my experience was like, what Guatemala was like etc. She told me she loved my art.
Finally I said” I love talking to you, but I’m not quite sure why we are having this conversation.
” Oh, “ she said, I’d like to publish a picture book with you about adoption”.
I was so elated I could barely act normal.
“ Great! And who is going to write it?”
“ You are,” she said.
“ But I’m not a writer “.
“ Yes you are. I can tell. Just write your story from your heart in your own words”.
I went home and wrote the text for that book the next morning. She loved it.
That was the beginning of my career.
I was very lucky to meet someone who had great vision and was willing to trust in my potential.
My early ideas all came from my daughter when she was a baby. I collect toys, pages from magazines, greeting cards, napkins I've scribbled on, ...and just about anything you can think of that has an idea connected to it.
• Every project starts as a doodle or a scrap of paper. I gather and collect ideas as I go along and save them for...Well...I'm never sure when I will use them.
• I must own about 1000 children's books. Some great illustrator is always influencing me. I love kids art, folk art, and outsider art.
When my daughter was 4 yrs. old we began having talks about the differences in our skin color. She is Guatemalan and I am Caucasian. One day I was at her school and I looked around at all the beautiful kids and noticed that they were lovely shades of brown. They were browns like cinnamon and butterscotch. I wanted to celebrate those differences and inspire kids to see themselves as not either “black” or “white” but something unique. That was the inspiration for The Colors of Us.
On the other hand, giving sloppy wet kisses on my daughter's belly button was the simple inspiration for “Where’s Baby’s Belly Button?
1) I work in a loft in NYC in the winter and a studio in the country in the summer. I look out my window and see buildings and lots of people in winter and I see trees and flowers and squirrels in the summer. I like the contrast of both places.
2) I work in my pajamas a lot.
3) Sometimes I put the potholder in the refrigerator. Mostly when I'm busy working. I’m very distracted.
4) I love to sit in cafes and watch people.
5) I love to sit in playgrounds and watch kids
6) I love to sit in movies in the dark and listen to people before the movie starts.
7) I am living my dream. I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do than childrens books.
• Get the words down on paper.
• Write the manuscript and watch out for putting too many words in it.
• Keep your age group in mind.
• You do not need an illustrator to illustrate your manuscript (as a creative director, I completely agree...this can often hinder your submission unless it is dead on!)
• Get the book: Children's Writers and Illustrators Market. This book told me everything I needed to know.
• Read, read, read other peoples books.
• Make time to write and do the work...there will never be a perfect time.
• Make a portfolio of at least 15 excellent pieces of art in a consistent style
• Make sure you have children in some of the art
• Look at what is being done by other illustrators (you can see many on-line)
• Keep at it!