Illustrator Interview- Julie Rowan-Zoch

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Today’s illustrator, Julie Rowan-Zoch, and I share a linguistic passion, not simply the pleasure of speaking foreign languages but a passion for etymology, cultural expressions, semantics. I see this love of words in her written style, below, which I love.

  • Illustrator or author/illustrator? Author/Illustrator

[JRZ] What’s your nationality and where have you lived? American (with a German brain (learned), Irish heart (inherited) and Italian stomach (choice)); born and raised on Long Island, NY; studied/lived in NYC, studied/lived in Northern Germany, now in Fort Collins, CO.

  • Has any event/person/situation strongly influenced your art process?

[JRZ] Great art teachers: Fuller, Gabler and Newman, then my profs at FIT, esp. Eli Kince for Typography – 100-sketch homework assignments were common. I wish I could remember the name of my Life Drawing prof, but she was a feisty, petite and fearless molder of young minds! First day in class she said, “I bet you were the best art students at your schools. Guess what? High school is over, you’re starting out at the bottom here.” She yanked me out of my teenage ego and TAUGHT!

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

[JRZ] Crayons and coloring books, gazillions of them. I remember a very young ‘aha’ moment when Mom helped me draw a gift card. My mom didn’t draw, but she tried and she had some ‘tricks’. That impressed on me that we are all artists – you only get better if you really want to.

  • What is your favorite medium for your artwork?

[JRZ] Pencils first, I like the freedom that comes with an eraser! And after years of advertising and graphic design I learned to love the glide of a marker on smooth paper, and later the precision of digital work, though that is self-taught. I went to school with the dinosaurs, drawing type by hand. Having just started with watercolors I feel a new wave of creativity coming on. It is very frustrating to not have the tight control I am used to, but exactly that problem frees my mind in other ways, flowing into other areas – magical!

  • When you create, what comes first pictures or text?

[JRZ] May sound weird, but both. After having read much by and about Temple Grandin, I now understand more about visual thinking. Everything I think of happens in pictures, so while I am writing I am seeing, then I transfer those images to paper. And, often enough, words and ideas form as I draw.

  • Do you have some special almost unattainable ambitions as an illustrator?

[JRZ] I appreciate this question as I revel in discussions (German brain!). It is not possible to have any ambition while considering it unattainable – not for me, surely, but that probably applies to everyone. Dreams are rarely a question of I.Q. and always answered with ‘I will’.

  •  What books and/or illustrators influenced your childhood?

[JRZ] Books: Everything read to me, especially from our wonderfully inspiring elementary school librarian (Next to becoming Julius Irving, librarian was the first profession I aspired to). Later I suffered from what teacher’s dread, a lull in reading pleasure from 10 to18yrs. Artists: Chagall, Picasso, DaVinci (prints on the wall at home), Garth Williams, Joan Walsh Anglund, Charles Schultz, Roger Duvoisin, Maurice Sendalk – remembered from books on the shelf.

  • What does your workspace look like?

[JRZ] With 972 sq. ft. of living space this is my shared desk for writing and digital work. Artwork sometimes gets done in bed (!), but mostly at the living room coffee table.

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

[JRZ] Just something simple: the illo for Rena Traxel’s poetry month for the word ‘empathy’. Drew in my sketchbook, scanned it, placed that file into Adobe Illustrator app, and sort of trace with new lines (with anchors to adjust curves) created by dragging the mouse. (I want a Wacom tablet real bad!). I join some lines, creating objects, which can be filled with color. Surely this process is archaic, as is the app version I have, but I never did take a class. I like to think my digi-work remains unique because of it! Silly old bag!

Here is a watercolor ‘lesson’: I look at picture books (read approx 75-100/wk – no joke), choose an watercolor illustration to emulate (in this case from Valeri Gorbachev), then draw freehanded with a pencil onto a postcard size block of watercolor paper, use my kids’ set of Prang colors and fine line markers, and give it a go!.

  •  What has 12×12 brought to your illustration and writing? 

Incredible joy! From the unexpected support and education, I am soaked with energy and motivation. Daily FB contact acts like an electric outlet, just plug-in for more! The otherwise depressing and frustrating task of self-discipline seems effortless now. Not just from knowing others are ‘out there’ at their desks, but from knowing them. And because I like to talk about the process, it is refreshing, like water in the desert, to have others who like to do that too.

  • Five Fun Ones to Finish?
  • What word best sums you up?

[JRZ] Chameleon

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

[JRZ] Mallorca (not the tourist areas!)

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

[JRZ] Gardening, reading NF, talking with friends over a beer, watching films (penchant for British classics)

  • Cats or dogs?

