Friday, April 05, 2019

Interview with author/illustrator JESSICA BOEHMAN

I am very excited to introduce Jessica Boehman and her beautiful debut picture book, THE LIONS AT NIGHT.  A wordless book, this homage to New York City starts at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street with the famous two lions that "live" by the front entrance. Growing up, Jessica lived in many places in the US and abroad. With fresh eyes, she has found the perfect way to show off her adopted city. When she moved to New York, she took classes at the School of Visual Arts, setting her on her path to become a published author and illustrator.  I hope you will be inspired by her journey!

How did THE LIONS AT NIGHT get started? What were some the stages? 
I came up with this idea as a non-New Yorker living in the city.  I’ve been told that I do not have the characteristic cool in the face of the strange that comes from being born and raised in the cacophony of the city. Perhaps I notice too much. One thing that always struck me was that it didn’t matter what weird thing happened on the train: New Yorkers would often keep their eyes ahead, or close them and pretend to sleep, or bury themselves in their book, and pretend not to look. I started to wonder: what would they miss? So I got started with a short two-page wordless comic called “The Lions’ Night Out”. I drew it while convalescing from surgery, when I couldn’t do much more than sit for hours at a time.  I don’t know how successful the two-pager was, but the publisher really prodded me to work on this one for my first publication. So I had to change it to a 32-page story. In the end, we added 8 more pages to make it an even 40. I think it needed those extra 38 pages.

So at that point I wrote the script and drew the storyboard. I worked directly from storyboard to full illustrations without a dummy in between, because the publisher had a good sense of the story. I knew I wanted to add a human character, and Mr. Potter, a librarian and caretaker of the lions, came quickly to mind.  It changed the tenor of the book from that of the short comic. The comic was just about a sneaky adventure, but the addition of Mr. Potter adds a real element of caring, imagination, and friendship to the mix. I really like him and hope to feature him again in a future book, The Lions in Winter

Why did you decide to make it a wordless book?
The first two-pager was wordless, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how words were going to add to the story. So I decided to give myself the challenge of telling the story all in pictures. I wanted every kid who came to New York to be able to read it. 

What was your favorite part of working on this book? 
Even though it felt really difficult, I liked storyboarding the book because I was hashing out lots of ideas and brainstorming. It felt like putting together a puzzle. 

And the most difficult part? 
The most difficult part was working on the book during the school year. I am a college professor full time at LaGuardia Community College, where I teach primarily Art History, but also the Illustration courses. I would have to start drawing by about 6 am until it was time for breakfast and the shower, and then draw again when I came home. It was exhausting.  Moreover, my choice of materials and my particular style made this more time consuming.

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?
I live in Queens, a borough of New York City, in a top-floor apartment with my dog, Ludo.  My studio is actually in the foyer of my apartment. I have a desk and a flat file, and lots of art on the walls that inspires me, and clear jars where I divide my pencils by color family to make them easier to find. 

All of the drawings, even the greyscale pages, were made with colored pencils, graphite pencils, and gouache. I used digital effects to composite some images, add text and some lighting effects, and clean up smudges. Colored pencil can get quite smeary, so a bit of this digital finagling is sometimes necessary (for me).

What were you like as a child?  Have you drawn since you were very young? 
I was noisy as a child, but even so, I loved the solitary pursuit of drawing. I spent a lot of time drawing from the time I was little. I remember asking for a sketchbook for a birthday or Christmas present when I was maybe six or seven. My mom bought me a small, grey-covered ringed sketchbook. I still have it. It's filled with marker drawings of superheroes of my own design and pencil sketches of my dog. Though it was the first of many, I will always keep the first evidence of my love of art close to my heart.

It is exciting to hear about each artist's journey to publication. Can you tell us about yours?  
I have to admit the way this happened was really unusual. I was taking some time off from pursuing publishers in the wake of a major surgery, and I needed some downtime to heal emotionally and physically, and I was in a major art block. One day, an author wrote to me asking if she could suggest my name to her publisher as a possible pair for her stories, and I said yes. While we have not yet been paired (hopefully someday), the publisher loved my work on my website and wanted to have me get started on my own project first.

What have been some of the ups and downs? Did you have some rejections along the way? 
Yes, of course! Well, more than rejections, I got silence. I spent months and months developing my first dummy, and I spent a fortune printing it and mailing it out, only to hear absolutely nothing...from anyone. The worst “down” was when an editor I met in person at a conference told me that she thought my art had no joy in it and I needed to find another creative pursuit. As a professor who works with budding artists, I really disagree with that sort of subjective, destructive feedback. It stopped me in my tracks for a while. 

