Ten writers for children. All with something to say.
An Interview with Lauren Stringer
By the luck of the draw, I received the privilege of interviewing Lauren Stringer for this round of posts. Though I have enjoyed Lauren's books (and exquisite artwork) for several years now, I didn't really know much about her other than what I've learned from her website and posts (which, come to think of it, is actually quite a bit!) so I was excited to ask her some questions in an effort to gain a better glimpse into the life of this truly inspiring artist.
1. Which artists, past or contemporary, most inspire/influence your own work?
I LOVE looking at the work of other artists to inspire me and I have favorites that keep changing and evolving with my own creative needs. My studio bookshelves are filled with monographs of my favorite artists. Here is a list of the artists I return to more often than not for inspiration, in no particular order: Elizabeth Murray, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Charles Burchfield, Georgia O’Keefe, Paula Rego, David Hockney, Kiki Smith, Susan Rothenberg, Mark Rothko, Wanda Gag, Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet, Tiepolo, Coreggio, David Smith, Henry Moore, Henri Matisse, Maurice Sendak, Paul O. Zelinsky, Angella Barrett, Lizbeth Zwerger, Max Beckman, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall…
2. On your website, www.laurenstringer.com, you share a lot of fun stuff about your life and work, including the fact that it takes 1-2 years to complete a book. Can you give us a thumbnail outline of the process?
Day 1 – Accept the manuscript and write the story very large on my studio wall, so I will not lose it and I can read it over and over.
Day 2 – Begin small thumbnail sketches
Day 3-- Buy a sketchbook that fits the story. Gather found images, draw, and write down my thoughts and ideas about the story.
Week 1 -- 6-- Begin numerous storyboards to map out the 32 pages of the picture book (sometimes 48, as in Fold Me A Poem and Our Family Tree
Week 2 – 8 -- Put together a small book dummy of the picture book— send to my editor for feedback.
Anywhere from 3 to 6 months have passed. For me, most of the time in illustrating a book goes into mapping out and composing each spread with text and image.
Week 9—10 -- I wait for notes and response from my editor…
Next 6 months—Painting the originals: I prepare 150 lb. watercolor paper with layers of gesso, which I then draw and layer paint colors for the final illustrations. Sometimes it takes me two days to finish an illustration~ sometimes a week. Finished illustrations hang on the wall around the one I am working on so that there is a consistency from spread to spread. Once all of the illustrations are complete I send them to the publisher. Then I work on 3 to 5 ideas for the cover, which I submit to my editor and marketing for choosing the one they think will work best.
Year turnaround – While the book is being printed I receive proofs to okay. From proof to binding to shipping and marketing, nearly a year passes. It is an exciting time!
3. If you could collaborate with any artist from the past, who would it be?
I would love to have sat on the scaffolding next to Diego Rivera and helped paint or prepare the surface for his frescos.
4. Is there a certain time of day you feel most creative?
I am a morning person! In the morning my thoughts are open and clear. This is when I do my best writing, painting, journaling, and thinking. I cannot paint at night. My mind and body become too tired and I need the daylight to make the colors work.
5. Are there any routines or rituals you go through before working? While working?
Before beginning a new manuscript, I clean and organize my studio. All of the postcards sketches, and photos on the walls of my studio are taken down, so I can begin fresh with white walls.
On a daily basis, I wake early before the rest of my family and read with a fresh cup of coffee. I get my best reading done between 6 and 8 am. Once my kids are out the door, I make another cup of coffee and climb the stairs to my studio where I begin to paint. I try to leave something unfinished from the day before, so I can pick up where I left off without too much hesitancy. This helps me jump right back in.
6. What is most distracting to your work – Internet, chores, being stuck, something else?
The internet is the most distracting thing in my day-to-day studio life. Blogging and answering school requests take a lot of time. Answering emails in general takes a lot of time. I try to remain positive about distractions though. Something I learned when my kids were little. Even a necessary trip to the grocery store can be creative or perhaps spur an idea for a story or illustration. It is all about juggling and balancing… but I do need to get better control over the internet!
