Did you go to art school?
I studied painting at the University of Montana in Missoula. I would’ve studied illustration if they had taught it there but they didn’t. I probably should’ve gone to a school with an illustration program but I was mysteriously, powerfully drawn to Missoula from suburban New York where I grew up.
How many hours a week do you work in your studio?
On a really good, productive week I spend 30 hours in my studio. If my kids are out of school I get a lot less work done. Before they were born I worked twice as much.
What materials do you use?
I sketch with mechanical pencils and these days most of my finished artwork is in gouache and ink on watercolor paper. I use india ink and a nib pen with a #56 nib. I got a light board last year and now it’s one of the most indispensable things in my studio.
How do you go about mixing colors?
I use a very limited palette - white, raw sienna, paynes gray, prussian blue, burnt umber, cadmium scarlet, and magenta - and I mix all my colors from those seven. I’ve been using the same basic palette for almost 20 years, with the exception of magenta which is an exciting new development for me. There are a lot of colors I can make by mixing those seven but a lot more that I can’t. The limited palette helps my body of work feel cohesive to me; it keep things connected.
How did you get started in the illustration world? Any tips for recent graduates?
I’m asked this a lot and always say that I’m the wrong person to ask. I didn’t study illustration in college and was a cocktail waitress and a bartender until I was in my late twenties at which point I managed to get some very low-paying editorial work which slowly, slowly blossomed into an illustration career. The reason that I got that editorial work was because I had been doing all the album and t-shirt and website art for the Decemberists, my then boyfriend’s (now husband’s) band. I also did lots of flyers for shows in Portland, Oregon, made some zines and had some art shows. This was a long time ago and I mostly worked for free or credit or trade. Any tips I have for recent graduates probably won’t put them on a fast track to illustration success but here are a few:
- Draw all the time.
- Prioritize making beautiful art over making money.
- Keep your overhead low and live simply.
How do you juggle work and being a mom?
Sometimes very poorly. But always with a lot of help. I split parenting duties with my husband. I have a very helpful mother-in-law who lives nearby. Both of my kids had part time nannies by the time they were a couple of months old. Being a mom who loves to work isn’t always pretty but I do my best to balance the two things.
How many projects are you normally working on simultaneously?
I am always working on a book and I take on little odd jobs and projects to do in the downtime - while I’m waiting to hear back from an editor with revision notes, for example. But there typically isn’t a lot of downtime so I don’t take on a lot of extra work.
Do you think it’s advantageous to live in a large city to get work?
I think it’s advantageous to live somewhere with a thriving cultural scene. Portland isn’t a large city and I’ve done fine here but I’m not sure how well I would have fared if I’d stayed in Missoula after college (though I would’ve loved to). But who knows? I certainly don’t think you need to live in New York. In fact, I think you’re probably making things harder for yourself if you do. When your rent is cheap you spend less time at your day job and more time making art. And when you’re not panicking about money you’re probably more likely to focus on making the art you want to make. Which should make you a better artist. Which should get you more work.
That said, I used to live in San Francisco where I was totally broke but happy because it was such a beautiful, exciting place. So I do understand the allure of expensive cities.
Do you sell your art?
At the moment, not really. I’m represented by Nationale, a gallery in Portland, where I have occasional exhibitions. Recently Nationale showed art from my picture book “Home”. Very limited edition prints are still available through the gallery but not originals. I also sell some prints through my own shop. You can always contact Nationale and ask to be kept abreast of available work.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another picture book I wrote for Candlewick Press. After that I’ll be working on a couple more collaborations with Colin Meloy, my husband and author of the Wildwood Chronicles. But it’s all totally TOP SECRET.
What are some of your favorite books?
- A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
- Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
- People by BlexBolex
- Shaker Lane by Alice and Martin Provensen
- The Amazing Bone by William Steig
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
- Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
- The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
- The Narnia Chronicles (most of them anyway) by C.S. Lewis
- Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer
- Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset
- Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
Who are some of your favorite artists?
- Ben Shahn
- Alice and Martin Provensen
- Ivan Bilibin
- William Blake
- Eric Ravilious
- Tove Jansson
- Pieter Brueghel the Elder
- Tomi Ungerer
- Maurice Sendak
- Saul Steinberg
- Taro Gomi
- Pauline Baynes