The “ups” have been having a successful online shop where I sell my illustrations and getting regular feedback from customers, meeting my group of supportive and wonderful illustrator friends, and feeling like I’ve found my full self again after many years away from art due to grad school. This was a gradual process, but starting the class with Monica at SVA got me on the right track, and I am really thankful for that. It’s so fun being with like-minded people who are working toward the same goal. When I moved to New York City, I never imagined that I would be here. It’s all been happening one slow step at a time, and I still can’t really believe it.

Is there anything you learned back in class at SVA that has particularly stayed with you?
I learned enough at SVA to be able to teach two illustration classes—a beginning class and a Graphic Narrative class, where we focus on sequential narrative illustration. Some staying lessons: don’t get too attached to a story or a first draft (it might be terrible), learn to accept feedback gracefully (this can be hard), try to draw regularly, and don’t spend all your energy at the storyboard phase. Loose sketches are fine.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Keep a blog and learn to write about your process—every time, with every drawing. This will let people start to find you and will help you to hone your own artistic voice. Start a professional-looking website. You are your own agent at this point, and you need to present yourself professionally, so take the time to do it right.  

I would also say to trust that your own artistic voice is important. Don’t try to be someone else—they do themselves better than you ever will. But help your voice along with practice in your chosen medium(s) and skill building so you can meet the artistic challenges that will arise.  

Lastly, a great piece of advice given to me years ago by the fantastic and generous faery artist Wendy Froud was, “Don’t turn down an opportunity just because you don’t know how to solve the problem. Say yes, and then figure it out!”

Congratulations and thanks to Jessica! Check out Jessica's website HERE and her Etsy shop HERE

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Voilà! CREPES BY SUZETTE is a paperback!

I'm very happy to announce that Crêpes by Suzette is now available as a paperback book from the Book Shop on my website and from online booksellers. 

Thank you to Coquette Maman for featuring it on her website and giving a peek inside.
Wish you were in Paris? Take a trip with Suzette!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pirouette to you dreams with DEAR BALLERINA!

I'm very excited to announce my newest book is Dear Ballerina,  published by Holiday House in March 2019.

In this book a dream comes true for a little girl who loves tutus, pointe shoes, and dancing on tiptoe. This little dancer loves to swirl and twirl and leap. She practices new steps every day. All her efforts are rewarded when one special day, she gets to dance in a performance with her favorite ballerina. 

I have been bringing "little dancer" with me on some museum trips and to ballet performances. Very soon she is going to go to the Nutcracker with New York City Ballet! We can't wait!

"Little dancer" was amazed to meet Marie, The Little Dancer, by Edgar Degas

She was thrilled to see the Balanchine Celebration at City Center in NYC!
We went to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen to see New York City Ballet perform on tour: Magical!
My daughter practicing her ballet positions with Degas's The Little Dancer.

Here we are together for a moment backstage: she is ready to perform a Balanchine ballet in her tutu and pointe shoes. 

I have wanted to do a book about ballet for a very long time.  I have loved going to the ballet since my mother first brought me as a little girl. I brought my daughter, Lydia, when she was also very young. Then she wanted to start taking ballet classes when she was seven. Now she is quite grown up and dances with The New York City Ballet. Her journey from little dancer to professional ballerina inspired this book!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Suzette in Paris

This summer I have brought Suzette to Paris with me. We are visiting favorite places from Crepes by Suzette book&app (and discovering new favorites, bien sûr!) 
Notre Dame Cathedral
Lions in Luxembourg Gardens
Carousel in Tuileries Gardens
Assemblee Nationale
Tour Eiffel

For more about CREPES BY SUZETTE book&app click HERE

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Interview with author/illustrator SHANDA McCLOSKEY

Shanda McCloskey’s first book DOLL-E 1.0 has just been published - Congratulations! I remember when she showed up at SVA in illustration class - she had big talent from the start! But then it takes commitment and persistence to successfully get a book from dream to reality. I’m so happy to share with you this Q&A with Shanda. Enjoy and be inspired to work hard for your dreams!

It is exciting to hear about a book's journey to publication, especially a first book! How did Doll-E 1.0 get started?
The idea for Doll-E 1.0 came from watching my two-year-old daughter pretend that her doll was a robot doll! I knew in my gut that this idea might be a good one with the empowered girls movement and girls in STEM being hot topics. I also knew from experience (because I looked pretty hard) that there were no robot books with real girl appeal! The robot books I found may have had girls in them, but they still seemed to be created with boy readers in mind.

