This Monday we’re getting a peek at the workspace of illustrator Julie Paschkis. Julie’s work has already made an appearance in this interview series because she illustrated Rachel Rodriguez’s picture books Through Georgia’s Eyes and Building on Nature.
Julie’s 26th picture book collaboration, Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian written by Margarita Engle, will be published this week. Summer Birds is a picture book biography about Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th-century naturalist who carefully observed the metamorphosis of the butterfly and documented it through her paintings to disprove centuries of scientific belief that butterflies were creatures of the devil and originated from mud. Booklist gave it a starred review and said “Joyous and inspiring, this beautiful introduction to a passionate young scientist who defied grown-ups and changed history will spark children’s own fascination with the natural world and its everyday dramas.”
Julie has also illustrated two beautiful books of poems by Julie Larios, The Yellow Elephant and Imaginary Menagerie. (The Yellow Elephant coined the phrase “red donkey tantrum” that I think would be very satisfying to use in everyday conversation. I imagine the context something like this: “Throw a red donkey tantrum if you want, but I’m not putting the Mallomars in the shopping cart.”) She illustrated Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story by Hena Khan about celebrating the month of Ramadan. Several of her picture books were written by her sister, Janet Lord, including Albert the Fix-it Man, Here Comes Grandma!, and Where is Catkin? And one of my personal favorites of her illustrated books is Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile, written by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert, which was a Charlotte Zolotow Award Honor Book.
Julie is a former elementary school art teacher who now works full-time painting, creating commercial illustrations, and illustrating children’s books. She also has designed a beautiful line of fabrics called In the Beginning Folklorica.
Describe your workspace.
I have a studio in my house. The rest of the house is one story but my studio is upstairs. It is about 15 feet square. I have a table to paint on and a table for overflow projects, a computer corner, and lots of books and supplies. I have a big window looking into the yard and little windows where I can see the mountains in the winter and trees in the summer.
When I am in the thick of a project my studio gets overwhelmingly messy. When I finish a book or another big project I usually take time to shovel out. I would like to have more space but I would probably fill that up too.
Describe a typical workday.
I get up early. The hours before breakfast are the most productive because I am uninterrupted then. I don’t work for eight straight hours. I take breaks for walking the dog, yoga, bicycling, starting some soup etc. I generally work for several 2-3 hour chunks in a day. I work every day.
Usually I paint with ink and gouache. I like to experiment with different media too such as cut paper. I scan my finished art into the computer but I create the art by hand. I need to use my hands as well as my mind. I have ideas in my head but they never come clear until I am actually drawing.
My studio is overflowing with things. I can’t pick out three! Here are some of the things in my studio.
My habit is to always paint. That is what I love to do. I paint for books, I paint fabric designs and I paint paintings.
I need silence when I’m coming up with an idea. While I’m in the middle of a painting I often listen to music or to stories.
I always have a cup of tea in my studio. My mother is a potter and I have lots of mugs that she made; I drink out of one of them. I don’t bring food up here.
The work talks back to me and keeps it interesting.
What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?
A book is a long project. It can be scary to get started. And then when I’m about 2/3 of the way through I am often struck with doubt about the overall direction that I have taken.
My life changed when I got my own workspace; Virginia Woolf knew. I hope I never have to share it.
“Take other people’s vegetables but make your own soup.” (told to me by Keith Baker, possibly originally by Sendak.)