Deborah Cuneo – Illustrator Interview & Giveaway

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Dear blog-followers, I am back after my annual summer blog hiatus and seven weeks traveling in California and Colorado. I visited with seventeen kid lit friends during my travels, meeting some for the first time in person. And as always, all the connections were filled with authenticity, laughter and encouragement. What a wonderful community we belong to. I am thrilled to kick of my next series of interviews with Deborah Cuneo, and will be interspersing these on Tuesdays with a new travel series I will be writing. Deborah is offering a signed copy of her book and some swag to a randomly-drawn commenter on this post (North America only.)

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

[DC] Illustrator/Author and I am a very visual person, so the story always comes to me like a graphic novel playing out in my head.

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

[DC]  I was born in Brooklyn, NY and moved out to Long Island with my parents when I was six. We lived in Queens for about a year, then Huntington and eventually landed in East Northport.  I stayed there until I graduated High School. I did move away for a couple of years, but remained on Long Island. I came back to East Northport with my husband (who is also from East Northport) after we got married, and we raised our family here.

My school district has always had a strong arts program, so I was able to try a lot of different media and techniques at school.  Additionally, both my parents and my grandfather (who lived across the street) were all creatives, so I’d have to say that most of my art influence came from my home environment. I’ve also lived my whole life,  a short train ride away from one of the biggest arts and culture centers in the US… New York City!  I used to go a lot with my grandmother and Aunt when I was young and as an adult, I try to get in there as often as possible!                                    

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

[DC] As I mentioned,  a lot of my family members were creatives in some way (musicians, artists and technology) so there was always opportunity for me  to exercise my right brain from the time I was very little. My parents were super strict with free time activities, especially with television and phone, so I had extremely limited time in front of the tv (1.5 hrs a week, tops)… however, I had unlimited access to music and musical instruments, as well as traditional ( and sometimes not so traditional) art supplies, whenever I wanted them.

Aside from constantly drawing and painting, by the time I was 10, I had also dabbled in: photography, soldered together small metal sculptures, tried my hand at glass blowing, painted a huge mural on my bedroom wall and even created thousands of wooden candle sticks and other odds and ends, on my grandfathers lathe. It was those experiences that taught me to be creatively fearless.  I now see there was a method to the madness of those who inspired me, but I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling the love for all those rules at the time!

Once I moved out on my own, I still always found a way to create art, even after I had my children.  When my kids were little, I used to do custom greeting cards,  invitations and other commission work. It was a way to keep creating, make money and work around my children’s schedules. As the kids got older and went off to school, I took a teaching job, but still kept doing commission work on the side.

 I had one client that hired me to design communion cards. When she picked them up, she asked me if I was interested in doing some art for a self published book she was working on. I agreed and that was the beginning of my journey into Children’s Publishing.

[JM]  I love hearing each unique journey into children’s books. What is your preferred medium to work in?

[DC] Am I allowed to answer “ALL the art media”??!! I really do love creative play and have always experimented with different media, to create my art. In my illustration work, I’ve gone from pastels 

 to marker and colored pencil 

to acrylic and colored pencils 

to currently working in mixed media and digital 

 I honestly loved working with every one of these media and true to my nature, my sketchbook is always filled with new “experiments” waiting to find homes in future illustrations. 

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from Little Dragon and the New Baby, and the process of creating them?

 [DC] I always start with the rough sketch (some “rougher” than others!) Then I create a refined sketch by drawing all the different elements separately and scan them into Photoshop. At that point I use the tools in Photoshop to create my ” Franken-sketch” .

Once I have the final sketch nailed down,, I isolate each of the items and begin to “paint” the image with whatever I have prepared to use for the color. Sometimes it’s textures I’ve created, sometimes I’ll create a few brushes and use those…anything goes. The one thing I am always consistent with is;  if there are elements that are present throughout a book ( a main character, the supporting character, scenery, etc…) I will work on all of them at once, for consistency’s  sake. When everything is “painted” I put it all back together for a finished piece.

