Friday, September 16, 2016

Interview with author/illustrator LORI RICHMOND

When Lori Richmond was in class at SVA her first book was already in the works but she had to keep it secret until she actually signed the contract. It was very exciting by the end of term to be able to share the news with everyone else in class...and now, finally her first book is a reality: it has just come out into the world: Congratulations!

A HOP IS UP, written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Lori, is about a young boy and his dog who hop up, bend down, spin round, jump over... all around the neighborhood, and get up to lots of fun with their friends along the way. Kirkus Reviews calls it "a read-aloud winner".

Lori's second book, PAX AND BLUE, due out early 2017, will be her debut as an author/illustrator. And she is busy working on several more after that: fantastic!

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication – can you tell us about yours?  
I was a corporate creative director at various media companies for over 20 years. The tech industry moves VERY quickly, but I began to feel restless because I missed creating something I could touch with my hands. So, I turned back to my fine art roots in my "spare time,” which is kind of a joke when you’re a full-time working mom of two small kids! I took continuing education classes at SVA after work and developed book ideas late at night from around 10 pm through 1 am. I fell in love with the process. I also took a children’s book workshop at the Highlights Foundation. My instructor, Pat Cummings, saw promise in my work and forwarded it to Paula Wiseman, my now-editor at Simon & Schuster who offered me my first contract (for Pax and Blue). Then I signed with an agent, and quick to follow was another contract to illustrate A Hop is Up. I decided to chase the rainbow and left my full-time job to be full-time freelance, and now I am working on design projects and my books. It’s been extremely fulfilling to be on my own, but also scary!

Can you describe how you approached illustrating A HOP IS UP? 
A HOP IS UP is a picture book poem about all sorts of movements, written by the wonderful Kristy Dempsey. The text was a blank canvas and a wonderful challenge for me as the illustrator—without any characters, setting, or traditional story arc mentioned in the words, I got to create the entire visual narrative from scratch! I initially presented two options to the publisher — the boy and dog on a walk in their neighborhood, and a kangaroo and rabbit on an obstacle course! We chose the boy and the dog because it was more relatable. Because Kristy’s text flows so beautifully from one line to the next when read aloud, I wanted the illustrations to do the same. If you look carefully, each spread hints at what is coming next to create a continuous visual story. The text starts and ends with “A hop is up,” so the art begins with the boy and dog leaving home, and ends with them arriving back home. There is also a gardener and her cat that we meet in the beginning, and they make a surprising return near the end.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
Teasing each spread and having the visual narrative flow smoothly took a lot of planning. How would I demonstrate each movement, and have the context make sense, and tease what’s coming next, but not feel like I forced the whole thing? I went through many post-its, drawings of neighborhood maps, and many, many sketches. I loved tackling this challenge and it was a really exciting one for a first-time illustrator.

And the most difficult part?  
Same answer!

Where do you live and what is your studio like? 
I’m part of Friends Work Here in Brooklyn, a space created by my dear friend and design blog superstar Swissmiss, Tina Roth Eisenberg. We have an eclectic bunch of creatives in our studio: photographers, designers, videographers, illustrators, and writers. It’s great to see what everyone else is working on and learn and be inspired by people working in other disciplines. 

You now also have projects in the works that you have both written and illustrated: can you tell us about those? Differences and/or extra challenges when the project is completely yours?
PAX AND BLUE (February 2017, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) is a gentle story about an unexpected friendship between a boy and a pigeon, inspired by a true story my son told me. BUNNY’S STAYCATION (2017, Scholastic) went to a five-house auction, which was nerve-wracking and craaaazy!This book has many autobiographical aspects to it — it is about Bunny, who attempts to foil his Mama’s business trip and creates his own adventure instead. A parent traveling for work is not easy on the child or the parent. It is a stressful, common issue that so many families deal with every day.

Writing is a huge challenge when the project is completely mine. Writing doesn’t come naturally to me — I have to work at it. Drawing comes more easily. It’s fun when you get into it and the words affect the pictures and vice versa. I find that I streamline a lot at that stage. But I also love taking someone else’s words and bringing them to life. It’s really fun!

Here Lori is on one of her first school visits. Looks like fun!
Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs? 
A rejection of one of my own projects is what led to me landing the illustration job for A HOP IS UP! The editor didn’t feel my story was a fit for their list, but she liked my art and brought it to an editorial meeting. They paired me with the HOP manuscript, and the rest is history!  

My biggest “up” was the 5-house auction for BUNNY’S STAYCATION. That was a really memorable and insane day. My biggest “down” is the waiting. Everyone told me publishing was slow, but I had no idea just how slow. It’s really. really. slow. You definitely earn a badge in patience!

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
Feedback and criticism are really important. You can’t create a book in a vacuum. You need to share your work and evaluate feedback. That’s what I liked about being in class — the discussions about our projects always made you rethink things in a different way, and that made our projects stronger.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Definitely join SCBWI and attend a conference. You will learn so much in a very short time, and leave invigorated to go home and work! 

Here is Lori at SVA, returning to class as a guest speaker. She showed an illustration she worked on for a class assignment, and then she showed how it sparked an idea for a story, that after many, many changes became Bunny's Staycation! Thank you, Lori, for visiting class, and my blog!
To find out more about Lori and her work, visit her website:

A HOP IS UP, written by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Lori Richmond, from Bloomsbury, September 2016
PAX AND BLUE, February 2017 from Simon & Schuster 
BUNNY'S STAYCATION, 2017 from Scholastic
SKELLY'S HALLOWEEN, written by David Martin, illustrated by Lori Richmond 2018 from Macmillan/Henry Holt

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