Illustrator Interview- Heather Newman

Now, I know you think I just randomly surf facebook for illustrators each week, but actually there is both rhyme and reason to each invitee. I asked Heather to be today’s guest illustrator for two reasons. Since beginning 12×12 in January, I regularly pop into Heather’s blog to be inspired by her latest art, and secondly, I fell in love with a photo of one of her sons on Phyllis the Groundhog’s world tour. It is rare that a photo can capture that much pure joy on one face (and for a book no less), I felt I had to know more about this Mom, Artist and book-loving family!

  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[HN] Author/illustrator, my published work at this point is illustration only.

  • What’s your nationality and where do you live? 

[HN] I’m an American living in Maine.

  • Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

[HN] According to my mother, I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil! As a child, I used to redo the illustrations for my favorite books, making them my own. It was a way to immerse myself in the stories beyond just reading them. An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball by Jane Yolen was a story that I have drawn and redrawn many times over the years.  It’s still one of my favorites. My father worked in construction and one day he brought home a box of blank essay books from a remodeling job at a college in Boston. I spent hours and hours filling those books with my stories and drawings. I created a lengthy series about twin princesses who were always sneaking out of their castle to have adventures with dragons and faeries.

I knew that I wanted to go to art school, but when my high school guidance counselor found out she worked very hard to discourage me by telling me that no one could make a living as an artist. She strongly recommended that I chose a legitimate career and save my art as a hobby. Well, it turns out her son was in college studying art! I’m still not sure whether she wanted to save me from her son’s grim fate or if she was trying to thin out his competition.  I decided not to follow her advice and went on to the Hartford Art School.

For the past 15 years, I have been home raising my three boys and picking up odd art projects along the way. Murals and portraits, primarily.  A year and a half ago, I decided to pursue my dream of working in the field of children’s book publishing and have since illustrated two books for Do Life Right Publishing with a third project in the works this summer.

  • I so admire your decision to spend a year on the road with kids and animals. Tell us a little about this and how this has influenced your creativity.

[HN] It was an amazing experience and I am so happy we decided to go for it when the idea came up! Our family had wanted to travel, but at the time my son Arthur did not do well staying in  unfamiliar places.  It was too overwhelming and upsetting for him, he needed his home base to be stable. We weren’t sure how to meet his needs and still see all of the cool places we had read about or seen on TV. At the Life is Good unschooling conference in 2009, we met a family who had just spent 18 months traveling the country in an RV. As we talked about it, David and I realized that RV living could work for everyone since it gave us the ability to go where we wanted and still come home every night. The boys agreed with the plan, we sold our house, put our stuff in storage and hit the road.

The world is incredible and beautiful! It’s one thing to read about a place like Glacier National Park and something quite different to stand up to your ankles in snow in August under a blazing blue sky with glacier lilies, deer and mountain goats all around.  To be able to experience the sights and sounds of different environments is mentally stimulating. Everything is new! The plants and animals vary greatly from place to place and the extreme changes in geography in this country sparked fantastic conversations.  The Sonoran Desert, the Petrified Forest, the Everglades, the hoodoos in Utah all were fascinating. There was so much to learn and think and talk about. We spent 14 months repeating the phrase “this is amazing!” I feel like my mind has expanded and grown from my time on the road. It helped me to realize that anything is possible, you just have to be open to any solution no matter how crazy it seems.

  • How involved are your children in your art? And in particular, how do you feel “unschooling” them is inspiring them?

[HN] Unschooling is my soapbox topic, but I will keep it brief!  My sons have retained their passion for learning with unschooling because they immerse themselves in what interests them. The world is open for them to explore and everything is connected. Reading a Brian Jacques book leads to conversations and research about the historical period the story mimics, food and cooking, war and politics, how music and art reflects the culture that originates it, projects to build weapons, discussions about how specific tools were created and why, creating sculptures of the characters, the perception of good and evil and how that perception changes according to what side of the conflict you believe in. These are all examples of things that have happened in our home. Their enthusiasm for knowledge is infectious and David and I have found ourselves remembering old interests that have fallen by the wayside. As we explore and learn, Ben, Arthur and Ethan join in our passions. Ben is talented at quilling, sculpting and designing worlds on Minecraft, Arthur shares my deep love of books and Ethan has been developing his drawing skills working alongside me with paper and pencil or his ipad drawing app. David has introduced them to the art of bushcrafting and they have spent many hours exploring the woods behind our house. Learning is meaningful and directly related to their lives.

My sons inspire my art by being full of curiosity, imagination and joy. They brainstorm with me, listen to my stories and offer feedback on my art and writing.  I am humbled by their endless creativity.

