A Peek at the Creative Space of Anna Dewdney

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is New York Times bestselling author and illustrator Anna Dewdney. Anna is the creator of numerous picture books including the ever popular Llama Llama books: Llama Llama Red Pajama, Llama Llama Mad at Mama, Llama Llama Misses Mama, and–just out this holiday season–Llama Llama Holiday Drama.

Most people who know me well know I have an affinity for llamas (and alpacas, but “llama” is more fun to say)–I mean, look at this face! How can you not smile looking at this guy?

Photo by law_keven on Flickr.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise I’m a fan of Anna Dewdney’s books.

In the latest installment, Llama Llama is helping Mama with all their holiday activities–shopping, decorating, baking cookies–all the while wondering how many more days until Christmas? His patience wears out and Llama Llama has a meltdown, only to be reminded by Mama what matters most during the holiday season. If you’re interested in learning more about the Llama Llama books or know a young fan of them, check out the Llama Llama website. There is also a Llama Llama plush doll available for sale too (which I’m thinking would be a great gift by itself or combined with a picture book).

Earlier this year she also published Roly Poly Pangolin, a picture book about an animal I’d never heard of before but am now fascinated by. They are endangered mammals that kind of look like anteaters with fuzzy bellies and a backside covered in scales. She has a great section on her website about pangolins including photos and video of her trip to Cuc Phuong National Park in northern Vietnam, the only place in the world to see them up close. Pangolins protect themselves by rolling into balls, exposing only their scaly backside. In Roly Poly Pangolin, the young pangolin is a shy little guy who is afraid of new things. After hearing something scary one day he rolls into a ball, only to open his eyes and find another little ball of scales staring back at him.

To learn more about Anna Dewdney and her work visit her website.

Describe your workspace.

My studio is very large room right off the kitchen.  It was a woodshop in a previous life, so it’s very large and filled with light.  I have a wood pellet stove in the corner that cranks all winter long, right next to the “dog couch” (a very long, comfy couch dedicated entirely to the dogs) right behind my painting area.  While the rest of my house is fairly tidy, my studio is often completely chaotic, with paintings and drawings in various stages of completion all over the place.  I can’t work unless it’s messy.

Describe a typical workday.

I get up around 9, and am semi-comatose until I’ve had several cups of coffee.  I usually answer some email while I’m having the coffee.  After I’ve woken up a bit, the dogs start pawing me and give me no rest until we go for a walk (by this, I mean a good longish walk in the woods).  We then come back from the walk, do more email, throw in a load of laundry, and putter a bit.  Soon thereafter, I get to work for an hour or two, usually painting or drawing.  Then lunch (tea and a swiss cheese sandwich). Then back to work for a few hours (usually painting or drawing). Then a run, often in the woods, usually with the dogs unless they are feeling a little gimpy or I need to run on a busy road.  Then shower, email, putter, work.  Talk to children or Skype with them.  Make dinner (whatever I can scrounge . . . I don’t cook much), then back to work.  The real work happens now, from eight to midnight. Then I go to bed around 1.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I love to sketch with graphite pencils or a black colored pencil.  Oils are my primary media when working with color.  I have done watercolors, but I love the gucky mess of oils.  Plus, you can really lay down the color . . . it’s a gutsy medium.

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

1.  Radish (dog).

2.  Roscoe (dog).

Because we talk about stuff.

3.  Computer.  Because how else could I stream This American Life?

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

I just keep working.  I make myself make the truest books I can.  And I wash my brushes every day.

What do you listen to while you work?

The radio just bums me out, now.  So I listen to books on tape or This American Life.  Sometimes iTunes:  technopop, pop, alternative girl music, old Bowie, anything Mozart or Bach.

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

Earl Gray tea or just plain hot water.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Deadlines.  And . . . I dunno . . . I’ve never had much trouble focusing. Perhaps because my work style is so completely peripatetic.  It ISN’T focused.  But I get there in the end!

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

Telling the truth is challenging.  You have to dig deep, and keep digging.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I start with a sound or a feeling, and I go from there.  The experience is a bit like creating a collage; the end product comes from layers of words and images that change over time.

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

I do share my workspace, remember?  Radish and Roscoe are very present, even as they doze.  Any human would have to go. I would NOT share my workspace with any human.  Ever.

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

The most important thing is listening to your own voice, expressing who YOU are, in your own way. It’s a cliche, but it’s true.  It is hard to recognize your voice unless you are good at listening to yourself, especially when you are young and still have a lot of other voices inside your head.  But if you keep listening, you will hear it.


5 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Anna Dewdney”

  1. Adelaida

    I'd love to have a such a big workspace one day 🙂

    Very interesting interview. Shame there are no photos of works in progress or those already done.

  2. Julia Kelly

    This is so fun- to see into the spaces of other illustrators- gosh wish my studio was big enough for a dog couch- two 100 pound labs surround me at my drafting table!!

  3. LadybugSF

    We just read Llama, Llama Holiday Drama. This is like your favorite interview, ever, right??? 🙂 Did you see that Llama's lips? SO fabulous!