A Peek at the Creative Space of Kieren Dutcher

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is illustrator Kieren Dutcher. Her book Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages, written by Faye-Lynn Wu, was published with Tuttle Publishing in 2010. From the publisher:

“As Mother Goose has known for centuries, rhyme and rhythm are fun! And what could be a more enjoyable way for children and their parents to learn about different cultures and languages than through familiar rhymes and songs?

In Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes, an innovative collection of favorite rhymes are put in pairs—one from China and the next in English—to show how the things that kids love are the same, no matter where in the world they live. Whether your native language is English or Chinese, you can learn the rhymes along with your children. Just follow the words on the page, or play the CD and sing along!”

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Kieren has shared beautiful Valentine artwork with us. Make sure to scroll to the end of the interview to see both!

To learn more about her and her work, visit her website and her blog, “The Tyger Voyage”.

Describe your workspace.

I currently work in a bedroom of our house, right next to the living room.  When we first moved to this house, my studio was down in the basement, which looked onto my vegetable garden. It was lovely during the daytime, but it had no sink, and was rather gloomy at night. Last year my daughter and I swapped spaces (after my husband finished off the basement for our daughter–she now has a lovely suite down there with her own entrance). I love it, being close to what’s going on in the house (I have 2 teenagers and an 8 month old puppy at home), and everyone now uses this studio space for various projects. There’s a computer workspace, my drafting table, and a table in the middle of the room for cutting and putting work together, file cabinets, drawers for various art materials, and a closet full of art supplies, fabric, yarn, papers, etc. I love to sew, knit and make quilts. My husband is a designer, and both of our kids are ‘makers’ too, so this room gets a lot of use.

Describe a typical workday.

I teach art to kids (5th-8th graders) three days a week, so I have two days in my studio. Usually I get up around 7am, drink some strong tea, take my pup for a walk, shower, and then get down to work. I often start by checking email, updating new work to my website, blog, etc, before I get down to working on the latest picture book or painting project . . . but when I’m in the middle of a project, I dive right into that first.  I work until I get hungry, wander to the kitchen, maybe do some errands if I need a break in the middle of the day. Then I work some more until it’s time to start dinner, and often go back to it for a while after dinner.  

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

All the artwork and cards my kids have made me over the years. My daughter’s goal is always to make me cry with the lovely notes she writes me, and she usually is successful!

A sampler I cross-stitched when I was 14. I was enamored with early American life after visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, and it reminds me of my younger self.

My big red cabinet full of childrens’ books. My husband gave it to me for Christmas last year, it’s my favorite color, and full of books I love.

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

I am a big listmaker, so I often make lists of what I’m trying to accomplish each week. It keeps me focused. I LOVE to cross things off my list.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing if I am writing or sketching in the beginning stages of a picture book, as I often need to read aloud to myself. When I am painting, I mostly listen to NPR, or jazz on the radio. Sometimes, if it’s a long haul of painting, I listen to the BBC through my computer. I like the Women’s Hour and British dramas. 

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

Lots of English Breakfast and Earl Grey tea, although lately I’m really enjoying different types of spicy chai.  I often have a tiny bowl of chocolate chips next to my desk.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

That list I mentioned earlier, and the fact that my studio time is limited.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

For the past few years it has mostly been gouache resist. Right now I am working on a picture book that also incorporates collage, which is really fun. I am starting to play in Photoshop, after scanning in an illustration that is partially finished, to see what I can do with it yet still maintain the integrity of the original painting. I am seeing more and more picture books done by combining painting or drawing and Photoshop, as it’s easier to make minor changes quickly without having to redo an entire illustration.

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

Getting published! It is getting harder and harder to get feedback from editors, and the business seems to be changing quite a bit right now.  I don’t have an agent yet, that is my goal for this year.

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

Well, no one, really, as I am picky about my stuff. But I’d LOVE to meet Anita Lobel. I just love her paintings soo much. One of my cherished picture books, “So Happy!”, was signed by her and Kevin Henkes at Books of Wonder in New York. (It’s a wonderful store, by the way, where all the picture books are alphabetized by illustrator’s name. There is a gallery of children’s book illustration in the back, and they sell cupcakes, too.)

What is the best piece of writing and/or illustrating advice you’ve heard

The worst writing you did today is better than the best writing that you didn’t do. –Esmee Raji Codell

Equally important, I think, is that you have to believe in yourself and follow your heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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5 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Kieren Dutcher”

  1. Toby Speed

    Jennifer, as always, you've opened a window into an artist's life and allowed us to to get a real feel for her creative process. Thanks for this introduction to Kieren Dutcher. Her book, Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes, sounds very intriguing to this nursery rhyme lover.

  2. Andrea Mack

    Thanks for sharing this interview. I love peeking into other people's workspaces and this one is really great. Also, I loved the Esmee Raji Codell quote at the end of the interview. I'm putting it up near my computer!