apart together-linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland-cover

Linda Booth Sweeney and Ariel Rutland on APART TOGETHER

apart together-linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland-cover

On Oct. 17th Balzer & Bray released your book, APART, TOGETHER – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from?

LINDA: "I can remember the exact moment this book idea showed up.  It was during COVID,  every open spot in my house was filled with someone online, either working or taking a college or high school class.  So I hid out in the basement where no one else wanted to work. I love it down there. Darker places help concentrate my thoughts somehow.  

I was taking an online class with children’s book author Kate Messner. She gave us a writing prompt: “What do you love?  I just starting making a list:  'I LOVE piano chords. I love how one note combines with other notes to make chords. Unlike one note, you can really feel a beautiful chord.'

I kept writing: 'I love what happens when you mix colors..  Red on its own is red.  Yellow is yellows.  But together they are an entirely new color.  Orange. Magic! / I love how apart, brooks babble, but together, they ROAR!'

There was more, but when I finished, I realized all my examples were about how 'the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.' 

Was it a crazy idea to write a kids book about emergence?  Kate encouraged us to trust what we wrote.  I loved that list so much, so I decided to work on it.  Eventually I found that it could rhyme quite nicely, and then I decided to start workshopping it in my writer’s group.  

I think what sealed it was the fact that we were all apart during COVID.  My little neighbor who was three wasn’t able to play with other kids on the playground. At some level, I wanted the book to celebrate the magic of being together too.

Linda, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you decide to become a writer? 

Linda Booth Sweeney, author of APART TOGETHER, and teddy bear and Roosevelt - Our Headshot

LINDA: I’m the youngest of four kids, all born within six years of each other.  As I kid, there was a lot going on in our house.  When I was 12, my sister gave me a diary with a lock.  I loved the idea of writing whatever came to my mind and I could lock them up and keep them safe.  I highly recommend it! 

Ariel, tell me a bit about yourself. How did you decide to become a designer and illustrator? What type of work do you create?

ariel rutland-illustrator of apart together

ARIEL: I live with my husband and our three fun-loving boys (6, 3, and 1) in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. We live on a quiet tree-lined street near a walking trail along the Delaware river and a sweet downtown. It’s a lot like my cozy hometown of Metuchen, NJ, where I grew up.

Becoming a professional designer and illustrator was a natural landing along a path I started following as a child and never really veered from. As a kid I was also coloring, painting, and crafting. It was an expressive outlet for me that came naturally.

I studied art and design in college, landed a job at Martha Stewart in NYC and began my design career. Though my work was print-based, I was lucky to have a desk feet away from the craft department and textile department.

I explored a lot of hands-on art making during this time, creating surface pattern design for home goods like notebooks, wrapping paper, and pillows. From there I worked at a design studio specializing in gourmet food brands and packaging. The clients and products were incredibly varied. There was chia pudding, handmade pasta, Mexican cookies, macadamia milk and on and on.  

Ariel Rutland textiles for baby

When my 6-year old was born, I left the studio for freelance life, and today I continue print design and branding work with a handful of dear clients within the gourmet food market and in the education field.

I’m thrilled to be working with Linda again on our second book with Balzer + Bray (forthcoming). And I’m busy creating sample art for a book pitch in the new year, this one written by one of my childhood best friends.

As you know, Linda, we originally pitched the book to publishers as a manuscript, but didn’t have any luck. When I originally suggested partnering with Ariel what did you think?

LINDA: I thought that was brilliant!

If you think about it, I was trying to create pictures of change. Ariel was able to highlight the different parts like seeds, soil, sun and water, and then celebrate in a beautiful illustration what happens when those parts combine. 

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-honey interior spread

When I originally suggested partnering with Linda, Ariel, what did you think?

ARIEL: It was a dream opportunity and I said yes without hesitation!

At the time you suggested it, my freelance jobs had a strong illustration lean: creating patterns for Birchbox and illustration spots for ApartmentTherapy. My work was becoming a satisfying mix of design (order, problem solving, structure) and artistry (intuitive, full of expression, loose). I was rediscovering myself as a drawer, painter, artist and it was invigorating being on this path.

ArielRutland birchbox packaging

When you presented the manuscript, I knew I had to pursue it. I was certain it would be a positive experience, that I would learn and grow as an illustrator, no matter if there was a book deal in the end.