My daughter just turned 8, so Doll-E 1.0 took 6 years from idea to real book!

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
My favorite part of making this book was working with others (much more experienced than me) to make it its best! My agent (Erica Rand Silverman), editor (Andrea Spooner), art director (Jen Keenan), publicist (Siena Koncsol), etc. all added exquisite parts and solutions to the book and promotional efforts that I would’ve never thought of or could do alone! I truly enjoyed the Little, Brown team and it seemed as if they enjoyed working on this book too, which was extremely cool :)

Also, school visits are really special! I didn't realize I would treasure them so much until I tried one!

And the most difficult part?  
Life has a way of really getting messy sometimes, and at the time I created this book, I had some serious eye health issues arise that affected my sight. The day to day frustration of working with impaired vision was definitely the hardest part to overcome.

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?  
I live in Ball Ground, GA, which is about an hour north of Atlanta. I live with my husband, two daughters, and our dog in a very small house. My studio is a wall in my living room parallel/behind the couch. It has a long white desk with a computer and drawing space with a “clothesline” of sketches and inspiration above it. Beside the desk is a large Ikea armoire where I store my two printers, large scanner, and art supplies (which are mostly 6B drawing pencils and watercolors).

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?  
I was known as the best artist in all my classes and grades. That was a huge part of my identity. I loved it. 

How did you decide you wanted to be an author and illustrator of children's books? 
Picture books have constantly lured me through my lifetime. I bought them at the book fair when I was a kid when I was “supposed” to be into chapter books, and then I found myself just having to own various books through the years before I even had kids. But when I found myself unfulfilled in a teaching job, things became clearer. I really wanted to figure out how to become a children’s book illustrator! (I had no idea I would ever be an author too at the time :)

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?
Of course I did! I’ve been pursuing this path for about 10 years now. I would attend a conference excited to show my new work, feeling accomplished only to end the conference with a dose of reality that there’s still so much work ahead of me. But it always felt productive, and eventually my work was “ready” to be published. 

I also was rejected by several agents and publishing houses along the way. And when my work was really “ready” I got several bites!

What are some of your other projects that you are currently working on?  
I’m currently working on a companion to Doll-E 1.0 called T-Bone the Drone! It features a boy character this time and his drone. So. Much. Fun!

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
Monica really opened my eyes to the possibility of being an author-illustrator instead of just an illustrator. I remember her saying that she makes her own illustrating jobs by writing her own stories. That resonated with me, and I must say that doors started opening up for me when I had a dummy proving I could do both!

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
If you can write and illustrate, put them together in a dummy! THAT combination is what got things rolling for me. I started setting it beside my portfolio at SCBWI conferences and bringing it to paid manuscript critiques. I updated my dummy for each new conference with what I had learned from the last.

I was thrilled to see Shanda up from Georgia at her NYC book signing:

and follow her on Instagram: @shandamccloskeydraws and Twitter: @ShandaMcCloskey

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Visiting School with Zinnia's Flower Garden

I love visiting schools and sharing my books with children.
I had a wonderful welcome at PS 347: a bilingual American Sign Language and English lower school here in Manhattan. Some children in the classes are deaf but many have deaf parents, and I had an interpreter, Rick Rubin, by my side.

It was snowing as I traveled across town, and so it was especially fun to share Zinnia’s Flower Garden: there is nothing like flowers to help put everyone get in the mood for spring!
I read the book as Rick translated it into ASL.

And then I showed some stages of working on the book. I did research by learning more about flowers:  I grew flowers, I went to the library for books about flowers, I went to gardens...

I got started on my book by making tiny sketches like these:

And then the children did some of their own “research” with flowers.
I brought a beautiful bouquet and they all picked flowers to observe and draw.

 They did fantastic work. I think there are a lot of future scientists and artists amongst them!

Thank you so much to Gary Wellbrock, teacher extraordinaire, for these photos! Read more about all that goes on in his classroom at

Friday, August 04, 2017

Paris on bicycle

My favorite way to explore Paris is with my velib bicycle pass:

I love finding interesting stores:

and trying patisseries from every bakery in my neighborhood:

I love beautiful cheeses in the market:

I'm constantly stopping to admire lettering and details on buildings:

 I love visiting small museums:

Paris is endlessly beautiful and I'm so happy to be here!

