Illustrator Interview – Lisa Jahn-Clough

dogs     I confess that after my trip to Portland, Maine, this summer and falling in love with the area, when I noticed on FB that Lisa spends part of her year there, I thought I should invite her onto the blog! Following on from Rebecca Emberley’s interview last week, I think you will enjoy seeing even more collaboration in today’s post as well. Is this a trend?   And a dad who studied lemmings. How cool is that?

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[LJC] Author and illustrator, although I don’t do as much illustrating as I used to. My most recent picture books (the early reader series, Petal and Poppy) are fantastically illustrated by my husband. When I do one of my own picture books, they usually begin with a character and a theme that I might jot down with words. Then I will try to illustrate that character. In the case of my first picture book, Alicia Has a Bad Day, she began as an illustrated character first—actually she was a pair of hand-made paper earrings that I made for a friend, and then I put her into a story So it’s hard to say—it differs with a bit each book, and they kind of come hand in hand.

[JM] I love that Alicia was first a hand-made earring!                                            Where are you from, Lisa, and how has that influenced your work?

[LJC] I was born on a farm in Rhode Island near the ocean. We had goats, sheep, chickens, cats, dogs, and a monkey. I used to wander off and sit on a big rock under the willow tree and make-up stories that I would later tell to the goats. I was alone a lot, but fairly content with my family, the animals and my imagination. Later we moved to Maine and I spent a lot of time on an island doing the same thing (without the animals). I lived in Norway for a couple of years as a very young child while my father studied lemmings in the tundra. I like to think all of these places play a role in my work in terms of my themes of childhood freedom, loneliness and imagination.

While my picture books never name a place, most of them are in somewhat rural, woodsy areas and the characters have room to roam. Except for my picture book, Little Dog, which is rooted very much in Puerto Rico (where my mother now lives and where both my dogs came from).

All three of my novels take place in a made-up town in Maine.

[JM] Oo, adopted Puerto Rican pooches, how cool!                                                    Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[LJC] This is a very long story, because I am still in the beginnings of my journey as an artist, even though I began painting and drawing as soon as I could grip an implement. But the short version begins with a memory from when I was about three. I couldn’t sleep and my mother (a painter) gave me a crayon and paper and told me to draw something to help me sleep. I was still awake when she left and I’d filled the paper, so I started making marks all over the wall next to my bed. The next day, when my mother saw what I’d done she asked me to tell her about my drawings. It was then I realized that one of the marks looked like a lower-case “a” and another one looked like a capital “L” and those were two letters in my name. I realized I was writing as well as drawing. Those marks remained on my bedroom wall until we moved.

[JM] How does picture book illustration differ from creating graphic comic book art in your process?

[LJC] If you are referring to my recent comic-book early reader series, well those are illustrated by my husband, so my process is the creation of the story and script. His style is much more versatile than mine, and he can create a fun, cartoon, comic-book type of art by hand or on the computer. My illustration is very thick and painterly, and only done by hand. Although I have tried doing comic books, they tend to be in that same thick, sloppy style and don’t work out so well. I like the mess of paint too much.

[JM] Do you ever sketch any of your YA characters or settings for your own story development?

[LJC] No. I am not very good at drawing realistic people. The closest I came was with my novel, Me, Penelope. Penelope discovers a talent for art in the book, and each chapter has a line drawing of a heart-shaped image, supposedly done by her. Those are my illustrations. Also I did the illustration for the hardcover, which is a series of ink hearts over a painted purple background. I had a lot of fun doing these.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[LJC] Hands down I prefer gouache. Occasionally I try other things, like watercolor, acrylic, pastel, but I always come back to gouache. Sometimes I add a little line or shading of colored pencil over it for variation.

1 felicity-cordelia balloon_Page_06

1 felicity-cordelia balloon_Page_06

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[LJC] As I said before these seems to be a recurring theme of loneliness in my books, along with finding love. The character that seems to recur over and over is Alicia from my very first book published in 1994 and still in print! She was really the beginning of my career in the publishing world and had a long incarnation before that. I use her for all my self-portraits and signatures, along with her little, yellow dog, Neptune.