Ariel, what’s your process of approaching the visual expression of written text by someone else? How do you develop the illustrations?

It wasn’t an easy process! In all of my past work for clients, it was important to set aside my personal aesthetics, especially when working within an existing brand style guide.

This was the first project in my career that literally had my name on it. So, this was an opportunity to dig deep and embrace my own style.

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-foam bubbles illustration

Linda, after you collaborated with Ariel on the pitch, we got multiple offers on the book! What do you think her work brought to the table?

LINDA: When I think of Ariel’s work I think of not just brilliant color, but the masterful way she combines color. Brilliant orange next to a robin’s egg blue, hot pink next to a deep lemon yellow. 

She’s like a jazz musician except she’s riffing on the color wheel. Her drawings, her fabric, her art is clean, graphic, child-friendly, whimsical, and in many cases, inspired by nature.

What has been your experience of the writer-artist partnership? How do you complement each other?

LINDA: We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and listen to each other’s ideas.  

OK, sometimes I may have too many ideas!

Ariel and I compliment each other because she listens really well, and while she’s amazingly creative, she’s also discerning and practical, which means we ultimately pick the best ideas and then go for it!

I think it’s really interesting how the concept underlying APART, TOGETHER is reflected in your work together. The book is about how sometimes, separate things come together and result in something completely new, something that’s not 1+1=2, but rather 1+1=5, or something like that!

How would you say that this fundamental concept of “systems thinking” shows up in human collaboration?

LINDA: Absolutely. But first a story. 

2730 years ago, a philosopher named Aristotle was puzzled. He thought about the parts of a tiger, like the heart and stomach and brain. He knew that separately, the parts made a heap or pile. Together, though, they created something different: a fierce, fast, powerful Tiger.  

So he famously said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Scientists now call this “emergence.” 

Our health, the speed of your bike, the song you love, a growing garden, love between family and friends and human collaboration --  all are the result of interactions that produce something greater than the sum of the parts.    

Typically, real collaboration takes time.  If you think about little kids playing soccer, they're more like a heap or a swarm. There’s not a lot of collaboration or cooperation. 

But as they grow, they learn how to play together. And with time and practice, something new that is the result of their interactions over time begins to emerge: teamwork, cooperation, and even success.

ARIEL: The magic comes from working together.

In our case, Linda needed pictures, and my pictures couldn’t have existed without her words.

Linda, you’re actually a systems thinking expert. Why do you want to bring systems thinking to very young readers? What’s important about it?

LINDA: As adults, we intuitively understand how tightly interconnected our world is. (Certainly the last few years have demonstrated that acutely!)

Sometimes these connections and the systems that govern them can be invisible to us, though, until we take the time to really look and trace how “this” influences “that.”  

Whether you’re five or fifty-five, systems thinking begins with imagining how different parts of a system work together to produce the results we see. By doing this, we become more curious and learn to think critically about the world around us.

Early exposure to systems thinking can help children feel more confident when dealing with complex problems as they grow older. At the same time, they are practicing important abstract thinking skills like prediction, cause and effect, and transformation. These are also developing a growth mindset and building neuroplasticity!

The premise APART, TOGETHER is simple. We teach our kids about objects: Truck. Duck. Cat. Bat. We teach our kids our individuals: Mom. Dad. Grandma. Teacher.

But when do our children learn to look at interrelationships, between objects, parts or people? 

APART, TOGETHER invites children and their grownups to read, discuss, play, imagine and together, be curious about the connections that make up their world.

Having these types of conversations helps children build the muscle to see not only objects — a bee, soil, a soccer player — but to imagine how the interconnections and interactions among those objects can create something entirely new. 

Early childhood researcher and author Ellen Galinsky, in her book Mind in the Making, calls this “cognitive flexibility.” That means developing the ability not just to sort, categorize and name parts, but also to make multiple connections, a skill Galinsky notes “becomes possible during later preschool and early school-age years as the prefrontal cortex of children’s brains mature.” 

“Systems thinking” might be a new concept to some early childhood educators. How do you help them incorporate it into their work with children?

LINDA: I tend to focus on everyday scenarios and language when I teach systems thinking. 

In the book I use familiar scenarios like mixing paint, building with blocks, and playing soccer as examples of how interactions produce different results that are often quite different from or greater than the sum of their parts.

