Illustrator Interview – Dana Carey from SCBWI France!

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I met Dana at the international gathering of the SCWBI conference in LA last year. She was the first, and only, member of SCBWI France that I have met and she was so welcoming. Sadly Paris is a heck of a long way from Nice, and Dana lives in Brittany (NW France) so we haven’t got together since. However, we have great fun following each other’s progress on blogs, twitter, FB, 12×12 etc. Dana is an amazing encourager and supporter of other artists and writers. Now wonder she is the SBWI Regional Assistant  for France! Bienvenue, Dana, sur mon blog!
  • Illustrator or author/illustrator?

Author/illustrator. I’m working on the art for picture books I’ve written but I’d like to illustrate other author’s texts. And it would be interesting to have some of my stories illustrated by other artists. (Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?!)

  • What’s your nationality and how does that and where you live now influence your art?

I’m an American living in France but my connection to the States is still strong so there is a combination of forces. The French lifestyle in general can be very inspiring: the attention to details and beauty, doing things just so– from bakery windows to how food is served. And all the museums– so many with unexpected themes: Outsider Art, magic, lace, wine, dolls, regional traditions and more. I am by nature an observer so I love taking it all in. On the American side, I’m very influenced by the storytelling (from books for all ages to television to films) and the humor.

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

I’ve always loved to draw and do all kind of crafts. Basically, I liked to make stuff. Filling a sheet of paper  with marks of some sort has always been satisfying . When I was in third grade, my story about a mommy bunny in the hospital having a baby bunny got into our school newspaper. (I used my life in my work back then– my mother was away giving birth to my little sister.) I drew a picture to accompany the text (I can still see it in my mind’s eye) so I’d say that was my first author/illustrator gig.

Other than that foray into publishing, I studied fine arts then visual communications. I worked as a graphic designer in New York and Paris then made a career change to teach English. Words and pictures!

  • What is your favorite medium for your artwork?

It depends on what I want to express. Oil paints are my favorite but I also love gouache and use it for paintings and for illustration. I’ve been using acrylics a lot in the last year and like them a lot. I’ve also returned to black and white and adore drawing with felt tips then using watercolors to just “colorize” them a bit. Not at all like painting.

  • Tell us a little about your involvement with SCBWI.

I’m the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI France. I started out as member and got more involved over time. I’ve worked on the Writer/illustrator retreats we’ve done twice here in Brittany and a picture book event with Sue Porter. I help organize and run our Regional conference in Paris and whatever else pops up. And I attend as many of our events as I can (I’m a bit geographically challenged on the West coast).

  • What illustrator conferences would you recommend and why?

There’s so much to get out of SCWBI conferences: craft, publishing industry know-how from professionals and meeting people who share a common interest. I haven’t yet done so but I’d like to go to a conference or workshop at the Highlights Foundation.

  • What does your workspace look like? 

I had a space in the attic of our house in Quimperlé. We moved into an apartment in Brest last year and I selfishly claimed the dining room for my studio. Our kitchen is big enough to eat in so don’t worry about my family. (Be selfish but reasonable for your art!) I have a very old Mac that comes in handy for Photoshop and scanning. I have a beautiful oak drafting table that I brought over from New York. My Dad promised he’d buy me one when I got my first job as a graphic designer and he did.  I don’t know how he managed it but he found the best one out there. It’s solid, the kind found in New York production studios back in the day.

[Computer area where I waste time on the internet and do revisions on manuscripts.]

[Drafting table, overflowing bookshelves and in the foreground, my thinking chair.]

[Lovely “Anco Bilt” drafting table with a close up of the terrible mess I’ve been making lately.]

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

This is a final drawing for another project in black and white. I scanned it so I can try things out without worrying about the drawing.

 This is a the above drawing after adding color.

This is a different version of the same drawing painted in acrylics. (I’d be interested to know which version your readers like best, Joanna.)

  • How is being part of the 12x12in12 group impacting your work?

I’m doing a first draft each month which is good. Some months, I eke it out in the last days which just goes to show how writing can take a backseat to all the things going on in one’s life. I’m trying to balance illustration, writing, revising and submitting along with work and family so the deadline has become very important. Other than the accountability, I enjoy the exchange of information and goodwill, especially on the Facebook page. I’ve met (virtually) so many wonderful people. All of this has had a very positive impact on my work.

  • How do your French reviews of MG and YA books fit into your creative life?

It’s a great opportunity to read new books in English. Writing the marketing reports in French forces me to read in a more analytical fashion (will this suit a young French audience and why?). It’s a challenge to go beyond my personal feelings as a reader and consider the manuscript in terms of marketability. This is one of the ways agents and editors read submissions so understanding that perspective is important.

  • Five Fun Ones to Finish?

What word best sums you up?


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


What’s your favorite smell?

cinnamon: baking in apple or pumpkin pies

Cats or dogs?


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

Leo Lionni. I love his stories and the graphic qualities of his illustrations. Just imagine cutting out mice with him!