[JRZ] I love both so much I couldn’t bear their eyes (esp. dogs) on leaving the house – so no pets of our own, but we do sit for and spoil others!

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

[JRZ] Hands down – Pippi Longstocking!

You can find out more about Julie’s work on her website and follow her on on Facebook,

 I have to confess I have never read Pippi! I absolutely love your “I will” attitude, Julie, and it’s going to carry you far. If I ever get to have you over for dinner, I will be sure to knock up some lasagne or gnocchi for you! Do you play scrabble in German? Love your bunnies with the kids’ watercolors! Thank you so much for sharing with us today and to you success!

PS I am very honored to be interviewed about SNOW GAMES on Darshana’s blog today, Flowering Minds.

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38 Responses to Illustrator Interview- Julie Rowan-Zoch

  1. Tina Cho says:

    Great interview, Julie and Joanna! I like your illustrations here and learning more about you! My daughter read Pippi Longstocking a couple months ago.

  2. Loved this interview with Julie. Sounds like a lot of fun to be around. Love your drawings to Julie. Thanks for sharing a little insight into Julie’s work and processes Joanna.

  3. Joanna, I love your interview format; it really allows us to get to know your subject. Julie, what a fabulous interview! It’s fun to learn more about our digital colleagues. I found it fascinating to see your sketches transformed into digital work. And those bunnies are precious.

  4. Thanks for sharing more of your journey with us Julie and your artwork. I always like seeing how a piece develops.
    Love the new banner Joanna 🙂 Wonderful interview ladies!!

  5. I am a big fan of your “digi-work”! Loved the interview!

  6. Cathy Mealey says:

    So many sweet tidbits in this interview! I love this: “My mom didn’t draw, but she tried and she had some ‘tricks’.” I loved teaching my DD how to draw a five point star and a 3D house. Those are my only tricks but *she* was impressed!

    Also love Valeri Gorbachev – illustrator of my favorite bedtime PB “Who Will Tuck Me in Tonight?”

    And finally “Dreams are rarely a question of I.Q. and always answered with ‘I will’.” That says it all – every kid needs to hear that!

    Thanks for a really fun interview!

    • Joanna says:

      Cathy, I so agree that Julie shared some great bits for us to know her a little better as a person and an artist.

    • Thanks Cathy, I am grateful for all the comments, but I like to hear if I share an appreciation for other people’s work or an activity – gives a ‘zing’ to my day! (I apologize for the late reply, but I had my signals crossed with the wrong date.)

  7. What a wonderful interview! This line in particular — “It is not possible to have any ambition while considering it unattainable” — sent me soaring to the rooftops.

    Thank you, Julie and Joanna!

  8. This was so much fun to read, Julie! DaVinci was an amazing artist and inventor…no wonder he is a favorite of yours. I just love your little bunnies…they look ready to hop into my lap! Your workspace is so neat. I wonder if it always looks like that…sigh!

  9. Dana Carey says:

    Great interview, Joanna & Julie. You read a LOT of PBs per week, Julie! And your processes are interesting. Fun stuff! Good luck with everything!

  10. Great interview ladies. It was fun getting to know you. You have some really good inspirational comments I will jot down. My favorite — ” It is not possible to have any ambition while considering it unattainable – not for me, surely, but that probably applies to everyone. Dreams are rarely a question of I.Q. and always answered with ‘I will’.”
    I knew I felt connected to you Julie — another Pippi Longstocking fan! YAY! I made the wig and all when I was a kid.

  11. Joanna says:

    I am starting to think Julie is a very quotable person, Pat!

  12. Krista says:

    Wonderful interview Joanna and Julie. I’ll look for you on Facebook.

  13. Amazing interview! I so love the illustration of the lion and mouse you shared here Julie! And I am beyond envious at being able to “see” while writing. 🙂

  14. Nice to learn more about your process and see your work Julie. Thanks for another great illustrator interview Joanna.

  15. Loved this interview! So great to hear about your process, Julie. I love those watercolor bunnies 🙂 I was interested in your description of how you think visually. I do the same, although I cannot draw – weird, huh? And I can’t believe you said Pippi Longstocking – when the kids at my school visit asked me who my favorite book character I hadn’t written was this week, I said Pippi too! 🙂

    • Susanna, you must read Temple Grandin’s books, or about her in one of Oliver Sack’s, I just can’t remember tiltles here! She recently published a MG autobiography called: Tremple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. Just got it from the library. I bet she likes Pippi too!

  16. Great interview! I loved hearing about your journey, Julie. You added so much to our A to Z Poetry Challenge with your art…Thanks!
    Best of luck!

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