For little ones, APART TOGETHER simply asks:  what can happen TOGETHER that doesn’t happen when things (or people) are APART? 

Ariel, you have very young children yourself – the exact target audience for APART, TOGETHER! How does your experience as a mom inform what you do as a children’s book illustrator?

ARIEL: It informs everything, whether I’m conscious of it or not!

Being around these three growing humans and witness to all their developmental changes, tiny and big, has added new levels of perspective. I try and take cues from their approach to life and apply it myself. To be open, be curious, be playful, be willing to try big things and make mistakes and try again.

Kids reading apart together by linda booth sweeney and ariel rutland

This practice was essential when embarking on illustrating this book, and continues to guide me through new drawings, especially when I’m feeling stuck.

In a very literal sense, being a mother informed how I imagined another caring adult would read this book out loud to a child.

How would a child look through these pictures, what nuances might they appreciate? What can I incorporate that would spark an idea, or might prompt the adult reader to point out something to the child?

The final spread of the book (a family of birds in a nest) was very much the result of letting this mom energy flow. The ginkgo tree depicted on the page is a real tree that stands like a friendly giant in our front yard. I get a perfect view of the canopy from the window over my desk and I spent many many days looking out at it while i drew the book.

ArielRutland-ApartTogether-birds illustration

Where can people connect with you and find out more about APART, TOGETHER?

LINDA: Visit lindaboothsweeney.com/APARTTOGETHER!

ARIEL: You can find me at www.arielrutland.com and www.instagram.com/arielrutland/.


HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson on HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND

HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Tell me a bit about yourselves. You’re a married couple who collaborate on all your creative work. How did you start working together? What is your creative collaboration like?

ERIC: We started working together shortly after we started dating, actually.  We were friends for a while, and then that became a relationship, and then I was going to go on a tour under the name “Pocket Vinyl” but we still wanted to hang out, so Elizabeth decided to come along and paint on stage.

We’d auction off the paintings after the shows, and we found we actually made money doing this.  We got married a year later, and started touring full time, having a modest yet rewarding income.

We usually don’t collaborate directly, but rather next to each other. For instance, in our live show, I will play piano and sing while Elizabeth paints next to me.  We perform together, but are also doing our own thing.

Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson of Pocket Vinyl at a show

When writing our graphic novel, it was similar.  First, we tried to remember everything we could about the tour the book is about together. Then I went off and wrote the script. After that, Elizabeth took it and started illustrating. She still continually refined the story as she drew it, though.

On October 10, 2023 you launched your graphic novel, HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND – congrats!!! Tell me about the book. Where did the idea come from? What’s it about? What are some of your favorite things about it?

ERIC: The book is about a 2019 tour we did where we tried to break the world record for “Fastest to play a concert in every state in the USA”.  The record was 50 shows/states in 50 days, and for whatever reason, we both thought it was super beatable.

We did that, had a TON of adventures, and completely destroyed our mental health in the process.  Once we regained our composure and leveled off a bit, we realized the entire thing would make a great story.

Personally, my favorite thing about the book is the pacing. I feel we really nailed it, and told a story that is evenly spaced throughout its length in a satisfying way.

interior spread from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Often in graphic novels, it can hard to get the pacing right. Action sequences can happen too fast, or drama doesn’t land quite exactly, but Elizabeth nailed it all on fronts when it came with the art in that regard.  The entire thing flows very easily, and I’m really proud of that.

I love the fact that you intersperse some “how to” information in this graphic memoir: tips for other indie musicians and creative people. What are some examples of that?

ERIC: We felt it was a good opportunity to show a bit behind the scenes of how it all works being in a band on tour, and even pass on some simple tricks that go a long way.

One of my favorites is “How to pack clothes efficiently”.  We have this great folding style really saves time and space, and it was nice to spell that out step by step.  We’ve already heard from a few people that they’ve started doing it too!

"how to pack clothes efficiently" from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

One thing I’ve heard you say before is that you’ve always supported yourselves 100% through your creative work. That is really unusual. How have you been able to do it?

I don’t know! One day at a time, I guess!  I think it all comes down to what you’re willing to sacrifice. For some people, sleeping in the car on tour is not something they want to sacrifice (understandably!), but for us, we’ve probably saved several thousand dollars in hotel bills over the years because we were willing to do that.

