Lisa Brown – Illustrator Interview

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Lisa Brown Photo credit ©Kristen Sard

I invited Lisa onto Miss Marple’s Musings because I fell in love with her art for her latest collaboration—MUMMY CAT, written by Marcus Ewert! As a feline-fanatic, I this memorable story within a story set in Ancient Egypt is one I highly recommend to all (even those who don’t like cats!)

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

[LB} Author/illustrator. And so, not surprisingly, I most often have both a text and a corresponding image in my head at the same time. As I am writing the text, I am sketching out characters and environments. As I am sketching the art, I am rethinking and editing the text. Words and pictures, for me, go hand-in-hand.

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

[LB} I’m from the United States. My roots are New York, my childhood was New England, and now I live in the city of San Francisco during the year and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts during the summer. Both are foggy, blustery, by-the-sea kind of places, which are my favorite kind of places. I think I’ve been influenced by New England’s sense of history and San Francisco’s sense of adventure, and the lovely quality of light that comes through my windows wherever I am.

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

[LB} Reading and drawing have always, ALWAYS, been my very favorite things to do. My dream job, even as a little girl, was to write and draw picture books (Maurice Sendak was my childhood idol. I guess he is my adulthood idol as well.) And that’s sort of the end of the story, although I spent many years before I got to do that studying literature, history, and philosophy, xeroxing, typing, answering phones, filing, working at magazines, getting a degree in graphic design, art directing, and illustrating and making comics on the side. I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to do, all day long, exactly what I’ve always wanted to do all day long.

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

[LB} I like to experiment with a variety of different media, including digital, but I always return to pen and ink with watercolor.

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

[LB} I seem to keep drawing cats. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t even really like them. It’s something about their shape, their aloofness, and the knowing look in their eyes.

[JM] Tell us a bit about your research process for your illustrations for MUMMY CAT by Marcus Ewert (released in July of this year.)

MUMMY CAT - written by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown and published by Clarion

MUMMY CAT – written by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown and published by Clarion

[LB} Marcus gave me a printout of his manuscript along with a pile of books on Egyptian history and art. So my first step was to read a TON. When I started sketching, I kept books open in front of me and my internet browser pointed at images of the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most of the pictures in the book, as well as the color palette, are copied from actual Egyptian paintings and artifacts.

For the art itself, I used brush and ink and watercolor on paper, which was then scanned into the computer and layered with textures in Photoshop. The textured elements were made from scanning in brushstrokes, papyrus, colored and textured paper, and by using crackly photos found online.

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

[LB} Here are some pieces from my upcoming book, out in the spring from Roaring Brook, called “The Airport Book.” These were done a bit more traditionally. I sketched in pencil, and then transferred the sketches onto watercolor paper via lightboard. I created the art with brush and India ink, then added watercolor. I made little fixes in Photoshop and occasionally added background washes with digital collage.

Airport excerpt 1

Airport excerpt 1

Airport excerpt 2

Airport excerpt 2

Airport excerpt 3

Airport excerpt 3

Love these airport scenes, and can so relate to this travel experience!             [JM] What do you enjoy most about the collaborative process?

[LB} Book-making is a solitary endeavor, and I do love being and working alone. But I also adore having someone else off of whom I can bounce ideas, and whose own ideas are new and exciting. I also think that having a collaborator allows an artist to take a few more risks in their work, because they can rely on their partner-in-art to let them know if they get too crazy.

Some terrific people with whom I’ve collaborated: Marcus Ewert, Adele Griffin, Cathleen Daly, and Lemony Snicket. 

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

Lisa at Work

Lisa at Work – Photo Credit ©Kristen Sard

[LB} My studio is in the basement of a house where my best friend from high school lives with his husband, who is also an artist. It is quiet and cool, except when a certain blue jay comes and screams outside my window for hours on end.

[JM] Hah, blue jay serenades are something else, right?! I love the light you have streaming in to your studio. What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

Click on links for larger image.

[LB} What a wonderful question! I am so in love with our art collection, which includes so many pieces by illustrators I love and admire, such as Carson Ellis, Brian Selznick, Mo Willems, William Steig, Tomi Ungerer, Jon Klassen, and Lynda Barry.

Five Fun Ones to Finish? 

[JM] What’s your favorite park (state, urban or national) in the world? 

[LB} I adore Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which is right near my house. I like it best when it is at its coldest and filled with fog, and I can ride my bicycle all the way to the cold and foggy Pacific Ocean.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[LB} I can’t even reliably take care of a houseplant. I don’t know what I’d do with a cat or dog.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[LB} I took many, many years of ballet and can execute a mean curtsey.

[JM] First paid job after high school?

[LB} For my summers during college, I was a camp counselor and teacher at The Center for Creative Youth (, a wonderful program for artsy fartsy high school kids. After I graduated from college, I was a secretary, I mean, an administrative assistant. 

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

[LB} Coffee, coffee, and a little more coffee.

[JM] Man, next time I am in San Francisco, a city I love (I was there in July), we must get together for a gourmet coffee! Thank you so much for coming on Miss Marple’s Musings, Lisa, and I wish you many more wonderful collaborations and solo projects.                                                                                                

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6 Responses to Lisa Brown – Illustrator Interview

  1. My favorite tidbit in MUMMY CAT is Lisa’s decision to tuck William the Faience Hippopotamus inside the tomb!

  2. Dow Phumiruk says:

    I love the Mummy Cat cover! Thank you for sharing your work, Lisa!

  3. I recently became FB friends with Lisa through Joy Chu’s introduction so I’m delighted for this chance to get to know more about her! I love that she works in ink and watercolors (I’ve been told I should do that). I find it so funny that she doesn’t even like cats that much and yet draws them all the time. 😀 Thanks for this enlightening post on the talented Lisa Brown, Joanna! Can’t wait to check out “The Airport Book”!

    • Joanna says:

      Isn’t it great how we network in the kid lit community, Teresa. I do especially like the combination, like you, of ink and water color.

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