Thyra Heder – Illustrator Interview & Book Giveaway (Blog Tour for Penny & Jelly)

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I love participating in blog tours for new book releases. This is a round two for me, as I participated in Maria Gianferrari’s first Penny and Jelly release last year. When she asked me if I would like to join in again for Book #2 (PENNY AND JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS) I said, “Absolutely, but please can I interview your illustrator, Thyra Heder?” You see, every book takes a village to create! (I guess next time I will need to interview Maria’s agent or editor!) We also hope you will take part in the book giveaway at the end of this interview.

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

[TH] I’m an author and an illustrator, and when I’m writing my own books I start with pictures. Very tiny scribbly pictures.

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

[TH] I’m grew up in Cambridge, MA and have remained living in east coast cities. I love to travel, but there will always be something about a drafty wood frame house that makes me feel right at home.

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

[TH] My parents are both artists, so my beginnings as an artist literally start at the beginning. I was lucky to have two successful examples of art being a career, so even though I wasn’t sure of exactly what kind of artist I wanted to be, I never had to battle the idea that art couldn’t be a “real” job. I went to school for film and film theory and started storyboarding straight out of college which eventually led me in a roundabout way towards picture books.

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

[TH] Pencil, ink and watercolor.

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

[TH] I love drawing people, and I love drawing specific materials and objects from daily life. I get such a kick out of painting elmers glue bottles and crayola markers…I don’t know really know why. But I think recognizing something as small as a marker can be a powerful way for a kid to connect themselves to the world of the story.

[JM] Please share a piece or two with us from the new Penny and Jelly book and tell us a little about your process?



This was my first sketch for the text. It was actually a tiny drawing that I scanned and blew up in photoshop and added to. I try to draw things very fast and loose to get my first instinct out. In this case, I thought my first instinct was pretty right for the spread so I did a slightly more detailed drawing.


Then I do a sketch painting, to figure out my color and strategy. Watercolor really requires thinking before starting and I often do a bunch of sketch paintings. I often think my sketch paintings are better than the finals because they are so free. This one I loved:

PJ2_06-07 2

Then I paint a final and either I tweak in photoshop effects or use it to add other parts of new paintings if I didn’t get it right in the first one. In this case, I did both, but photoshop especially helped me boost the glowing light effect.


[JM] Which is your favorite spread/scene from this book and why?

[TH] Definitely the end spread of the slumber party.


It just looks like so much fun. Even though it was probably the hardest to paint, I was excited to tackle it. There were lots of little moments with the pets that I was looking forward to. It’s pretty rare for me that the excitement for an illustration trumps the stress, but I found myself very focussed and happy while painting this one.
Though I must mention, i loved drawing the guinea pig in the fanny pack detail. When you draw something that makes you laugh out loud in your studio it makes your day so much better.


[JM] What is it like working on a character/characters in a series? How do they evolve?

[TH] They definitely get easier! Once you know the character it is more fun to draw them doing different things, because they just kind of flow out. On the second book, I didn’t really have as many “how would she do that?” moments. I was much more confident. Jelly over time has started to feel a lot like my own dog, Toby. I don’t know how because they are a completely different size and shape, but I was obviously influenced by my studio mate and there is something Toby-ish about Jelly’s gestures in book 2. Here is Toby and his friend Lucy-the original inspiration for Jelly


[JM] At what point in the process do you start considering the design of the end pages?

[TH] Maria, the author, had the vision for the endpapers at the beginning. I often don’t come up with them until the very end.

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

[TH] My studio is always changing and is never in order. But here is what it usually looks like while I’m painting

IMG_4252and while I’m doing other things. (This is my friend Abby helping me build animal costumes)


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

[TH] Lots of art by friends and family. Lots of little objects that I think are funny.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[TH] This is so hard because they are all so different! Villa Borghese in Rome and Joshua Tree National Park are two of my absolute favorites for very different reasons…but I could probably go on and on about favorite parks. I love a good city park for people watching and state and national parks for exploring. Does the entire country of Iceland count?

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[TH] I guess I chose dogs, because I’m pretty obsessed with my own. But, also, why aren’t turtles a third choice?

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

[TH] I love watching singing competition shows. I hope that most people don’t know this about me but I think they do.

[JM] What word best sums you up?
[TH] Sneakers?

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[TH] Almonds and clementines.

You can check out more of Thyra’s work here:

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Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

The author, Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will be released in June. Her debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July, and Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails in October. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: and on Facebook.

And you can visit Penny & Jelly at their website:

Don’t Forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of this picture book (North American addresses only, please!

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7 Responses to Thyra Heder – Illustrator Interview & Book Giveaway (Blog Tour for Penny & Jelly)

  1. Great interview, Joanna!!! I love Thyra’s sketch painting for the bedroom scene–that’s one of my favorite spreads in the book.

    I also love the girl with the pet rat :).

    Thanks for hosting P&J today, and for your support!!

  2. I love the soft fuzziness of Jelly in that same sketch painting. Something about the ears – I can’t pinpoint it but he’s adorable!

  3. I agree, Cathy–it’s just stunning!! How is that a sketch painting anyway???
    <3 <3 <3 in memory of our Lucia & Storm

  4. Great interview. Very interesting to hear about Thyra’s process and to see bits from the creation of this Penny and Jelly book.

  5. That was fun reading the illustratior’s perspective in Maria’s new Penny & Jelly book as I’m always curious about how other illustrators work! The guinea pig is super cute and such a fun detail!

  6. Thanks for commenting, Teresa!!! Have you drawn any guinea pigs lately? I’m also a fan of the rat character in the story (based on our pet rat, Lucia). Have you drawn any ratties??

    Thanks again for the great interview of Thyra, Joanna 🙂

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