I have a very special issue for you today! An interview with my illustrator for the Heartwood Hotel chapter book series, Stephanie Graegin. You can check out some of her fantastic work here. Stephanie and I also worked on the picture book, The Lost Gift, a Christmas Story, together. Not to mention, Stephanie has numerous other books out, including the fantastic wordless picture book, Little Fox in the Forest.
From the moment I saw Stephanie's work on-line, I knew I would love to work with her. Usually the way the process goes for a book is that early on an editor and art director come up with a list of potential illustrators they think might work well for a story. Then they run this list past the author. (I'm not sure if they always run the lists past the author, but I have been super blessed and most of my editors seem to run their ideas by me.)
Then, once the story is finished, the artist receives the manuscript and gets to work. The artist and the author don't share notes or talk at this point, as it is important that the artist brings their own vision to the story. Later on, once the sketches are done, an author might get a chance to see these and provide some comments or feedback. For Heartwood Hotel, I knew at once Stephanie would be the perfect match!
Here are some questions I was dying to ask her:
1. How did you become an illustrator? What was your journey to this career?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing and reading and writing stories since I was a kid, so becoming a children’s book illustration was a natural fit. Being that art was my main love, I studied Fine Arts at The Maryland Institute College of Art. It was there that I got really into printmaking and making artist’s books (which, looking back upon, were really handmade children’s books). My artwork was always narrative in theme and often used my childhood as the subject. I went to Graduate school at the Pratt Institute where I studied printmaking. After graduation I realized the gallery scene wasn’t for me, so I gravitated to the thing that started it all, and started putting together work for a children’s book portfolio. I started with magazine work, and after pretty consistent effort to become better and a little luck, I began working on published books.
2. Do you have an interesting story about illustrating Heartwood Hotel?
Perhaps not interesting, but I loved working with these characters, they truly became a part of my life. I’m going to miss drawing them now that I’ve completed the work for all four books. Overall it was a smooth process, Kallie’s writing is so clear and effortless—I immediately envisioned her characters and was able to put them on paper right away. I loved drawing the world of Heartwood. Her descriptions of acorn soufflés and exquisite animal parties were so enjoyable to draw!
3. What is one of your favourite characters to illustrate from Heartwood?
Besides Mona…Mr.Heartwood. I love his character.He’s so generous and he has some moments of intense emotion, some very sad. It’s an interesting experience drawing a sweet ol’ badger with tears streaming down your face.
4. Do you have a daily drawing routine? If so, what is it?
I live in New York City and take the subway everywhere. I usually spend these subway rides drawing in my sketchbook, not for projects, but just for me. These are my favorite sorts of drawings, they often end up relating to the season or the weather that day and almost always feature anthropomorphized animals. You can see a lot of these drawings on my Instagram account.
5. I know you work on a lot of picture books. What are some of the differences you find between chapter book illustration and picture books?
A picture book is usually the more difficult between the two to illustrate, due to the open ended text some picture books have and the fact it all has to fit within a specific number of pages. Because there is more text in a chapter book, the author has already done the heavy lifting and my job is to bolster the text and fill in the small gaps. With a picture book, I may not have any descriptions of characters or places, so I’m creating it all. I do love having both formats to work on; it has allowed my work to develop a range that I don’t think would exist without my moving between the two. A picture book is usually in full color and a chapter book in black and white, so the final art for a chapter book is usually a bit quicker to do than a picture book.
6. What is your favourite thing about spring?
I live in a “garden apartment” in Brooklyn, which is a nice way of saying I live in a basement. My kitchen window looks out into the backyard, at eye-level with the ground. We must have a good selection of worms and acorns back there, because when Spring arrives the yard is filled with blue jays, cardinals, robins and both brown and black squirrels (I’ve never seen black squirrels till I moved to this apartment). I love watching their antics up close.
That's all from Stephanie! But I wanted to include some of her amazing early sketches of Mona and other characters:
Amazing, right?! Stay turned next month for some tips from different editors of mine! Hope you have a lovely March.
Featured Activity - Design a room at the Heartwood!
Perhaps you have taken inspiration from Stephanie's amazing words, or perhaps you've just always wanted to design your perfect hotel room.
Here's the chance!
Design a room in the Heartwood! Print out the cute template and let your imagination soar. Will it be a room for a bug? A bear? A squirrel? Download the template here!