  • What’s your preferred medium for your illustrations?

[HN] Pencil, ink and watercolor. I have not yet explored the world of digital art.

  • How is being a member of the 12×12 challenge impacting you?

The 12X12 challenge is helping to keep me motivated every day.  I have learned a great deal from the other member’s posts about writing, illustrating and the changing industry of children’s book publishing. There are times my brain feels overstuffed from all there is to learn! It’s also exciting when a member posts about a piece being accepted for publication. Those successes inspire me to keep creating my own work, to continue to improve my craft. The 12X12 group is where I connected with 5 other writers in a critique group that has been invaluable in helping me revise and polish my manuscripts.

  • What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

[HN] I grew up in the 70’s and the books that I loved best all had pencil or ink drawings with washes of color. A Bag Full of Nothing, Ultra-Violet Catastrophe, and An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball are all still on my bookshelf. I was drawn to the Holly Hobbie art and had a set of Holly Hobbie sheets that I used to study when I went to bed.

  • What does your workspace look like? 

[HN] My current workspace is a desk in the corner of the living room, although I do have a studio upstairs. This allows me to be available to my boys as I paint and sketch. It also keeps everything easily accessible for the times when they are engrossed in their own projects, wanting me close by but not directly involved in what they are doing.

  • Can you share a piece or two with us, and the process of producing them? 

[HN] The first piece is called Maypole Mice and it is ink with watercolor. I draw a detailed image in pencil, then go over it with a Prismacolor fine Line marker. After the ink dries completely, I erase any visible pencil and add in the watercolor. It has been very chilly here lately and I thought that when spring finally arrived, the animals would be celebrating!

The second piece is from the chapter book Cody Greene and the Rainbow Mystery. This work is done entirely in pencil, my favorite medium. The main character of the book is a budding artist who always has his sketchbook handy.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

  • What word best sums you up? 

[HN] I had a hard time with this question so I asked my husband. He says “incorrigible”.  I’m not sure how I feel about that!

  • If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?

[HN] Oh, there are so many places I still want to see! Ireland. I would visit Ireland.

  • What do you do for non-art related relaxation? 

[HN] Read, read, read and read.

  • Cats or dogs?

[HN] Well, we have two dogs that I love dearly, but there is something wonderful about having a purring cat on my lap.

  • If you could spend a day with one children’s book character, with whom would that be?

[HN] I have to chose two characters because they are inseparable best friends. Spending the day at Woodcock Pocket with Toot and Puddle would be lovely.

 Heather’s two published books are:

I have fairly progressive thoughts about education and so was very excited to read about your decision to go traveling with the family for 14 months. I believe this, and you commitment to unschooling, will result in a level of awe and creative expression in your boys, that too often, our educational systems can suffocate. Bushcraft is wicked! Maine has some beautiful wild parts still! I am glad you haven’t let anyone deter your from your creative path (not even a wily guidance counselor!) and I wished you success as you pursue your illustration and writing goals. Thank you for sharing you and your family’s journey with us today, Heather!
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52 Responses to Illustrator Interview- Heather Newman

  1. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor says:

    What a wonderful post. I feel so lucky to have met you Heather! I loved this interview because I got to know even more about you. Thanks so much for sharing. You are a talented artist and a great mama (not to mention a great critique partner!).

  2. So nice to get to know Heather better! I very much enjoyed hearing about your RV tour and unschooling. Though my kids are too close to graduation to start something new, I am always interested in the betterment of every child’s education! Thanks Joanna for these great interviews.

  3. This was a fantastic in-depth look at Heather’s life and art. Love the term “unschooling” and it sounds as if it’s working impressively.

    Those mice are delightful, and express the way I feel when I see the first dandelions.

    I’m so grateful that guidance counselor didn’t have her way!

    Thank you, Heather and Joanna!

  4. Fun and lovely post! *waving* Hey Heather and Joanna! What a guidance counselor! Yikes!

    Incorrigible! That’s me. Ha!!

    We’re homeschoolers/unschoolers too.

    I’m lovin’ your workspace.

  5. Lori Mozdzierz says:

    What a wonderful life it is! How lucky your boys are to have you and David to guide them on life’s journey in such a creative way ;~D

    Big fan of your work, illustrative and writing! Do you sell your art as prints online or at all?

    I am grateful the Universe brought us all together to the 12 X 12 challenge! A huge bonus – our talented brainstorming critique group — Group #4 :~D Yep, another affirmation that life is good!!!!!!

    • Joanna says:

      Wow, Group #4 is pretty cool! 12×12 is such a blessing, eh, Lori!