7. What type of artwork do you find most satisfying – picture book art, window art, designing/painting sets for Circus Juventas?
When I have a week with no interruptions I am happiest in the solitude of my studio. I love immersing myself in a story. As the illustrations begin to come together it is wonderful to be surrounded by their color and characters.
However, the collaboration of writing scripts and designing and painting sets for Circus Juventas satisfies the part of me that yearns for company. The energy of Circus and the performers is amazing and inspiring!
8. The sets for Circus Juventas, pictured on your website, are stunningly beautiful. What happens to this artwork after the shows are finished? (Please don’t tell me they are simply discarded!)
I just drove out of the Circus Juventas parking lot last week and saw the last of the Sawdust sets lying in the snow next to the dumpster. I am afraid to say that if the materials cannot be re-used, they are discarded. Part of the appeal of painting the sets is the ephemeral quality. The art enhances the show and once the show is over, Poof! On to the next! Very liberating! (Lying in the snow next to the dumpster? Say it isn't so! Someone in St. Paul needs to stake out that dumpster!!)
9. It sounds like you have a close relationship with your editor. Can you discuss the value of this to your work?
I have had the great fortune of working with the same editor for almost all of my books. Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books has been my editor for nearly seventeen years now. Initially, she took a great risk when she asked me to illustrate my first book, Mud in 1994. My friend, Debra Frasier, had brought her photographs of my artwork and after looking them over she decided to send me a manuscript. I had never illustrated a picture book before, but with the doors that opened and closed on my sculptures, creating a “drama” from the outside to the inside, I instinctively understood the “drama of the turning page” necessary to illustrating a picture book. When Allyn came out to visit my studio while I was working on the cover for Mud, we were both very pregnant and bumped bellies while gesturing in front of the painting. During another studio visit a year later we sat and nursed our babies while discussing Scarecrow. Creating books together, raising our sons of the same age, sharing life’s gifts and losses through the years have made our collaborations more meaningful with each new book’s adventure. Trust has been established in our working relationship, which allows for more intimacy and depth when exploring the possibilities of a story and pictures.
10. How do your own children influence and/or inspire your work?
Many of my books have dedications to my children, beginning with my first picture book, Mud: For Ruby and her toes. The manuscript arrived on a muddy day in May when I was digging in the garden with Ruby, who had just turned two. Her toes, so small and perfect had already inspired many sculptures, and now they were featured in a book about mud. Living with children and watching them play and grow, imagine and learn has greatly influenced my work. With each stage of growth and development of my own children, I reflect back to my own childhood of the same age and this weaves in and out of my books as well. The toys in Red Rubber Boot Day are the very toys both of my kids played with and I was happy to document them as I saw how quickly they were growing out of them. When I was teaching myself to fold origami, my son Cooper would come into the studio and ask to be taught how to fold a snake and a dragon, and as I showed him, I took photos of him folding. With these photos, he became the little boy in Fold Me A Poem. My kids are the children in the cardboard castle in Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs. We made so many castles and homes out of cardboard, it was wonderful to be able to paint those memories. Winter is the Warmest Season, was inspired by my son when he was six. It was his reasoning that winter was a warmer season than summer because in winter you wear warm clothes, you drink hot chocolate, and you sit by hot fires that gave me the idea for the story. By listening, watching, and learning from my children, I think I am a better picture book illustrator than I would be if I had never had children. Even though they are teenagers now, I still use photos and memories to reconnect me to a child’s point of view. I am currently working on a book that has a conversation with several stuffed animals. I have pulled my kids favorite stuffed animals from storage and have them sitting in my studio~ so they are still influencing my work, even grown-up!
(Interviewer note: Lauren sent along several pictures with her answers but I was unable to upload them into this post, so I had to suffice with the obligatory author photo. Sorry, Lauren!)