I think it was through a mutual friend, Lauren Castillo, that I began following Lori and her work on social media. I have to say through our FB interactions, I feel like I already know here but that isn’t the case. But don’t worry, we are already planning to get together in Brooklyn for a coffee as soon as we can!
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[LR] Author/illustrator. I usually begin with words. Sometimes a drawing will spark an idea, but I still try to flesh out the words first. I get to a certain point in the manuscript when I’m ready to draw thumbnails, and then the process becomes more fluid with words and images at the same time. I remove a lot of the words at that point because the art says so much!
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[LR] My entire family is born and bred in the NY tri-state area. I grew up on Long Island, and have been living in Brooklyn for the past 15-ish years. New York City is my true love — so many unique things happen in this city that don’t happen elsewhere. Those moments become the start of great stories.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[LR] I was an “art kid.” Legend has it I was drawing and writing my name before I could speak. And I rocked my Jon Gnagy art set! In middle school, I got commissions from my classmates to make their campaign posters for class president. In college, I studied graphic design and marketing. For the next 17 years, I worked as a designer and then creative director for various media companies. During that time, I got married, had my two children, and advanced in my roles at work. That left no time for drawing and I stopped for a long time — but I gained invaluable experience in business and management. In October 2013, my husband, who teaches in the MFA Illustration program at School of Visual Arts, and I took our boys on a trip to The Met with some very talented illustrator friends. I was so intimidated! All of us sketched together in the European sculpture garden and it was like I reawakened a dormant part of myself. I started drawing again and taking coursework in children’s books. I became obsessed with it and did my book projects late at night after work and after the kids’ bedtime. A few months later, I took a 4-day intensive workshop at Highlights Foundation that really changed everything. A lot started happening in a very short time.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[LR] My sketches are all over the place. Sometimes pencil, sometimes marker, but always on the cheapest paper possible so it’s not scary to throw away. And by cheap I mean a ream for $6.99! I like to scan sketches and then Frankenstein things together digitalIy to work out scale and composition. For final art, I work by hand in ink and watercolor, and then composite things digitally in Photoshop. Because of my design background, I like having a lot of control in my work and this process allows that. I shudder to think back to the days when Photoshop had no layers!
[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art and stories?
[LR] Urban environments are a common setting. In A HOP IS UP, written by Kristy Dempsey and coming 2016 from Bloomsbury, the characters experience and see a lot of lively movements around their city neighborhood. In PAX AND THE PIGEON, coming 2017 from S&S/Paula Wiseman, city boy Pax befriends a pigeon he sees in the park on the way to school. My most recent announcement was BUNNY’S STAYCATION, coming 2017 from Scholastic. Bunny doesn’t live in the city, but does deal with the very modern issue of a mother who travels a lot for work. This was a 2-book deal, so my hope is that Bunny and family will continue with more stories that reflect today’s busy families.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them? (Maybe a sneak peek at some of the art in one or more of your three picture books coming out in 2016 and 2017?)
[LR] Here is one of my final art dummies and a spread and sketch from A HOP IS UP, and some early character work for BUNNY’S STAYCATION.
[JM] How did you connect with your agent, Lori Kilkelly, at Rodeen Literary Management?
[LR] Our dear friend, Lauren Castillo, is represented by Paul Rodeen and connected me with Lori K. I fondly call her “Agent Lori” to differentiate between the two of us! Lauren had the keen sense to know that Agent Lori and I would connect well. At first, I wasn’t totally sure if she was interested in representing me, or was just giving me advice as a courtesy to Lauren. Such a newb mistake! But we’ve been together ever since. Agent Lori has been an invaluable professional partner and friend.
[JM] Lauren Castillo is such a gem! What does your workspace look like?
[LR] I left my corporate job in March 2015 to work on my books and do freelance design full time. I’m part of a collaborative workspace in Brooklyn called Friends Work Here, which is a curated community of 30 creatives — photographers, designers, writers, filmmakers and more. It has great energy and is a wonderful place to come to every day.
[JM] Love to read stories of creatives who make it work full time! What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[LR] Kid art all the way! My sons are 8 and 5 and create the most amazing artwork. I don’t freak out about adhesives on the walls, either (except for that one time when they used permanent double sided tape.) The world would be a happier place if all walls were covered in kid art.
[JM] Sweet! Can you share about your recent family street art project?
[LR] The boys and I walked around the neighborhood collecting leaves, sticks, and rocks, and then painted faces on them. But the most fun part was returning them BACK to the neighborhood after they dried! We left the painted pieces in places where people would see them. The boys were really giddy with excitement to think about how happy someone would feel to find such a funny treasure. A local Brooklyn art gallery, The Invisible Dog, found one and posted it on Instagram. That blew their minds.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world? [LR] Brooklyn Bridge Park has the best view, of course. This photo was taken by my husband when we had a rare day off from the kids. Don’t I look like I miss them?
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[LR] Birds. My childhood pet was a parrot named Wally. I love birds!
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[LR] I won the 5th grade spelling bee on the word “bivouac.”
[JM] First paid job after high school?
I appeared as Big Bird (see the bird-loving theme, here?) and Bingo the Clown at The [LR] Ground Round family restaurant.
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[LR] Whatever is within arm’s reach!
Thanks so much, Lori, and I love how your creativity just seems to overflow into every aspect of your life. Looking forward to getting together. To your continued success!