You find all sorts of things like that to pinch pennies and save up.  It can require a lot of willpower, and convincing yourself not to buy stuff, but if you can stay on top of that, you can save a lot.

How do you balance work and art with personal life and staying mentally healthy?

Oh, I have no idea. I don’t know if I agree with the assumption of the question that we have stayed mentally healthy!

But I think taking time to rest, read a book, play a video game, go for a walk, and do things that aren’t work become more of a priority as we go. You need to let your mind rest, and when the time for work comes, you’re better prepared to handle it.

Also friends. Hang out with people.  I find that always helps.

interior panels from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND by Elizabeth Jancewicz and Eric Stevenson, a graphic novel memoir about indie band's tour across the United States

Are there any things you wish you had known when you first started your creative careers?

That you’ll fail far more than you succeed, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Are there any anecdotes or themes from HOW TO COMPLETELY LOSE YOUR MIND that you found yourselves understanding in a different way, once you’d created the book? (I ask because it seems that often the act of writing/drawing helps us “process” our experiences in a deeper way.)

It was a good lesson in “just go do it.”  We didn’t get any trophy, no acknowledgement outside of our fanbase, or any kinds of accolades once we did it. We did it because we thought it’d be fun, and it was!

It destroyed our mental health... but was also an indescribable and great experience. It was both good and bad, and it’s OK for those things to exist at the same time.  It also made us realize we’re a lot more capable in achieving things than we first thought. Sometimes being pushed to the brink of sanity teaches you just how far you can go, and while I don’t want to do it again, I know that I could, and that’s a comforting feeling.

Does that make sense?

It totally does!

The process of getting this book made was almost as dramatic as the story you tell in the book. Can you say something about the ups and downs of the publishing process?

Where to start?!

Well, there were many times we thought various publishers would take it, only to say no.

Then the publisher that bought the book got bought out and we got dropped.

Then the publisher that picked us up printed 2000 copies of the book with a missing page, which we decided to buy from them so they wouldn’t go to market that way.

It was an adventure for sure.

As to what it taught us? I have no idea. I guess that you can’t really assume anything until the book is actually out. We just try to keep our head down and keep marching forward.  There’s always a way forward, even if it’s a hard way, but it’s always there.

You’re about to embark on a really cool book tour to promote this book. What’s the plan? Where can people find out more about it?

The plan is to play in book shops, libraries, bars, and living rooms all across the country to promote this new book, and if anyone would like to come see us, check out pocketvinyl.com/tour-dates or you can find the dates on our Spotify page and pocketvinyl.bandcamp.com.

Where can people connect with you?

www.pocketvinyl.com is the best place, or you can search “Pocket Vinyl” in any search bar on the internet and I guarantee we’ll come up.  We’re easily found.



THE BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT SO SECRET CLUBHOUSE early reader funny graphic novel by Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell

Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell Spill the Secrets on BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

THE BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT SO SECRET CLUBHOUSE early reader funny graphic novel by Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell

On Oct. 10th, 2023, you’re launching book 2 in the BUMBLE BROTHERS series: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE – congrats!!! Tell us about the series, and then about this specific book.

Where did the idea come from? (I hope it’s not a secret!)

STEVE: The Bumble Brothers began as “The Duh Brothers” when a Junior High School friend and I decided to create a silly comic strip about wacky twin brothers, Christopher and Walter Duh. Many years went by and I never forgot them.

I also never forgot the amazing illustrations in my daughter’s favorite beginning reader, Two Crazy Pigs. That would be Brian Schatell, super-talented illustrator.

Brian and I met one day, discussed ideas, realized we shared an appreciation for the radio comedians, Bob and Ray. And thus the Bumble Brothers – Christopher and Walter Bumble – were born. We thought that a graphic novel would be the best format to get all the nonsensical humor across.

The origin of this book, “The Bumble Brothers: The Not-So-Secret Clubhouse”  (2nd in a three-book series) came from the idea that it would be extremely difficult for these clueless twins to keep any kind of secret – from their parents, their friends, even themselves. I also remember the thrill of having a “secret” clubhouse with a friend of mine when I was in 3rd grade. I thought the comic possibilities were limitless and went from there. 