Take a little trip to Paris too? Come visit HERE with Crepes by Suzette!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Interview with author/illustrator PATRICIA KEELER

I'm thrilled to introduce author/illustrator Patricia Keeler and to celebrate the publication of her new book with a Q&A. When Patricia was in class at SVA some years ago, she had already successfully published several award winning books but she wanted to change direction and explore new ideas.  She plunged in with her book project about a little girl and her flip-flops and many versions later, LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL has come to life. Joyful, full of action and energy, Lizzie is immediately an endearing character. Get ready, set, go: Summer is coming!

It is exciting to hear about a book's journey to publication—can you tell us about LIZZE AND LOU SEAL?

I breathed in the delicious smells of turpentine and oil paint. I touched the cold cinder block walls and looked out the giant dirty windows and smiled. It had taken me practically a lifetime to get to attend a real art school class. It was 2014, my first class at the School of Visual Arts. 

After college, I became a teacher with a familyLater, I got an art rep and started doing realistic illustrations where the Art Director often told me what to draw. No, no, no.

So this day, I was starting over with no rep, no prospects. I was walking into Monica Wellington's class on Writing and Illustrating Children's Books with my own picture book dummy called Flip, Flop, Stomp

It was the first time I had been in a large group of author/illustrators where the spreads of a book dummy could be seen at a glance. In the class, we critiqued manuscripts and discussed elements that support the visual success of a picture book. We talked about first page illustrations and text placement.We talked about the directional movements of the characters between the pages, and how to visually strengthen the climax of a book.
In later classes, we sometimes worked in smaller groups. By this time, several of us knew each other and our book dummies, so what remained was adjusting and tweaking.

How did LIZZIE get started? What are some of the stages?

The idea came from news articles about problems caused from wearing flip-flops. I imagined a little girl, Lizzie, who loved her flip-flops, but they caused her all kinds of agitation. They got caught on loose stair boards, stuck to boardwalk chewing gum, and didn't keep the hot sand from her feet

The first version was called Flip, Flop, Stomp! because Lizzie stomped her foot in frustration.

In my original idea, Lou Seal was a blow-up beach toy that didn’t show up in the story until a third of the way throughBut as I sketched the dummy, Lizzie got younger and Lou Seal got bigger. The change in sizes was unexpected—but I could see it was more dynamic.

Now Lou Seal was so big, that he needed a bigger part to play in the story. So I thought while Lizzie is busy fussing with her flip-flops, what is happening to Lou Seal? 

Perhaps Lou Seal was also having difficulties. And what fun, if the reader discovered what was happening to Lou Seal before Lizzie did!

Figuring out the story plot seems conceivable now—logical. But it took years and three classes with Monica Wellington.

What was your favorite part of working on this book?

My favorite part was discovering the encaustic wax process. I used it to show Lou Seal as plastic, and for the ocean waves. Here I am creating a wave for LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL.

Where do you live and what is your studio like?

I live in Hoboken, New Jersey. My studio is on the top floor of my building. It is a converted large bedroom. I look down on a retro drug store, bagel shop, and the bus stop. 

When I take a lunch break I walk along the Hudson River. I'll sit for a while, then look over at Lower Manhattan and think, "My editor is over there waiting for the finished art." Then I get a large iced coffee and a butterfly cookie, and go back to illustrating. 

What are your art materials?

I love my box that contains tubes of Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache. I had it made in a plastics shop on Canal Street so each hue could fit neatly in it's own space. 

I made color swatches with the mixing instructions on the back. It's always those final bits of color that add vibrancy to an illustration. These color samples allow me to see what colors would work best. 

The mechanical yellow pencil laying on my paint box is PaperMate Sharpwriter #2. I found these pencils in the grocery store. These pencils are amazing! The lead is cushioned and won't break when you press down. It gives my hand a little bounce!

What are some of the other projects you are currently working on?

I have a second book for Sky Pony Press to follow LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. I'm so excited about this book, SCOOP THE ICE CREAM TRUCK! It will be out in Spring 2018. I'm in the thick of finishing the artwork now!

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrator/writers starting out now?

Don't try to completely understand an inspiration or art process before you try it! If you come across an interesting plot twist or illustration technique, go for it! It's the mistakes you make that make it yours!

Patricia will be at Book Expo America! Meet her at Booth AM34, June 1 and 2, for illustration demonstrations and giveaways!

A few tips: a wonderful place to discover new techniques is UPPERCASE Magazine.

Kelly Rae Roberts Unscripted  (great while working)

Social mediaFacebook for friends and family, Twitter for marketing, and Instagram for artists from around the world whose work I want to learn from.
Facebook:  PatriciaKeelerBooks
Twitter: @patriciakeeler

Patricia is represented by Liza Royce Agency and her website is