Saturday, June 15, 2019

Author and Illustrator Interview with Corinna Luyken

Happy Summer, readers! Today I bring to you an interview with author and illustrator Corinna Luyken. I first came across Corinna’s work when I read her picture book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES (Dial). The book presents the perspective of an artist who is sketching a face and then makes a “mistake.” The mistake is corrected by another mistake...and there comes more mistakes, and more corrections. As I turn the pages, the artist is slowly building a scene with the mistakes and corrections until I see the masterpiece that has come from all the mistakes. Back in March, I read this book to my child’s class for Read Across America Day and all the kids loved it.
Hello Corinna! Where were you born and raised? Where did you attend school? Did you attend art school? I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and raised there as well as San Diego and Corvallis, OR. I went to college at Middlebury College in VT. Although I didn’t go to art school, I did take as many creative writing classes as they offered, and enough art classes to get into the printmaking class! I also took a number of dance improvisation classes. There were some incredible writing and dance teachers at Middlebury, and they had as much/more of an impact on my creative process (and the books that I’ve made so far) as any art class did. 
If an aspiring illustrator cannot or isn’t able to attend art school, what advice do you have for them to continue to develop their artistic skills?
Read, read read! And draw, draw, draw! I did the bulk of my learning by studying the picture books that I loved. And it was many years before I realized that the more I drew, the better my skill at drawing was getting. But in some ways I think fear that I would never be even close to the “best” artist in the class is one of the things that kept me out of art school. It was even more years before I learned that the most important thing (much more important than natural ability) is to LOVE what you are doing, and to be curious about the process of learning new skills. This means being willing to NOT be “good" at something. Because love, curiosity and a willingness to make mistakes are essential ingredients of persistence. And with persistence comes continued learning and growth. Slow, steady growth… which is often the best kind. 
I also joined SCBWI and learned quite a bit from getting critiques of my artwork through that organization. And I also tried to listen carefully and with curiosity (instead of despair or dismissively) to the rejection letters I was getting from editors in the early years of trying to get into this field. Which helped me to realize/admit to myself that my art was not yet at a professional level. (This was 18 years ago). So I spent at least 15 years developing and growing as an artist before I signed with an agent or sold my first book. My art changed a LOT during that time.
THE BOOK OF MISTAKES has inspired me personally. My takeaway from this story is that no creative work is ever truly wasted and that we should keep on going, even when we make mistakes along the way. What is your favorite mistake as an artist? I make so many mistakes when I draw! I always have, and probably always will… I’m not sure that I have a favorite. Though each mistake that I am able to transform into something beautiful becomes my new favorite for a while. I also love doing drawing exercises with my daughter (and with kids in schools) where we take turns bumping each other’s elbows while we are drawing…and then having to turn those squiggles and awkward lines into part of the art. It’s so fun!
I read ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE (Dial), written by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by you. The story of a girl who openly doubts that her classmate owns the horse he brags about and her eventual compassion toward him shows the gears in motion when character development takes place. What work and thought processes went into illustrating ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE?  ADRIAN was both a challenge and a delight to illustrate, in part because there were no illustration notes. Marcy left it up to me to decide whether to show Adrian’s horse or not. I spent a great deal of time sketching and experimenting and wandering around my neighborhood looking at houses/yards/trees/bushes/fences, trying to figure out how I might show Adrian’s horse. It wasn’t until I started drawing tall grasses against a fence that I realized how I might be able to use negative space to show Adrian’s horse. It was the perfect way to allow the horse to simultaneously exist and not exist. 
I read MY HEART (Dial), written and illustrated by you. I was moved by your figurative language used to describe the versatility of the human heart. How did you use illustrations to conceptualize the ideas presented in MY HEART? When you were putting this story together, what did you work on first- the art work or the text?  The text came first, as a poem, and then the art followed. But as the art changed and developed (morphing from watercolor and ink into monoprint printmaking in order to bring a roughness to the art that would better balance the sweetness of the text) the text changed as well. In a few places I cut out big chunks of the text when I realized that the words were repeating the art. And I had to cut and rearrange a fair bit to make the entire book shorter by one spread. So in the end, the art and words very much influenced each other.

Who were your favorite illustrators while you were growing up?      Maud and Miska Petersham, Diane Redfield Massie, Shel Silverstein, Mark Simont, Richard Scarry, Maurice Sendak, Arnold Lobel…
Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share about?              WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS, a middle grade novel written by Carolyn Crimi (and illustrated by me) is coming out this fall. NOTHING IN COMMON is the picture book I’m in the process of illustrating right now. It's written by Kate Hoefler and is about two kids who have nothing in common… but maybe they do? It will be out Fall 2020. I'm also working on another book with Marcy Campbell and my next book as author/illustrator is called THE ARGUERS. It is about a kingdom full of people having absurd arguments… and it is SO fun to draw!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's great she gets to illustrate her own books. Most authors don't get to do both.

Chrys Fey said...

Wonderful to get to know Corinna. She had great advice for illustrators unable to go to art school.

Liz A. said...

Those sound like some great books.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Congrats to Corinna. This book sounds good just from its title.

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