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE - silly fight scene

BRIAN: I had actually known Steve, both personally and professionally, prior to the Bumble Brothers. One evening my wife and I ran into Steve and his daughter in a neighborhood restaurant, and he mentioned that he was working on a project that I might be interested in. Eventually he sent me a manuscript for the first book in the series, and its extreme silliness immediately appealed to me.  Also, the fact that it was a graphic novel appealed to me, as previously I had only done picture books. 

I agreed to participate and subsequently we sold the concept as a team effort, and we’re both gratified that the publisher, Reycraft Books, opted for a three-book series.  The second book continues the silliness of the first!

Kids love secrets. Are there any secrets from your own childhood that you incorporated into the book?

STEVE: Not really, but I do have a secret story that I might include in a future book. But please don’t tell my sister – she’s heard this story too many times. (This secret lasted about five minutes.)

OK, here goes…When I was in elementary school – PS 165 in Queens – I often went home for lunch. One day, my mother made fish sticks for my four-year-old sister and me. Unfortunately, they were very soggy and instead of eating them like a good boy, I flushed them down the toilet when my mom was in her bedroom.

“Don’t tell Mom,” I told my sister.

My secret quickly blew up when, after my mother returned and complimented me on eating everything on my plate, my sister exclaimed, “Mommy, Stevie flushed the fish sticks down the toilet.” 

BRIAN: A turtle features prominently in this book, and while it’s not a secret, probably very few people happen to know that I had several turtles as childhood pets.  

Interior spread with turtle of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

Interior spread (angry at turtle) of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE

Steve, do you have any secret writing techniques?

STEVE: I have a few techniques, but I’m not sure if they’re a secret or not. After coming up with the main theme and how the pIot might proceed, I always make an outline.

I also keep a document of silly puns, jokes, misconceptions, and situations – many of them I remember from my childhood. As I create the panels, I incorporate as many of these as possible.

When the script is done, I welcome input from Brian, who always improves it a lot. Our goal is to keep our 6-10 year old readers laughing and reading on every page from beginning to end.

Brian, do you have any secret art techniques?

Artistically, I’m an open book!  However, I do employ some old-fashioned techniques in creating art, at a time when many people are working 100% digitally. I’m still mostly an analog illustrator, at least as far as books go.

I sketch by hand with a pencil; revise by hand using tracing paper; and ink in final line art by hand. However, on Bumble Brothers I do add color to the illustrations digitally and use the computer to clean up and finalize images.

The way I sometimes transfer an image from a sketch to watercolor paper, via rubbing a reverse image on tracing paper, is not a secret but it is archaic.

Are there any authors, books, or other things that secretly inspire your work?

STEVE:  Regarding children’s books, I have always been a big fan of Leo Lionni. His works – ”Alexander and the Wind-up Toy,” “Swimmy,” and “Frederick” – are wise and wonderful. As a teenager, “The Catcher in the Rye” opened up the world of honest, compelling literature to me.

My inspirations for the Bumble Brothers also include my comedy heroes: Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers, Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason, and too many others to mention.

BRIAN: It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Arnold Lobel, and his Frog and Toad books have been a big influence. They’re all about character and warmth and empathy, and he does this with humor, nuance, and economy.  His stories and characters have great underlying heart, which I hope the Bumble Brothers, for all their silliness, have as well. 

A couple of other major influences are Jules Feiffer and Charles Schulz. The way they handled sequential illustrated scenes – marked by subtly shifting character expressions amid a simple unchanging backdrop – certainly informs the type of visual humor I like to employ in these graphic novels. 

One final giant influence I’ll mention is the cartoonist and author/illustrator Mark Alan Stamaty, who was my children’s book illustration teacher in college and is now a friend.  In contrast to what I took from Feiffer and Schultz, Stamaty’s work made me unafraid of using clutter when called for, and the idea of stuffing as many jokes as possible into an illustration. 

Additionally, at those times when I felt overwhelmed by the huge amount of work involved in a graphic novel, Mark was great at providing pep talks that kept me on track.

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: donuts!

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: i really want a donut

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: turn around

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: yay donuts!

Steve, you’ve said that you were a reluctant reader as a kid. Are there any secrets you can share with teachers or parents on how to get reluctant readers to enjoy reading?

STEVE: From my years working with Scholastic’s book clubs, I remember the angry letters we received for selling Captain Underpant (for off-the-wall content) and Junie B. Jones (for her ungrammatical speech). But the kids LOVED them, and for countless children they were the gateway to learning how to read and reading all kinds of books.