Links: (in text: picture book event with Sue Porter)

My blog: Up in the Attic Lately

twitter: @danaFR

facebook profile

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30 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Dana Carey from SCBWI France!

  1. I enjoyed learning about Dana’s life in France (am envious) and her art process. Thank you for sharing some sample of the stages of your work. I love the mouse illustrations. As far as which picture I prefer, I think I like the texture and pastel of the watercolor over the acrylic, which is very bold and bright. Lovely interview.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy about illustrators and their experience (since I am not one). Dana, I like your work space. It looks so neat. Your drafting table looks more like my work space, except yours have COLOR!

  3. Great interview, Joanna and Dana! I always enjoy learning more about our fellow 12x12ers. Dana, your art is absolutely beautiful! I LOVE those mice 🙂

  4. Great interview! Dana, I love the mouse on the staircase piece!

  5. Sue Porter says:

    Dana is so modest, with loads of strings to her bow, she taught at a school for Architecture in Paris as well! PS I love the mouse on the staircase too!

  6. So nice to learn more about you, Dana. You are so talented. The mice on the staircase are my fave! But I did hop on over to your website and I love the Sweet Squares…of those….my fave is #9. I love it!

    Thanks, Joanna for another great interview!

  7. Dana is a hard worker with loads of talent and a great sense of humour. (Nice hair too.) Anyway, loved the interview Joanna. I have a soft spot for the mice and all the work done in black and white.

    • Dana Carey says:

      Thanks, Andi! I didn’t know you felt that way about my hair (I’m puffing up the curls as I type this– not easy to do.)
      I love doing the black&white illos. I remember showing you the first ones!

  8. Lori Mozdzierz says:

    Enjoyed your France side story, Dana!

    Like the depth you’ve brought to the stairs the mouse climbs.
    For the little fairy, I like the details of the lighter trees.

  9. I highly recommend the Highlights Foundation courses!

  10. Cathy Mealey says:

    Thanks Dana and Joanna!

  11. Carrie F says:

    Wonderful interview, Joanna! Dana, I really enjoyed reading more about your life and work. Your artwork is gorgeous! I especially liked the detail in the second picture of the girl and the dog. The color was not as saturated as the acrylic version, but it was easier to see the details and the dark background really put the focus on the girl and dog and what they were doing, almost like they were onstage. Beautiful!

  12. Tina Cho says:

    I enjoyed learning more about you, Dana! Great interview, Joanna.
    Dana, that’s so neat your dad bought you that desk. And I like the illustration with the girl and trees in the non-“colored” version. The details of the little house she’s building stand out more than in the full colored version.

  13. Wonderful interview Joanna! Thankyou Dana for sharing your working space with us. I enjoyed looking at the process you use for your illustrations. Loved the coloured version before acrylic colouring…. its more softer and detailed. Thanks again ladies.

    • Dana Carey says:

      In order to take pictures of my workspace I had to shove all the mess out in the hall but I was happy to do it! And I agree with you about the different versions of that illo. Thank you so much, Diane. 🙂

  14. Wonderful interview, Dana! I love the little mouse on the stairs. He will have to be a brave soul to head to the top, I think. Your watercolor version of the girl under the tree is beautiful. It feels delicate, like the fairy house she’s building. I’ve been enjoying the Sweet Squares you’ve been sharing on your blog and it’s lovely to learn a bit more about you!

  15. France is supposed to be the best place to live in the world. I do miss Europe for the interesting things you see. Dana your artwork is beautiful. The details are brilliant. I definitely prefer the middle picture of the girl and the mice are adorable.

  16. Hannah Holt says:

    Thanks Dana! My favorite quote from this article is: Be selfish but reasonable for your art! 🙂

  17. Great interview – thanks Joanna. I love the depth of the stairs picture too – both in black and white and with its light color washes. Hope to meet you one day Joanna. I lived for well over 20+ years in Senlis, near Paris, but moved last year to lively London which is arguably even more inspiring these days than Paris. Though the French kids book fair which I just blogged is my favorite fair in the world . As former international illustrator coordinator for SCBWI and one of the founding members of SCBWI France, I was lucky enough to go to the LA conference more than once, and I had fun at the NY conference this year. Do you know writer Susie Morgenstern from down your way in Nice?

    • Joanna says:

      Thanks so much for your comments, Bridget. YES, I absolutely know Susie Morgenstern. In fact, if you look back through my archives you’ll discover a funny interview with her from last year. I am in NYC at the moment, but I am still in touch with Susie! I hope we get to meet at an SCBWI conference some day. I am not attending the NY one in 2013, but I shall be hanging around and meeting up with friends! Do contact me if you are coming! Otherwise, I am also regularly back in London!

  18. JAB says:

    Lovely interview, Joanna. It unfolds and reveals the complexity of Dana, the artist
    to me, a longtime fan.
    Dana, I love the middle fairy illustration-delicate yet realistic(oaks,white birch,primroses) and the far background darkens mysteriously. The colours of the acrylic version make the background fairies pop as they watch the fairy house being built.

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