Judith Byron Schachner – Illustrator Interview

Spread the love

The first SKIPPYJON JONES was published in 2001, the year I became a  children’s librarian. I credit this cheeky kitty and its creator, at least in part, with me falling in love again with children’s literature and becoming a writer. Recently I had been noticing Ashley Wolf and Denise Fleming raving a both a new illustrators workshop they will be offering at Highlights starting on March 31st, and I felt pretty remiss that I hadn’t yet had their guest presenter on MIss Marple’s Musings. So, welcome Ms Schachner!

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

[JBS] I begin with a title – always the title. And then I rock back and forth between words and images. But all of this happens within what I call a character bible.

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

[JBS] I was born in Waltham MA and spent my entire childhood plotting my escape.

I never liked Waltham. But it was close enough to Concord that I could ride my bike to Walden Pond. I love Concord and it’s history. I was the only one of my family not to have been born there.

One of my books is about my Great Grandmother Annie Burns Byron, she was a cook for Ralph Waldo Emerson and his family. My great grandfather was the keeper of the Old North Bridge for over 40 years. And when my father was a young lad, he worked for a relative of the Alcott’s. Dad was a walking encyclopedia of Concord lore, and I never tired of hearing his stories as we walked together through the town’s winding streets and history filled graveyards.

Both of my parents are buried right down the road from The Alcotts, Emerson, and Thoreau. New England will forever be in my heart. I would give anything to still be living there, surrounded by the ghosts of my ancestors.


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

[JBS] As a kid I made up stories about nuns – loose women – and handsome English doctors. You might say I was an exceptionally young creator of romance novels, or in my case, romance drawings. I never wrote down a word. I morphed into the characters – acting out all the parts –using different accents to voice their drama – smoking pencils and drinking water like it was champagne.


Despite a lifetime of poor report cards and horrific S.A.T. scores, Mass College Of Art took me in and spit me out with a BFA in illustration. After graduating, I became a greeting card designer (for Hallmark, among others ) to pay the bills. Then in 1979 I married a man who was willing to support my habit of creative procrastination, had two sweet daughters and finally at the age of 40 went to NYC and lied to two different editors on the same day, telling each of them that I could write as well as illustrate.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[JBS] I love mixed media – acrylics, gouache, watercolor, pastels, colored pencil and collage.

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

[JBS] I have written about my family, our pets, and imagination, on more than one occasion.






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

[JBS] The first stage in my bookmaking process is always to make a character bible – it’s where I begin developing the story, setting, plot, style and characters through the use of collage. They are very loose and totally anxiety free. Here are a few pages from my Dewey Bible. And Sarahbella’s thinking Cap is a work in progress…in Bible form of course.

[JM] How did you meet illustrators Denise Fleming and Ashley Wolf and what have you three got cooked up for your Highlights workshop next weekend?

[JBS] I heard Denise speak many years ago at a book fair. I loved her humor and warmth, but we have never had a chance to spend time together – Denise and I have become great friends on FB.

About a year ago I was a guest speaker at the author/illustrator program at Hollin’s University and that’s where I kind of fell in love with Ashley Wolf. She is a force of nature. Ashley and Denise are two artists who squeeze the life out of every minute of the day. They have no idea how much they inspire me. I am a mere slug in comparison – however, I do leave a silver trail wherever I go.

Highlights, March 2016

Highlights, March 2016 (Judy, Ashley and Denise)

I know Ashley and Denise will be doing several workshops exploring the elements of color, texture, and line. I’m going to share the wonder of character bibles and how I use them to explore all the above and more. I would suggest wearing flameproof clothing if your planning on attending – cuz’ when the three of us actually get to be in the same room for the first time – there might be a fire in the hole!

[JM] Wild! Wish I could be there! What does your workspace look like?






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

[JBS] The artwork hanging in my house is a mixture of stuff by my friends, old prints, interesting artifacts and my own illustrations.

[JM] At what point in your process do you consider the endpaper design?

[JBS] Very few of my books have endpapers – we’ve added them to the Skippy reprints. As for the endpapers in Dewey, they were one of the very first things I considered.



Four Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                               [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban…) in the country or the world?

[JBS] Walden Pond, Monument Park, Sleepy Hollow – all in Concord MA.

[JM] Walden Pond is on my bucket list. And it really isn;t too far from New York. Cats or dogs?

[JBS] Always cats. But I love dogs too. And raccoons. And otters.

cat[JM] This photo is adorable! And I am a HUGE otter fan too! Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[JBS] I am a recluse – I look both ways before I retrieve my mail, which hangs in a basket right next to my front door on a very private porch.

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[JBS] Tilted.

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

Make sure you take lots of great photos of the workshop this weekend, Judy!

This entry was posted in Illustrators, Interview, Picture Books and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Judith Byron Schachner – Illustrator Interview

  1. jama says:

    Love this! Am a big fan of Judy’s work, especially Mr. Emerson’s Cook. What a gorgeous home and studio. Thanks, both of you 🙂

  2. The ‘one thing’ was a surprise. Judy is so friendly and generous on facebook that I never would have guessed. But one thing that shines through here as well is passion. I imagine Judy falls in love a thousand times a day, with a color, a curve, and the short length of hairs on a peach! Thanks for the toes-still-under-the-covers tour, Joanna and Judy.

    • Joanna says:

      I am often wonderfully surprised by the responses to that question, but as a not quite recluse introvert, I do get it.

  3. Tina Cho says:

    Fun interview! How did u get an interview w/Judy, Joanna? I love the Skippyjon Jones books. How neat to have all that rich heritage, Judy! And I love your work space! I look forward to reading your new books!

    • Joanna says:

      In four years of inviting people to interview, only a tiny handful have said know and always because of time pressure. The vast majority are willing and wonderful.

  4. Iza Trapani says:

    Judy is amazing! I’m so happy to have spent time with her on several occasions. This was a lovely peek into her imaginative world! Wonderful interview and video. Thanks, ladies!

  5. I am not familiar with Judy’s amazing work. Her style is so distinctive and liberating. I love her imagination and use of color. I’m glad she lied about writing. Will check out her books. Great interview!

  6. Judy is hilarious! And I am willing to be friends with anyone who owns a dress form (really, I have strange obsessions). Love that Dewey Bob character bible! I need to make one. Dang, this interview makes me really sad to miss the workshop…

  7. Joanna says:

    I love her dry humor too! That workshop is going to be a blast!

  8. Linda Davick says:

    I heard her speak at the SCBWI get-together in LA a couple of years ago and she blew everybody away. Right after her talk, we all ran out and bought notebooks so we could make character bibles.

  9. Pingback: Dewey Bob – Perfect Picture Book Friday | Miss Marple's Musings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.