    • Heather says:

      Group #4 is pretty awesome, Lori!

      I don’t sell prints of my work, but it’s something I want to look into for the future. A summer project?

      Life is good and having a great group of writers and illustrators available for support and inspiration makes it even better! Love that 12X12 energy.

  6. Heather says:

    Joanna, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my adventures, family and art. I truly enjoyed answering the questions you provided and I love having the chance to explain unschooling as a positive way for kids to grow and learn. The photo of Ethan with Phyllis is one of my all time favorites of him and I’m happy you enjoyed it, too!

  7. Inspiring interview ladies. I enjoyed getting to know more about Heather as mother, traveler, artist and writer. I looked at your webpage and enjoyed seeing more of your work. I know about homeschooling, but I had not heard the term unschooling. The way you have presented it with your children is fascinating — what child wouldn’t like exploring and learning about the beauty in the world. Great way to engage their imaginations.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you, Pat, I appreciate you taking the time to look at more of my art! Unschooling falls under the general umbrella of homeschooling and it has worked very well for our family. The world has so much to offer for learning and exploration!

  8. This is a lovely interview thankyou ladies. Love your determination and strength which shows in your decisions both in your career choices and with your boys. Love the open writing space you have and your illustrations are lovely, I too love the pencil drawings.

  9. Hannah Holt says:

    The mice turned out wonderfully. Incorrigable is a compliment. After all, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” -L.T. Ulrich.

  10. Heather. It’s nice to learn more about you. The RVing sounds like a wonderful trip. If we had flowers, I would like to think the mice would be doing this here too. Thanks again Joanna for another great look at an illustrator’s life.

    • Heather says:

      The RVing was a wonderful trip and it actually helped David land his current job. An unexpected benefit! I think a lot goes on under the lush cover of spring and summer grass that we big old humans don’t ever notice.

  11. I love the story of your 18 month adventure! What great gift for your children! I love the “unschooling” idea too. This is the first time I have heard that term — and I really like the philosophy behind it!

    I am big fan of yours, Heather, and I wish you best of luck with your illustrating and writing!

    Great interview Joanna!

    • Heather says:

      Thanks, Eric! The fan feeling is mutual, your Three Ghost Friends books were well received around here.

      You would be an amazing homeschooling dad, your blog posts are full of interesting projects, ideas and books!

  12. I do not know where to start!
    1. Incorrigible – one of my favorite words and favorite ways to be.
    2. Holly Hobby – I had a calendar or card set and drew every single one of those things with colored pencil.
    3. Unschooling – Dream! I work closely with a developer of homeschool materials and will be homeschooling the boys for English spelling and reading, and we have decided not to send them to preschool…but I just love the idea of unschooling.
    4. Your family sounds so awesome. I would like to come stay on your couch. I will bring cake.
    5. I love the mouse holding his tail. I do that when I’m happy, too.
    6. You are a cool chick.
    7. That is all. For now.

    • Heather says:

      Renee, you make me laugh!
      1. It’s good to have company in my state of incorrigibility.
      2. Holly Hobbie probably influenced the artistic taste of thousands of little girls in the 1970’s.
      3. Unschooling is incredible and I am so grateful to have discovered it. It’s great that your boys will be home with you guys instead of preschool! What company do you work with?
      4. You can come visit anytime and I’ll even give you a real bed to sleep in! You must bring cake, once offered it can never be unsaid.
      5. I hold my tail when I’m happy, too. It embarrasses my sons when I forget and do it in public.
      6. You are pretty cool yourself.
      7. Thank you!

  13. What a great interview! I loved learning more about Heather, and I’m totally inspired by the “unschooling” approach to learning. We value experiences over things in our family too, and I do believe that’s how kids learn best.

    And Heather, I had Hollie Hobbie bedspreads in my room as a child of the 70s! 🙂

    • Heather says:

      Things come and go, but experiences you get to keep your whole life long. Unschooling has been wonderful for my boys and our entire family.

      I think only a child of the 70’s can appreciate Holly Hobbie! I may have to hit ebay now to see if I can find some cool bedding.

  14. Tina Cho says:

    Great interview! I liked your bright mice drawing. I, too, enjoyed reading about your RV trip and unschooling. How do u think it differs from homeschooling? Congrats on your books and current WIP!

    • Heather says:

      Thank you, Tina! I’m happy you liked the mice, they’re a favorite of mine right now. 🙂

      For legal purposes (state laws) unschooling is considered to be the same as homeschooling. In practice, they are two very different approaches. Homeschoolers tend to hold the belief that kids need to follow a prescribed path for learning, that there is a set body of knowledge that needs to be instilled in a child by the age of graduation. People who homeschool recreate the school setting in the home in varying degrees with curriculum, subjects that are required, and assignments for the children to complete.