I do tend to get very attached to my characters. I have three books about Alicia, and three books about Simon and Molly.

collection of my pic books

collection of my pic books

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[LJC] I live in two places. My creative home is my yellow, elf house in downtown Portland, Maine. I have a cozy studio off the kitchen, although I also work in the kitchen, the living room and when weather permits, in the tiny yard. I have a lot of books, art, toys and tchotchkes around—stuff from my childhood, stuff I’ve inherited or been given or collected over the years. Although I have a love-hate relationship with “clutter” I find having these things around helps my work quite a lot and makes me happy.

house where I work

Studio Wall

Studio Wall

During the academic year my husband and I rent a house in southern NJ (the part with trees) across from a cornfield. I don’t do as much creative work there since I am a full-time professor, but when I do I spread everything on the kitchen table and make a big mess.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[LJC] These days, I’ve been collaborating with my husband on comic-style books—the Petal and Poppy series, as well as a couple of other works-in-progress. I am writing the text in a script format, like a screenplay, and then he does the art. We go back and forth a bit in the process. It’s been working out quite well. We both still maintain our separate writing and illustrating paths, but it’s nice to have a shared one as well.


My own work always been a strange and illusive process, which is part of what I love about it. I began a new novel last summer, as well as a picture book about a little queen. When, or if ,these works will be finished or published is an unknown.

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[LJC] In the house in Maine I have a lot of my mother’s paintings, along with friends of hers—many of them Monhegan artists (the island in Maine where I spent many of my childhood summers.) Also, my husband’s paper sculpture work from his early days as an editorial illustrator, and a lot of books, toys and tchotchkes, which I consider art.

living room_work room

living room_work room

living room art

living room art

Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                         JM: Name the first thing that comes to mind:

a)    Fish: Snorkeling off of Culebra, Puerto Rico

b)   Chrome: Yellow

c)    Park: walking with my dogs.

d)   Grandma: yikes! Nothing comes to mind with this one. I never had a “grandma”— only one grandfather who was so formal he even wore his tie to breakfast.

e)    Holy Grail:   Monty Python

f)     Blue: Jumping into the ocean on a perfect summer day.

g)    Contagious: Ebola

h)   Port: My father trying to teach me how to sail (because of Port and Starboard)

i)     Sphere: A circular form—for example, the shape of Alicia’s head.

j)     Ally: Friend

You can find out more about Lisa on her website:, and if you are in the Portland, Maine area, don’t miss an upcoming show for the 20th anniversary exhibition of her first book, Alicia Has a Bad Day (HMH, 1994)

alicia invite1

Thanks so much for joining us and I enjoyed reading about someone who dabbles in stories for a wide range of ages! To your continued success.

Illustrator Interview – Rebecca Emberley

Spider jacket iconI discovered Rebecca’s work through participating in her crowd-funding for her ITSY BITSY SPIDER book. By the way, as of two weeks ago, in addition to its print format, this story is is now an interactive book app for the iPad with Little Bahalia Press! Here’s the link. I have always been intrigued by collaborative projects and Rebecca is such a great example of this. (The best thing about self-publishing my picture book was the collaboration with illustrator, Maja Sereda.) 

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[RE] I do both, but usually start with a concept. I have illustrated books for which the finished text came later..

[JM] Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

[RE] I am from a family of artists and that definitely influenced my work! I grew up in New England in a 300 year old house with lots of learning and lots of art going on. However, I was raised to see art as a job, it was the work we did. Living that way is very integrated.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[RE] It was always there – I was introduced and trained by both my parents (they met in art school, one an illustrator and one in fashion design) in everything from oils to sewing – I made shoes, a sailboat, went through silversmithing, copper enameling, collage, watercolor, life drawing, oil and acrylic, batik, embroidery, you name it, we did it. I didn’t buy a greeting card until I was in my 20’s…and I went on this journey with my brother Michael, who is also an illustrator. Off time if you call it that was spent on sports. I ran track we all skied and sailed my brother was and is an avid bike rider.

[JM] How I love the creative journey your parents introduced you to. Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[RE] I will always love collage which is the medium that I used in all my books – first paper on paper, then some found object, now cut paper scanned into the computer. I also am currently enjoying silk-screening, still sewing, some photography, surface design, I like making odd stuff – I have been illustrating for 35 years and I think I’m in the process of moving into design and away from quite as much illustration.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[RE] I’m not sure – probably someone else’s could point out to me the patterns in my work. I definitely have a color palette that recurs. I am not always character driven.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[RE] Sure, everything I publish now is created the same way. I damaged my right hand from repeated years of using scissors and an exacto knife to “draw”. The last book illustrated that way I had to soak my hand in ice once an hour. I knew that couldn’t last…I drifted for awhile, which then leads to your next question about collaboration. My father had been trying to get me to use a computer for years and I resisted. I still don’t have a loving relationship with the computer, but I am grateful for it.

