A Peek at the Creative Space of Diane deGroat

This week’s creative space belongs to writer and illustrator Diane deGroat. Diane deGroat’s artwork carries a special nostalgic weight for me because she was the illustrator for the Anastasia Krupnik series of books by Lois Lowry (and the spin-off series about Anastasia’s brother Sam), which were probably my all-time favorite books to read growing up. Lois Lowry’s words brought Anastasia to life for me, but whenever I imagine her it’s Diane deGroat’s illustrations that I picture. I remember studying those jacket covers for their details–Frank the fish, Anastasia’s notebook, the Amelia Earhart t-shirt she was wearing.

According to her website, Diane deGroat has illustrated over 120 books for other authors (A Pinky is a Baby Mouse by Pam Munoz Ryan is a wonderful read-aloud; A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting is a fun holiday story about sharing the holiday with friends; and Sunshine Home also by Eve Bunting is beautifully illustrated and tackles the tough subject of a grandparent going into a nursing home). She’s illustrated almost 200 book jackets, and she’s written and illustrated 23 of her own titles including the adorable series of picture books about Gilbert the possum and the Annie Pitts chapter book series.

One of her recent titles is Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth!, a collaboration with Shelley Rotner, which I think is guaranteed to get kids giggling. But don’t take my word for it (shout out to LaVar Burton!), check out this book trailer:

(If the video doesn’t play for you, you can also view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzyJDLKWycw)

The illustrations incorporate photos of real dogs (the breeds of which are specified in the end matter–a detail I loved and appreciated as I kept guessing the dog breeds as I flipped through the book and was glad to find out the answers) and the humor is enhanced with folding pages that show on top a “Dogs do. . .” activity and open to show the comical and contrasting “dogs don’t. . . ”

If you are interested in learning more about Diane deGroat, I highly recommend you check out her website. Along with a brief bio, links to interviews, and FAQ, there is also a “Fun Stuff” section which includes coloring pages, games, and paper dolls for many of her titles, plus additional ideas for supplementary activities for classrooms reading her books. You can also purchase her original artwork or prints.

Describe your workspace.

My studio is messy.  My house is spotless and always in order, but my cleaning lady is not allowed into my studio.  Don’t touch my stuff, lady.  The truth is, it’s just too messy to clean.  Periodically I do clean it from top to bottom, but only when I can’t find something (camera charger, Wacom pen, old apple), or maybe I want to impress a busload of visiting dignitaries.

Here’s what it looks like. The studio is a wing of my house, which I designed and built in 1995 when I moved from New York to Massachusetts.

I had one of those magical moments when the architect said, “If you can design the perfect work space, what would it look like?”  He gave me 24’ X 24’ and this is what I came up with as my ideal studio. The floor plan shows three separate spaces:  the gallery, the workroom, and the library.  I was able to custom-fit it to the way I work.  Lucky me.

In the gallery I display my own work—those pieces that I like the best.  The ones I don’t love, I sell or stick in the closet.  No kidding—I have almost 500 pieces of art stored in a specially built closet.  I collect and hang other illustrators’ work in the rest of the house.

The French doors serve as a separate entrance from the house entrance.  For those visiting dignitaries. The school desks are from garage sales.  The bookcase at the end of the room has an official copy of every book I’ve illustrated.  This is the “me” corner.

 When it’s straightened up, the workroom looks like this.

But usually it looks like this.

The large window is north light.

The workroom is where I paint and keep my picture files.

But nowadays I spend more time drawing on the computer (in the library) and I rarely use the picture files since I’ve discovered Google images.  So I don’t use this room as much as I used to.  Mainly it’s used to display my taxidermy collection.

The word for today: Ebay.

I love my studio.

The library is where I spend most of my time, writing or drawing on the computer.

I collect picture books and three-quarters of the bookshelf space goes to the collection.  The rest are art books and reference books, but they’re getting squeezed out as the picture book collection grows.

I hang my travel schedule in the library for quick reference.  The green days are for school visits or conferences.  The blue is for personal travel.  I’m a visual person, so I need to see it this way instead of on the computer calender.  I like to “see” time.  And I’m the queen of packing light.  I can go to Texas for two weeks with just a carry on—including my laptop and projector.

PS- This closet contains a 300 lb. Lucinda viewer which hasn’t been used since 1998.  Anyone want it? I need the space for more books…

 Describe a typical workday.

I like to sleep late.  I get up about 9:00 and putz around, drinking coffee, answering emails, and thinking of ways to not work.  Maybe go to the gym, run errands, or garden.  Sometime in the afternoon, when I finally get my BIC (Butt in Chair, as Jane Yolen says), I try to work for 6 hours or so.  When I’m on deadline I may have to work 10 or 12 hours.  When I have wiggle room, I don’t work at all.  My favorite kind of day is one where there’s nothing written on the calendar.  No appointments, no travel, no obligations.  Then I can do whatever I feel like doing at the moment—work, play, whatever.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

For Gilbert books, I do the sketches right in the computer, drawing with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop.  I also add color in Photoshop until it’s about 80% finished.  Then I print the image on Arches 140lb. watercolor paper.  I paint on top of the digital art with Windsor Newton watercolor paint.  I do it this way so that it matches the early Gilbert books, which were done 100% in watercolor.  Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth! was done completely digitally.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1) I own a limited edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated and SIGNED by Arthur Rackham.  I’m afraid to open it.  But it’s nice to know it’s there.

2) I love my Epson Stylus Photo 2200 printer.  It has wonderful archival pigments for giclee prints or for painting on.  (Don’t try this with regular ink!)

3) The drawings and letters that kids send to me make me smile.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.


What do you listen to while you work?

I need quiet when I’m doing anything that requires a brain, but if I’m painting, I like to listen to books on tape from the library.  Kids’ books, grown-up books, everything.  I feel guilty “reading” a book when I’m at home because there’s always work to be done in the studio.  I save “real” books for planes and vacations.  (And I can’t drive more than 10 minutes without one in the car too—Note that I still have my 2003 Rav4, instead of a newer model, because it has a tape deck AND a CD player.)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I leave the room to snack because 1) it’s messy on the computer keys.  2) It gets me away from work!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?


What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

I’ve been doing more digital artwork, which I love, but I’m trying to create a whole new style for future projects.  Finding just that right style has me a bit frustrated.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I couldn’t work with another person in the room.  Maybe my dead cat?

What is the best piece of illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

Hmmm. . . I’ve been kind of winging it as I go along.  But whenever I hear someone talking about the importance of being passionate about one’s work, I feel that’s something I need to work on.   I’m still looking to do something extraordinary.  Stay tuned.

6 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Diane deGroat”

  1. Jane Heitman Healy

    Diane's lack of pretension and her complete honesty about her work space & habits are so refreshing! I love how she has organized her work space into 3 separate areas that flow together. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Z-Kids

    Wowsers! What an amazing world she's set up! Thanks for letting us take a peek!
    – AZ