So, I would endorse exposing children to whatever books help them become life-long readers. Humor is a wonderful way to excite kids about reading and that’s what Brian and I are trying to do with the Bumble Brothers.

Where can people connect with each of you and find out more about BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE?

STEVE: You can connect with me through my website: www.stevemetzgerbooks.com. You can also find occasional updates about “The Bumble Brothers: The Not-So-Secret Clubhouse” on my Facebook page (@stevemetzgerbooks) and Instagram (stevemetzgerbooks).

BRIAN:  The answer to this IS A SECRET! 

Ha ha, I’m kidding, but the truth is I don’t currently have a social media page.  I can be reached via the janna.co website at https://jannaco.co/brian-schatell/

Interior spread of Steve Metzger and Brian Schatell’s funny early reader graphic novel BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE: secret handshake

Steve and Brian are working on the third volume of BUMBLE BROTHERS: BIRTH OF A SUPERHERO! In the meantime, click here for more info on BUMBLE BROTHERS: CRAZY FOR COMICS and BUMBLE BROTHERS: THE NOT-SO-SECRET CLUBHOUSE.

Also, Steve Metzger is available for school visits!


Early reader graphic novel pitch, WELCOME TO THE FOREST, by Katie Risor

Artist Spotlight: Katie Risor

TO THE END overhead view of suburban town by Katie Risor

Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you decide to become an artist?

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. My family has been in Texas for many generations, and we have a place in the hill country that has been in the family for over 100 years. So having a connection and interest in history and the privilege to be in nature a lot has really affected me personally and artistically, I think.

Texas hill country, location of Katie Risor's family ranch

The ranch house is full of paintings that my great-grandmother, Granny B, did. A lot of them of the land or other Texas countryside scenes. After my maternal grandma married in, Granny B introduced her to oil painting, which then passed down to my mom and all the way to me. My mom was a very creative person, she always had little projects or missions that she roped us in on. The process of making stuff together was always fun, no matter how it turned out.

Comics creator and illustrator Katie Risor as a young child with her mother

I think growing up like that allowed me to bypass the perfectionism that many of my artist friends suffer from and allowed me to just assume I could I do it. I always knew I wanted to have a creative career, though it’s never been a set path. I wrote stories and comics when I was young, attempted novel writing in my teens, but I didn’t learn to finish projects until college. And I came to illustration late.

The only time I really made a “decision,” though, was near the end of college, when I realized that pursuing a career in storyboarding didn’t align with the lifestyle I wanted or my creative needs. So when I began looking for illustration work, I realized that narrative illustration was the only thing I was really interested in.

Illustration from TO THE END, a middle grade graphic novel pitch by Katie Risor

What's your favorite medium, and why do you love it?

I absolutely love gouache, but I think my favorite medium right now is just graphite pencil.

Graphite pencil illustration of trees by Katie Risor

I love the texture and softness, I love scribbling and how you can always see the human touch in it. It’s so easy to get an idea down. Sometimes I feel jealous of people who do very clean inking or digital art, because I think they get more work, but I just find now joy in making that kind of stuff.

What does your workspace/studio look like? What aspects of it are most important to you?

I just finished renovating my current studio in our first house! It has hardwood floor, white walls, an L desk, and two windows. The shining star of the space is wall shelves that I built above the desk to hold all my picture books.

Studio space of Katie Risor, comics creator and illustrator, with shelf of picture books.

Having a space that is cozy, comfortable, and functional is so important to me. When I get into this space after having a temporary desk spot I felt so relieved and happy, I didn’t realize how much not having a proper space stressed me out. When I design a studio space, having my most important supplies in easy reach is my number one priority. After that, it’s lighting and aesthetics, well lit, warm and airy spaces are what I like.

Kids and bookstore illustration by Katie Risor

What tool has improved your workflow or creative process recently? (This could be anything -- an app, a plug-in, a specific brand of pen or paper, a particular software or hardware, an invigorating type of tea, whatever!)

I am obsessed with finding the ultimate painting surface and trying out supplies. I recently tried out Saunders Waterford hot press watercolor paper, and it totally reawakened my love for painting. Something about it is so nice, it seems to blend paint more easily and I really like the look of the paper texture coming through transparent paint. Sometimes I mount it onto chipboard or illustration board, but I am still on the hunt for the most cost effective and professional way to do it.