      Unschoolers believe that a child will learn what they need to know, when they need to know it without a schedule or assignments. Reading, math, writing, history and all of the other subjects taught in schools will naturally be introduced through an active, interesting life. The learning that happens is more meaningful and is better retained because it is driven by the child’s interests and passions.

      It’s a very different approach from what we have been told learning needs to look like to be successful and it can be hard to believe that it works. I was quite skeptical when I first heard of unschooling, but when school and then school at home were both unsuccessful with my boys, it was worth trying out. I was astounded by how much they learned, more than when I was trying to “teach” them, and they are happier people in general. As a parent, unschooling has created a very connected, hands-on relationship with my kids. It’s not the sit back and let them run wild situation that some news reports have presented.

      I hope I’ve answered your question, Tina. As I said, this is my soapbox topic and I can go on and on about it! If you want to know more, I am happy to answer any questions. You can contact me through my blog or website. 🙂

  15. Natalie says:

    Heather–You lead such a fascinating and inspiring life! 🙂 Your adventures on the road with your boys sound, well…”amazing.” Your art is exquisite and it is quite obvious that this is what you were born to do. I loved learning more about you! 🙂

    Joanna–Very nice interview! I enjoyed this very much.

    • Heather says:

      Thank you, Natalie! Life on the road was amazing. I miss it sometimes, but the boys were ready for something more stable so here we are in Maine. Thanks for popping in to read about it. 🙂

  16. How amazingly adventurous! A year on the road, that sounds so incredibly exciting. Two boys and home-schooled, I struggle with just the one! Oh dear. I love being a part of the small little illustrators group within 12×12, it’s been so inspirational to meet people like you who love the pictures and the words just as much as I do. Fabulous interview once again Joanna, well done.

  17. Krista says:

    Wonderful interview. I’m right there with Julie Rowen-Zoch my kids are too close to graduation to make a change. I’ve often felt that my son would have been more motivated had I taken an unschooling approach with him. Our family loves to travel and I’ve seen the difference in my teens enthusiasm for learning when we’re in a new city or country.

    • Heather says:

      Yes, close to graduation would be a tough time for a major upheaval. Schools have to rely so heavily on schedules to function efficiently, I can imagine the change of pace that travel offers would be inspiring! It is exciting to visit new places.

      • Hey Krista, I have been encouraging my kids to take a gap year, and hopefully my daughter will do just that as an exchange student in Germany this fall. We want them to have a brain-break after HS (rigorous program within the school), but my daughter was so keen on this scholarship! We’ll know if she gets it in a week or two. Has anyone else considered this type of thing for their kids?

        • Julie, I was a Rotary exchange student to Brazil for a year. I didn’t want to miss any of my HS years, so I went after I graduated. I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS HIGHLY ENOUGH. Whether the kids take their junior/senior year abroad or go after HS like I did, the experience is invaluable. Twenty-eight years later, I still consider it the most life-changing event in my life. That may be because I did not have the typical exchange student experience – mine was rife with angst and issues and bad organization and weird families – but boy, did it teach me a few things about getting along on my own.

          • I went to Germany with AFS, and although I didn’t have many troubles (after I switched families) I would have to say the same – life-changing! Hope we get to hear some of the juicy details of your experiences one day – memoir?

  18. Dana Carey says:

    Thanks so much, Heather & Joanna for this interview. Nice to get to know a little about you, Heather. The Mice Maypole is beautiful and a very fun idea.

  19. Great interview, Heather! I look forward to meeting you IRL next weekend at the NESCBWI conference!

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the maypole mice!

  20. Hi Joanna and Heather, what a truly inspiring story and a beautiful interview. To be that courageous to pack up your bags and travel for more than a year, kids in tow, the whole nine yards, wow, that is both scary and joyful, I imagine. It sounds like a truly enriching experience that has undoubtedly made the kids learn even more valuable things in how they relate to the environment and how interconnected all beings are in this planet. The artwork is gorgeous too! 🙂 And yes, I agree with Heather about pastimes: read, read, read indeed! 🙂

  21. Such a fabulous post! Thank you Joanna and Heather! Heather, am deeply envious that you got to travel for 14 months with your family and see and experience so many amazing things – enough to keep you writing for decades 🙂 Your art is exquisite – just so beautiful! And I love Toot and Puddle also 🙂 I knew I would love reading this and have had it bookmarked for ages – sorry to just finally be getting around to it today!

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