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

[DC] I never had to buy my own books. My Aunt would bring me a new picture book every time she’d visit. She was responsible for my well stocked, home library. What I didn’t have at home, I got from the Library in town.  I think the first book I actually paid for myself, was a really nice sketch book!

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[DC] I actually have two studios in the house. An art studio and after I almost dumped my acrylic paints on very expensive fabric, I now have a separate quilt/fiber art studio.

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

[DC] I’ve been drawing animals since I was a little girl, so that would be a favorite character subject. I usually depict them as young children trying to navigate their way through their early life.  I’m currently working on a few new personal book projects,  two are in the same age group as Little Dragon (pre-k to 1st grade), but there is one that is a little different for me. It’s a graphic novel.  It requires a ton of art and text and I’m experimenting with the art a bit too. Truth be told, it’s all a bit intimidating, but…”creatively fearless”, right?

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

[DC] Well, we are in the process of having our entire house painted, so most of the artwork has been packed away for now. I can, however,  show you some of the art I have in my studio and a couple of pieces that have not yet been packed away. 

[JM] When do you start creating the end papers in a picture book?

[DC] I haven’t had a project where I’ve had to create proper end papers yet, but I imagine the timing would be similar to how and when I decide on which interiors to work on. I know a lot of artists work from beginning of book to end of book, in order.  I, however, tend to do it all very randomly, as the mood strikes me to work on a particular spread. I find that they come out better that way. 

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

[DC] I’d have to say my hometown park…Northport Park- Northport, NY. The park is on the water at the end of the town’s main street. Along with a large grassy area for picnics, they have a gazebo there for summer concerts and events, as well as a playground for the kids. People bring their dogs to play, there are tables for chess and checkers under the trees and benches for just relaxing and watching the different boats go by. In the later part of Spring, the town holds an art show in the park, displaying the Northport School District’s  student art. They also have a Farmer’s Market and an art fair that local artisan’s can sell their work at later on in the year. In the summer, people from all over, will dock their boat at the town dock and walk around town, to shop and/or have a meal.  I’ve lived here most of my life and although it’s changed a little over the years, the charm and appeal of this town and park never has.

[JM] Yay for local parks! Cats or dogs?

[DC] I’ve had both as furry family members because, there are so many of each in the shelters looking for their fur-ever homes. But, if I have to choose, I’d say I was more of a dog person.

Sketch and Luna

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

[DC] There are so many great places to go and new ones always popping up all the time, so it’s really hard to pick any one! For breakfast, there’s Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, a staple in that town since I was young. For lunch or dinner, you can choose from the best Italian food at Maroni’s or a wonderful Japanese restaurant called Benkei and the local hangout called Skippers Pub…all  face the harbor.  For dessert, there is an awesome bakery/coffee shop called Copenhagen Bakery, which also faces the water.  They have amazing baked goods as well as light sandwiches, soups and breakfast items. You can eat indoor or at small tables outdoors. That was probably way more than you asked for, but I wanted to cover all the meals! There are tons more however, I didn’t want to completely overload you (too late, I know). Those are just a few of my favs.

[JM] Terrific. I live up in Westchester so do get to Long Island every once in a while! What was your first paid job out of high school?

[DC] There were actually two of them at once…A book keeper during the day and a waitress in a restaurant, at night.

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

[DC] Decaf Mocha Java coffee from Porto Rico Importing Co. or a flavored tea and of course,  a sweet treat! Sometimes fruit, sometimes cakey-goodness!

Thank you so much for this opportunity to share! Answering the questions brought back a lot of fun memories and gave me some new ideas!

[JM] And in case you missed it, this march Deborah published her adorable debut picture book. Wishing you continued success in all your creative endeavors. 


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2 Responses to Deborah Cuneo – Illustrator Interview & Giveaway

  1. Marilyn Papas says:

    Fun read! I like to he description if your town and your creative process. The fact that you have two studios is wow! I love quilts! My grandmother made them from prettily printed feed sacks in the winter when she was inside on the farm. Nice!

  2. Patricia Nozell says:

    Welcome back, Joanna! And welcome to Illustrator Interview, Deborah. Your PB is adorable. Can’t wait to read it!

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