Leeza Hernandez – Illustrator Interview

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I met Leeza very early on after my arrival in New York when I went out to New Jersey for an SCBWI workshop in Princeton. We bonded over our accents & humour, and her lovely art!






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

[LH] Illustrator/author in that order. Every project has been a little different, but if it’s something I’m writing it’s usually a title that comes to me first based on a play on words. Then I ‘see’ the character and think about his/her story. I’ll go back and forth from that point between the two. If I get stuck on words, I’ll switch to sketches and so forth until I’ve fleshed out the idea. Then I’ll work up a first draft of a manuscript. When illustrating someone else’s text, I read the story a few times, put it away, let the ideas noodle, re-read the story and then start doodling—this beginning process can take up to about six weeks before I find a direction I feel good about. 

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

[LH] Even though I moved to the USA almost 20 years ago, I tend to fall back to the historical and rural surroundings of my childhood in the south of England. Not sure if that influences my work but it’s where I go first when I begin working on new projects (meditatively speaking).  

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

[LH] My dad was great at drawing even though it wasn’t his profession and my mum always had an eye for color and composition through interior design as well as the skills to teach me crafts—so whether it was sculpting with Plasticine or Play-Doh, sketching or coloring, painting, sewing or knitting, my parents always fostered my creativity and I’m so thankful to them for that.  


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

[LH] It’s a bit all over the place! Gouache or acryla-gouache when painting; pencil or micron when doodling and I love printmaking using silkscreens, blocks and lino—collage is fun, too. One book I’m currently working on is mostly painted, while another is more of a mixed media effort, plus I’m also working on large pieces for an upcoming art show (non-kidlit related) which is mostly paint and/or collage. 

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a Work in Progress, and the process of creating them?  

[LH] This is a simple step by step of a spread from THIS IS THE DAY! written by Amy Parker, published by Scholastic, that came out in March of this year.  

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

[LH] When I was about eleven years old, I was really into a Ladybird series called The Garden Gang. The books were written and illustrated by a British girl called Jayne Fisher and I recall the fascination that a girl my age was published. She inspired me to try my hand at writing stories and sketching characters but it didn’t go very far, though. Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series and anything written by Roald Dahl were also where I spent my pocket money.  

[JM] I loved so many of the ladybird series but don’t remember this one. What does your workspace look like?

[LH] Messy! 

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to? 

[LH] I’ve been drawing a lot of cats lately. Thematically, I’m drawn to tales about unlikely friendships or unsung heroes—as well as unusual or quirky animals—and plants. 

Cats in the Laundry

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

[LH] Not much, actually, because most of it is in storage. I have an old IKEA print that I’ve owned for about 22 years; a weaving that I made earlier this year and family photos. One day, I’ll hang the rest! 

[JM] How important has the SCBWI been to your artistic career? 

[LH] Oh, SCBWI has been immensely important in my career illustrating and writing books for young readers. I will always have deep gratitude to the organization. Not only have I met amazing and talented people within the industry, I’ve continually been learning and growing over the years, too. I hope that never stops. SCBWI is a gift to all of us.  

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a Work in Progress, and the process of creating them?  

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

[LH] I don’t have a favorite but I do love going to parks where I can wander and sketch. A park with plenty of activity makes for more interesting sketches or lots of open space for meditative walks. Some memorables include the Kröller Muller museum in Amsterdam, Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey and the NY Botanical Garden. 

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[LH] Cats.  

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city/town! 

[LH] It’s not in my town but if you like Indian food, definitely try Urban Spice in Edison, NJ.  

 [JM] What was your first paid job out of high school? 

[LH] I got my first paying job at the age of 14 making beds for a chambermaid (housekeeper) at a local holiday camp on Saturday mornings. 

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

[LH] Toast, cheddar and coffee—and lots of water. But if I’m on deadline I’ll drink Pepsi (fully loaded!) 

[JM] Despite being a huge fan of French cheeses, a good mature cheddar is hard to beat! Leeza, wishing you continued success, and now I need to get my hands on a copy of This is the Day.

Catch me online: leezaworks.com
Always on Instagram @leezaworks
Sometimes on Twitter @leezaworks
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