llustrator of Gobble, Quack, Moon (book with audio) and Mailman Joe
When did you start illustrating books?
I started doing educational illustrating in 1976. The first book I illustrated, Leapin’ Lizzie, was published in 1985.
At what point did you develop a passion for drawing when you were a child?
I was pretty young. When most kids started drawing, I was drawing more than most. I even thought I wanted to be a book illustrator when I was little. I was in second grade at the time, about 7 or 8 years old.
What aspects of your personal life inspire you most as an artist?
I have a passion for fabric and textiles—the colors of fabrics really excite me. If I go into a fabric store, the colors can really inspire me. As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, I almost went into fashion design, but I felt like I was back in high school taking home economics classes. Fashion design was too superficial—it didn’t feel like real art. I was just designing clothing according to the market’s fads and it felt too commercial.
I love theater too! I have done some set deisgn and costuming, mostly in high school and college. I did some theater work recently for my children’s performances. I think working on costuming is similar to illustrating books. In both cases, you are designing and creating a character’s visual appearance.
I also really like gardening! I love the textures of different plants, and the way the leaves overlap. Making flower arrangements and arranging plants in my garden inspires me to draw. While I was working on my first book, Leapin’ Lizzie, I went to the woods and photographed things so that my illustrations could be more lifelike and botanically correct.
What were your most memorable experiences in researching & illustrating Gobble, Quack, Moon? Special people? Special places?
I grew up on a farm, so I went back there and took rolls of pictures of the fields and machinery. I got together with my roommate from college who sculpts cows, goats, and other animals. She helped me find videos of all the dances mentioned in the book.
I would stop the car in middle of road when I found a good squished can that could be part of the animals’ scrap rocket they flew to the moon. I got books out of the library about rockets. I would also spend time with my choral director’s husband who was sick with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Every day, I would work on the sketches for Gobble, Quack, Moon, and I would show him how the illustrations were progressing.
Have there ever been tough times when you’ve felt discouraged or uninspired? Have such obstacles ever made you rethink your career path? If so, what keeps you going in such times?
Artists get illustrator’s block just like authors can get writer’s block. In every single book, there is at least one two-page spread that’s a problem. Always when you finish a book, you feel like there were things you could have done better. Sometimes after I do lots of book illustrating, I get burnt out. It’s during those times that working on theater productions helps me become re-energized. However, I think I did make the right choice in being an illustrator—I really find it fulfilling.
I would also love to do more figure and classical drawing. In order to get refueled and get ideas for my next illustrating job, I like to go to art museums and/or galleries. These cultural outings recharge my creative juices and get me inspired for my next book. I usually illustrate one to two children’s books each year.
Your home business and art studio, called “The Artery,” is where you work on your illustrations. How would you describe your hometown, its surroundings and the view from The Artery’s window?
I live in Belmont, Massachusetts—a fairly rural suburb of Boston. Belmont is the home to 36,000 residents. Behind my house, you can see wetlands and conservation land. I watch the beautiful New England seasons as they change and the leaves change colors. My studio is on the third floor of my house. It has one window that looks out onto a dead-end street where I hardly ever see cars. There is a mockingbird that starts singing at 4:30am on the dot, and sometimes I can hear him in my studio when I’m working late.
What other products do you illustrate in addition to children’s books? How often are you working on children’s books and how much time do you spend on other projects?
I illustrate books three-quarters of the time and the rest of my illustrating work is for educational materials. I illustrate ESL (English as a Second Language) and math workbooks. I also draw posters and craft books for Rockport Publishing.
Working as an illustrator is a nice lifestyle because I can make my own hours. Both my sons want to go into art as their careers, so I must be doing a good job!