Spot illustration of fantastical house by Katie Risor

If anyone knows how to buy thick chipboard in bulk, please hit me up.

What artists, books, or other things are particularly inspiring to you right now? Where do you go when you need a dose of creative inspiration?

Honestly, right now all my creative friends give me the most inspiration.

Katie Risor with fellow kidlit creators Rivkah LaFille, Jade Vaughan, and Edna Cabcabin Moran

Whenever I meet with my critique group, go to a meet up, or talk on Discord, and get to hear see all the stuff my friends are working on, I feel a crazy boost of inspiration and motivation. If I’m feeling frustrated or down about my work, talking it out with them always helps. But if the thought of working on a project feels me with sick dread, then I know it’s time for a break.

Boys eating sandwich illustration by Katie Risor

What are some recent projects or work you’ve particularly enjoyed? What kind of work makes you really happy?

Last year, I got to work on developmental art for a preschool animation pitch. It was in a world that was right up my alley, and designing the characters was so fun.

Preschool animation concept art by Katie Risor

Any project that allows me to just be myself and do my work is a real treat. I love projects that have that special sauce, just a little delightful, surprising, funny, or spooky, that makes you feel just a little bit uncomfortable but in a fun way. And I love when stories are both funny and sad. I’ve always been drawn to stories with layers, or meta narratives.

It probably comes from reading A Series of Unfortunate Events at age 10. The idea that there is always something new to discover is theme that runs through all my work.

WELCOME TO THE FOREST early reader graphic novel concept art by Katie Risor

Swamp monster concept art for early reader graphic novel by Katie Risor

Do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

I have a lot of dream projects, haha. One big one is doing an illustrated edition or graphic novel adaptation of The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende. Both the movie and book were formative for me, and I’ve wanted to illustrate it since I was a kid.

THE NEVERENDING STORY graphic novel illustration by Katie Risor

I think at age 28 my skills have finally caught up with my vision. Other than that, I would love to work on creature design or developmental art for Henson, Sesame Street, Laika or something similar, like how Brian Fraud directed the world of Dark Crystal.

Drawing some weird doodles, then getting to see it come to life as a puppet and set? That’s the dream.

Behold the acorn fairy children's book illustration by Katie Risor

Painted illustration of kids outside by Katie Risor

Children's graphic novel full page spread illustration by Katie Risor

Early reader graphic novel pitch, WELCOME TO THE FOREST, by Katie Risor

Katie is working on two available projects: an early reader graphic novel called WELCOME TO THE FOREST (featuring adorable forest monsters!), and a middle grade contemporary fantasy graphic novel called TO THE END. Contact me for more information.

Find out more about Katie on her website, or connect with her on Instagram or TikTok.

An interview with Jennifer Holm, author of Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up, for Kids Comics Unite

Jennifer Holm Interview

Jennifer Holm is the best-selling and award-winning co-creator of the Baby Mouse, Squish, and Sunny Side Up graphic novel series, and she's also the Newbery Honor winning author of numerous middle grade novels like Our Only May Amelia, The Fourteenth Goldfish, and Turtle in Paradise.

Jennifer Holm interview, June 2020, for Kids Comics Unite

In this interview for Kids Comics Unite, we focus on how she got started in her career, her creative process, and why she branched out into graphic novels with her brother, artist Matthew Holm. She dishes on so many fascinating things:

  • Her first job in NYC, before she became a writer (it involved PeeWee’s Playhouse)
  • How she got her agent, and the unusual route she took to selling Baby Mouse to Random House
  • How her first book ended up becoming a middle grade novel (originally she thought it was an adult book)
  • Her biggest piece of advice for new authors
  • How many times she typically revises (or rewrites entirely!) a book
  • How and why she works with freelance editors, in addition to her agent and editor at her publishing house
  • The television production technique she and her brother Matt use to create graphic novels together
  • The reason why Baby Mouse is 2-color
  • Why Jenni writes for middle grade (hint: she hated being a teen)
  • The exact components of her author visits; how she makes them super interactive and fun
  • The theme she returns to over and over in her work

Jenni is well-known for being an incredibly generous creator who constantly gives back to the children's book community. This interview is a perfect example of that.

Click to view the full interview on YouTube.