A Peek at the Creative Space of Renata Liwska

This week we’re welcoming illustrator Renata Liwska to Creative Spaces. You might recognize Renata’s work from Nikolai the Only Bear by Barbara Joosse, Skylar by Mary Cuffe-Perez, A Puppy is for Loving by Mary Labatt, or Little Panda which she both wrote and illustrated. Her latest book has generated a lot of buzz and accumulated many fans (me! me! I love this book). If you’ve been following the Creative Spaces interviews for awhile then you’ll know this book made an earlier appearance here when the author, Deborah Underwood, was featured. Yes, I’m talking about New York Times bestseller The Quiet Book,
the serene story that made a showy splash in the picture book world this year. Renata Liwska received the gold medal from the Society of Illustrators 2010 Original Art exhibit for distinguished illustrations with The Quiet Book, and she was also chosen as a finalist for the 2010 Governor’s General Literary Award by the Canada Council for the Arts. Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska have paired up again to create The Loud Book which will be in bookstores near you in 2011. Red Wagon, the second picture book written and illustrated by Renata, will also be published in 2011.

Renata is originally from Poland and currently lives in Calgary with her illustrator husband, Mike Kerr. To learn more about Renata, visit her website or her blog.

Describe your workspace.

A few months ago I would have said cluttered. I can be sentimental about stuff and it was starting to pile up. When I finished The Loud Book earlier this summer I decided enough is enough and removed anything from my studio that wasn’t necessary for work or inspiration. It’s been pretty wonderful so far, the first week or so I wanted to dance around because I had so much more room!

Describe your typical workday.
I should say that I really have two workspaces, my home studio and a coffee shop.  I like to draw at the coffee shop for a couple hours each day, it is often the most productive part of my day! Otherwise I work in my home studio. I don’t really have a set schedule, I just try to be as productive as I can.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

When I am working in my studio I am usually coloring my illustrations in photoshop using a tablet. When I first started illustrating professionally I was painting in acrylics or oils, but a client who had seen my sketchbook was interested in my pencil drawings. So I figured out a way to color the drawing digitally by multiplying transparent layers over the drawings. It is a really good way to work, maybe too good sometimes. I have to watch that I don’t have too many layers, the files can get pretty huge! Especially a two page spread.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are so meaningful?
First I would have to say my sketchbook. In truth, my sketchbook is my workspace. It is small and convenient to use, and essentially allows me to carry my studio with me. This way I can work wherever and whenever inspiration strikes.

Second would have to be my pencils, I can’t draw without them of course! As I mentioned before, I changed from painting to drawing several years ago. I thought I would miss painting, but I really don’t, I love drawing so much. It’s such a perfect way to work for me.

Lastly I should mention my iPod touch. It’s been an amazing tool. I use it constantly, for music of course, but also to check my email, look for references or inspiration, and to take things like a PDF version of my book dummy around with me wherever I go.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
I think it is many smaller rituals that make up the larger ritual of making art. I have small rituals, such as I like a warm cup of tea when I work in my studio. And others such as going to the coffee shop and drawing. When I am out, I like to listen to music.

What do you listen to while you work?

I love internet radio. Lately I have been listening to old time music from the 1930s. I often find my drawings dancing to the music. I also love listening to old radio shows such as “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar”. An insurance investigator with an expense account!

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

As I mentioned I find drinking tea while working very relaxing. As for a snack, I often make a banana sandwich. Which is a nice piece of multigrain bread, a banana spread with a butter knife, and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

This is a big challenge for me as I can get distracted pretty easily–I love watching cute pets and animals on the internet! I am always trying to find ways to stay focused. As part of my recent reorganizing of my studio I have separated my drawing table and computer table to try to stay on task. But deadlines are what really keep me focused. Although with children’s books often taking me six months to a year long to complete, the deadlines can be a problem too!

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

Mike and I share our studio space. It works well when things are going well creatively, but we can get distracted if we are under a tight deadline or such. One of us usually goes out to work so we don’t distract each other in these situations.
Otherwise, perhaps it could be one of my characters brought to life. They could pose for me, do funny things, and inspire me with their antics. Practical stuff like that. Oh yeah, and they could dance too. Mike and me don’t dance very well, but the characters in my drawings dance very well.

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

I am not sure what is the best, but since the discussion is about creative spaces there is a really appropriate comment by director Brad Bird in the DVD special features on his Pixar film Ratatouille. It’s a very informative interview with Brad Bird and a chef, Thomas Keller. They have great advice that applies to children’s book illustration as much as film making or cooking. In discussing creativity, Brad Bird says that you need to observe what kind of environment puts you in a creative state of mind and then try to recreate that environment. I think that idea works on many levels. For me I am always trying to put myself in a situation where I can do my best work.


3 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Renata Liwska”

  1. TerryLynnJohnson

    LOVED this whole interview! Love the title – The quiet book. And Little Panda. And the ILLUSTRATIONS! OMG, what amazing talent. And a fellow Canuck too!
    Great interview, thank you!

  2. Lauren Castillo

    Wonderful interview!! I'm a huge fan of Renata's work, and it was so great to read about her work habits, & get a glimpse in to her studio space 🙂