Stephanie Graegin – Illustrator Interview

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Let me give you a heads up that I am reviewing Sophie’s latest book, Little Fox in the Forest for Perfect Picture Book Friday this week. It was my own personal walk through this stunning picture book that prompted me to reach out to Stephanie for an interview.



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

[SG] I’m usually an illustrator, but I have also authored/illustrated. For the latter, I usually I start with pictures as the mechanism for idea creation. My first authored book, Little Fox in the Forest is, in fact, a wordless book.

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

[SG] As a kid I lived in Chicago, Fort Wayne (Indiana), and Houston (Texas). I went to college in Baltimore (Maryland Institute College of Art), and lived for a spell in Austin. Then I moved to Brooklyn for graduate school (Pratt Institute) and I’ve been in Brooklyn ever since. I know living in cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Brooklyn, has influenced how I draw neighborhoods and homes in picture books. The neighborhoods in You Were the First, Water in the Park, and Peace is an Offering were all inspired by city living. For books that take place in more suburban areas, I often draw on places I lived in Indiana and Texas.  Fort Wayne in particular has many unique, cute houses, some of those have ended up in Forget Me Not and Super Manny Cleans Up!

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

[SG] I was a kid who liked to read, draw and build doll houses. I loved making little books as a kid—when I was 8 I won an Indiana Young Author’s award for a book I made at school about a beaver baseball team called The Magic Bats. In elementary school I knew I wanted to be either an artist or a zoo keeper. As I got older I realized that I’d prefer to draw animals over cleaning up after them. When the time came for college I decided to go to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). There I did a lot of printmaking and made a lot of books, that were, in hindsight, trying to straddle the line between Artist’s books and Children’s picture books. My artwork in college was always narrative and usually based on my childhood. In grad school at The Pratt Institute I continued my graphic arts education. I was making these huge narrative woodcuts (the largest came in at 24” x 192”) My professors and peers kept telling me I should be doing kids books. Once I graduated, I started working on a portfolio that would be better suited for kid lit. It took many years of toiling  before I had something useable. It was around this time that my big break happened. I was very fortunate that the illustration website illustrationmundo had a blog post about my work and equally as fortunate that it was seen, by my now agent, Steve Malk from Writers House.

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

[SG] Pencils, I love graphite more than any other. Recently I’ve become a fanatical devotee of Blackwing pencils. For picture book art I work in pencil on paper, which is then scanned in and colored in Photoshop. For patterning and texture not done in pencil I will use watercolor that is scanned in and added (via Photoshop) to the picture.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from LITTLE FOX IN THE FOREST, which I love, and the process of creating them?

[SG] For the uninitiated, Little Fox in the Forest is a wordless book in which a girl has her fox doll stolen by a real fox. In an effort to get back her doll, the girl along with her friend follow the fox deep into the forest where they find a magical animal world.

Little Fox in the Forest started out as a series of tiny thumbnail drawings 2 inches high. It went through many rounds of revisions with my art director, Rachael Cole and editor, Lee Wade at Schwartz & Wade (Random House). The book changed a lot over the revisions: the little fox started out as a raccoon, but changed to a fox when I started thinking about how color would interact between the main characters and the environments. With each revision the drawings became larger and more detailed, and the story became more emotionally taut. The book ended up being what I think of as a combination of a picture book and graphic novel (some of the pages borrow formatting reminiscent of a comic book).

To make the final art, my final sketches and texture layers are scanned into the computer. I then start coloring and collaging them in Photoshop.

Little Fox Blue World

Little Fox Color Tests

It took many tries to find the correct colors for the girl’s world and the magical world. After some back-and-forth with my editor and art director we decided to go with the blue toned palette, as the bright orange fox really jumps off the page when he’s in that world.
Here’s a short video that shows a spread being colored in Photoshop.

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[SG] Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I loved the Ramona books more than anything. I related to her personality so much. We also shared the same awful haircut! I remember being so excited to buy it at a school book fair.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[SG] I work out of my basement apartment in Brooklyn. It’s more of a working art studio than living quarters. It’s not very terribly photogenic, but here are some snippets.

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

[SG] We have some of my old etchings up. Here’s one of my favorites. Below is a portfolio of prints by the writer Dave Eggers.

My partner, Perry Angelora is a painter/printmaker/sculptor, so we also have some of his paintings and small scultpures around.

[JM] Wow, I love this piece by Perry (and the old record player!) At what point in the picture book creation process do you start thinking about end papers?

[SG] It’s different for every book. Some books I know immediately what the endpapers should be as soon as I read the manuscript (acorns for Hector the Collector) and some take more careful planning of what would be the right choice, and I don’t figure out until the very end of the sketching process, right before we go to finals (Little Fox in the Forest).

[JM] You were illustrator for a couple of other terrific picture books that came out this summer. What was your favorite spread for SUPER MANNY STANDS UP by Kelly DiPucchio, and why?

[SG] I love the Cafeteria scene where Manny stands up to the bully, it’s such an important moment in the story. He realizes he can be a superhero in real life, by speaking up when he sees someone being treated unfairly.

It was also really fun to draw all those critters eating lunch!

Super Manny Spread

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

[SG] I’ve lived less than a block away from Prospect Park in Park Slope, Brooklyn for about 7 years now. My favorite time to go there is right after a snowfall. It’s such a peaceful break from city life.

[JM] I lived almost opposite Prospect Park for a few months and agree about it under snow, though my favorite time is always before 9.00 am when the dogs are off leash, which segues well to my next question.            Cats or dogs?

[SG] Always a Cat person.

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

[SG] I loved to collect bugs when I was kid. I always had something in a jar— caterpillars, a praying mantis, grasshoppers…

[JM] What was your first paid job?

[SG] I was a Cashier at a neighborhood drug store when I was 15. I was miserable working there!

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

[SG] At the moment it’s apple cider and dark chocolate.

Do follow Stephanie and find out more about her work here:

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Stephanie, and I so look forward to your further publications.

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2 Responses to Stephanie Graegin – Illustrator Interview

  1. What fun to see the emergence of the story through Stephanie’s illustrations. Enjoyed the video. I had a hard time at first with wordless PBs, but have changed my mind because children use their own imaginations to create the story as they look at the illustrations. Little Fox in the Forest sounds enchanting! Great interview. Love the record player.

  2. Joanna says:

    I have become a big fan or wordless picture books, even though I can’t “read” them to a library group!

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