With my father as my tech guide I worked out a process where I can cut much larger looser shapes out of paper then scan them into the computer, color them and create the art. My brain works oddly in that, from the shapes, I can see the art without actually connecting them.

Here’s a look at the book I just finished – it’s a large book of paper party goods hopefully the beginning of a long series! These 4 shots are from my latest book; Party in a Book – Spots, Dots and Stripes.





sketches for pattern surface

sketches for pattern surface

[JM] I admire you reinventing your technique after your repetitive hand injury! Tell us a little about some of your collaborative projects.

[RE] My father and I created 10 books this way. I’m currently collaborating with others for book and book apps and I really love the collaboration process, it’s refreshing to be more outside your own head! I have collaborated with my husband Peter and daughter Adrian on songwriting which is a lot of fun.

[JM] What prompted your change of publishing model for THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER and what was the biggest lesson you learnt from this experience?

[RE] Money – I have always earned my living from books and design work. That was getting harder and harder to sustain yet the bills kept coming. Vast amounts of deep discount sales meant lower royalty rates. I could see that part of the issue with trade children’s book publishing is high overhead. I eliminated most of the overhead. Once you do that you don’t need to sell as many books, but if you do you will profit greatly. Most trade children’s books are sold through the book market. Parents will still buy books but where will they buy them? My sales are split between book, gift and fashion widening the exposure and the customer base.

It’s not for everyone. It is A LOT of admin work that I don’t really care for, but I am working out the kinks. I found a distributor that really fits my business model and my aesthetic. Working with AMMO books has been great. I published 6 books this year but plan to cut back for next year so it’s easier to focus. I’ve learned that there will always be production issues and to not worry about what everyone says you HAVE to do…it’s likely that you will succeed anyway if you have a specific plan in mind.

[JM] If you want to find out more about Rebecca’s entrepreneurial publishing, Emma Dryden interviewed Rebecca about this on her blog, drydenbks, a few months ago.

 Rebecca, what does your workspace look like?

[RE] I am currently in between studios – we are in the process of dividing our property and moving into the barn which we have been renovating and reclaiming studio space for both of to use – here is the outside:


– here is my temp desk upstairs in the barn.


What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

Painting by Maternal Grandmother

Painting by Maternal Grandmother

Self Portraits of Adrian

Self Portraits of Adrian





Puzzle Sculpture in Barn

Puzzle Sculpture in Barn

[RE] I have quite a bit here are a few of my fav’s:

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[RE] Joshua Tree, California

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[RE] Cats – down to one at the moment – and chickens

Husband, Pete and Tula the cat!

Husband, Pete and Tula the cat!

Ruby sketch made by my daughter

Ruby sketch made by my daughter





[JM] Which island in the world would you like to have a month’s creative retreat on?

[RE] Bali

[JM] One word to describe yourself?

[RE] Not possible…

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[RE] Green tea

Rebecca can be find at the following links:                                                 

[JM] One of my most exciting discoveries I have had as I have been interviewing illustrators these past three years, is how many parents and grandparents have been the ones to share their love of art with their (grand)children and create safe, encouraging spaces for them to experiment. I loved reading about the breadth of your creativity, Rebecca, and your flexibility. To your continued success.

International Dot Day – Join in the fun!


MAGICAL MOON DOT to celebrate International Dot Day 2014!

Over 1.5 million children from more than 75 countries have signed up to celebrate International Dot Day in their classrooms and individually. It is a day of COLLABORATION and CREATIVITY across the globe. Peter Reynolds says, “the theme for this year’s day is creativity, bravery and self-expression.”

Today, September 15th is the 11th anniversary of Peter H. Reynold’s international bestselling book, THE DOT, about a little girl who doesn’t think she can draw. In 2009, teacher, T.J. Shay, held the very first Dot Day celebration and shared his students’ creations with author/illustrator Peter Reynolds.

Check out the celebridots page and you can also follow International Dot Day on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtags, #dotday and #makeyourmark.

Taechingbooks has a great interview with Peter. H. Reynolds on some of the backstory for creating The Dot.