Illustrator Interview – Lori Ann Levy-Holm

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This is what I look like on the outside

This is what I look like on the outside

This is what I look like on the outside

I had the pleasure of meeting Lori Ann at the SCBWI LA conference black and white party this summer, where she was part of a dynamic Laverne & Shirley duo with Kristin Fullton. I was also thrilled to discover a few months ago that she had been selected for the prestigious Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program under the skilled guidance of EB Lewis! I think one look at her work below and you’ll see why she was chosen!

Me at the Animator's Union in Burbank

Me at the Animator’s Union in Burbank

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

I am an illustrator/author.  The drawing and painting came first. Dennis Nolan (one of my instructors from grad school) said to me, “Lori Ann, always start your books with sketches.”  I needed to clue him in that I wasn’t smart enough to do that. My worlds begin with words. The dummies come later and often change the text. I am writing mainly nonfiction picture books right now.  I am a nerd who loves to research. I marinate in lives past to dissolve the material into its essence to communicate it through words and pictures. I have several stories under the category BAWIH or Bad Ass Women in History. OK, so that isn’t really the name but it sounds great.  Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams and Dorothea Lange are three in that series with more to come.

[JM] What’s your nationality and how has this influenced your work?

I am eastern European, in other words, boring mainstream. I always wished I had an exotic genesis.  My biggest influence comes from my father.  From humble beginnings (an abandoned child from the tenements on the lower east side of Manhattan), he pulled himself out with his sharp intellect along with the encouragement from a teacher.  He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. He received a masters and doctorate from Columbia and a degree in epidemiology from John Hopkins. He was a bad ass is the best possible way.

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

I’ve always been a maker of things.  Many times along the way, I’ve tried to pretend that I wasn’t.  I went to Adelphi University to study kinesiology and worked with a physician at Dartmouth testing athletes. I’ve also had a cookie baking business and was a juried member in The League of New Hampshire Craftsman.  Now I work on creating illustrations that bring story to another level and imbue the image with emotional content.

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

If I was stranded on an island, I would wish for pencils and paper. If that wasn’t available I’d sculpt with sand and draw with sticks. In the luxury of the modern world, I’m happy with paper, pencil, and all forms of paint!  When I grow up, I want to have a big studio where I can draw, paint, felt, sew dresses, print make, animate, carve and read!

[JM] What’s your favorite painting?

OK.  The short answer is that I don’t have A favorite painting. If you made me pick one it might have to be  Jeanne Kéfer  Belgian, 1885 by Khnopff. I visit it every time I go to the Getty. I have many favorites and they are all over the world.

If I was in Pennsylvania, I would be inhaling one by either Andrew or Newell Convers Wyeth.

If I was in Boston, I’d wait until there was an open space on the couch in front of Sargent’s

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) or drooling over an Anders  Zorn.

When in Rome, I’d gladly get a crick in my neck gazing upward at Michelangelo’s ceiling.  When I went to school there, I stopped every day at Santa Maria del Popolo.  The priests gave me odd looks as I ran over to a little chapel to say my prayers to the paintings…hey…they had Jesus, I had Caravaggio.    In Vienna, I’m all over the Klimt’s.

[JM] Thanks for taking us on a little artist’s tour. Now, what does your workspace look like?

Small…one table in what used to be my son’s bedroom whose closet is filled to the ceiling with his cymbals and books.

This is not me in the foreground

This is not me in the foreground

The side of the ‘studio’ that never gets used

Burt Silverman as Statue of Liberty on my desk-1

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

I’m working with E.B. Lewis on watercolor right now. I draw a doodle every day which I find elevates my coffee experience every morning.

sketches for mentorship program

sketches for mentorship program

More sketches for mentorship

More sketches for mentorship and yes, that is Jim Averbeck!


What I am currently painting

What I am currently painting

I do a doodle a day with a bunch of other folks on facebook.  This month’s theme is underwater and the daily prompt is a letter from the alphabet.

sketch book071

[JM] What’s your motto?

Live life with gratitude and kindness.

[JM] Sweet! I know you are part of the awesome SCBWI Nevada Mentor Program, with E. B. Lewis as your swoon-worthy mentor?

I try to keep swooning to a minimum! He is a tough, but he smells good. We both attended Temple University so we share roots. He is blunt and doesn’t sugar coat anything, which I like.  I send him cookies once a month to sweeten him up.   I’ll let you know if it works.  We share a passion for painting and an intense work ethic. I’m soaking up everything he has to teach me about watercolor.

[JM] Tell us how these first few months have been shaping up for you on the program?

E.B. is the master and I am his apprentice.  Last week he said to me, “I want you to paint as well as I do.”  How much better does it get than that?  I had the pleasure of working with Jim Averbeck and David Diaz.  They have been very generous with their time and a delight with which to work.  Jim helped me refine two of my manuscripts and David consulted with me on my dummies. David told me that my images have to have air- Action, interaction and reaction.  I’ve written it on a post-it note and have it pasted to my computer screen. I love the experience and feel indebted to all the mentors for their encouragement and guidance.

[JM] Name a couple of things on your must-do-before-I-die bucket list.

  • Hike through China
  • Teach an illiterate adult to read
  • Teach drawing or art history in Rome (without getting a doctorate in Art History :-))
  • Continue to give of my gifts and celebrate the good in all on a daily basis

Five Fun Ones to Finish

1. What word best sums you up?

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

The food and the art is to die for!! (Yes!)

3. What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

I draw every morning with a large cup of beautiful coffee.

4. Cats or dogs?




What a sweetheart!

5. Which literary bad guy do you like the most?

Today it would be Jane Kenyon.

Where can we find/follow you and your work?

 Lori Ann, I love how much of your humor, goodwill, flair, discipline as well as artistic gift come across through your answers. Thankyou and to your continued success!

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12 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Lori Ann Levy-Holm

  1. Great interview Joanna. Those faces are amazing! I am in awe every time I go on the doodle page.

  2. My kindred spirit! How nice to learn more about this multi talented chick! The more I get to know, the more interested I am. <3

  3. Sylvia Liu says:

    Love this interview – every wonderful bit of your personality shows through, Lori Ann. I also love your daily doodles and look forward to seeing all the wonderful work you are doing with E.B.

  4. Jim says:

    Great interview. It was a great pleasure to meet and work with Lori at the Nevada Mentor program. (Early on you say she was selected by me for the program, but I think EB actually selected her.) in any case we were all lucky to have her there.

  5. Darshana says:

    Wonderful interview! Thank you both. 🙂

  6. Lee Gately says:

    I’ve worked with Lori Ann for almost 10 years. She is the most interesting person, with more talent in her pinky than I could muster in my whole life. Her students’ works are incredible masterpieces, and she brings energy and honesty to our campus. We absolutely LOVE and admire her.

  7. Great interview! I like the motto! 🙂

  8. Lori Ann is seriously multi-talented – we share a love of art and baking! What a wonderful and inspiring person her dad is; we should all have someone in our life like that to emulate. I’m so proud of Lori Ann and all her achievements and am thrilled to know her. 🙂

  9. Very inspiring interview with Lori Ann. Wow, to be mentored by E.B. Lewis is priceless. I love her work and know her future is very promising.

  10. Erum Jones says:

    I have the pleasure of working with Lori Ann every day! She is amazing and I so appreciate her dedication to art education. We are so blessed to have someone of her caliber and talent on our team. On a personal note, she is so much fun to be around and a force of nature on her Vespa!! RP loves Levy-Holm :)!

  11. Chris Forbes says:

    Lori Ann is a Renaissance Girl and a joy to be around. I am thrilled to see that her sphere of influence is expanding–these who allow themselves to bask in it will be better for it. Thanks for this wonderful interview. Please continue to teach, learn, draw, write, love, share, build, design, bake…

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