A Peek at the Creative Space of Elisa Kleven

***Updated with new photos, May 9, 2011!***

It’s my pleasure to welcome author and illustrator Elisa Kleven to Creative Spaces today. She is the illustrator and/or author of numerous picture books including The Paper Princess; A Carousel Tale; Sun Bread; Welcome Home, Mouse; The Lion and the Little Red Bird; The Apple Doll; The Weaver (written by Thacher Hurd); and The City by the Bay (written by Tricia Brown). Her books have been named ALA Notable Books, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, and Junior Library Guild Selections.

Elisa Kleven spoke at one of the first children’s writing conferences I attended (a decade-ish ago at Book Passage, if I’m remembering correctly). I watched her presentation and remember thinking if I was an aspiring illustrator I would want to mimic her style: colorful, whimsical, mixed media with elements of collage. For me, looking at her art is like stepping into a daydream.

To learn more about Elisa Kleven and her books visit her website. (Where you can also find information on inviting Ms. Kleven for a school visit or information about purchasing her original art and prints.)

Describe your workspace.
I work in a studio in my back yard.  The space used to be a garage (for a small car!).  It has a skylight and three windows.

My freshly painted studio and dog, Bella.

Blooming wisteria.
The view from my studio door.
Describe a typical work day.

First I drink some very strong coffee, feed my dogs and cats, read the paper, and make my teenage son breakfast.  Then I usually deal with  my email and correspond with publishers, requests for  school visits, people interested in buying art work  and such for about forty five minutes. That task finished, I take my dogs for a good long walk, and at about ten I sit down to work in my studio for about three hours. I take a lunch break, then work for another chunk of time, then walk and play with the very high energy dog again, feed and pet my cats, make dinner, and enjoy my son’s and husband’s company (and my daughter’s, if she’s home. She is a sophomore at  Berkeley but she visits fairly often.)

In the evenings I like to work on stories, draw, read, and watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and the occasional nature show on public TV.  I’m a sucker for nature shows, though I hate it when they show animals being torn apart by predators.

A freshly painted, less cluttered interior view.  I’m sure that it will get cluttered up soon enough…but for now it’s relatively clean! Ahhh. . . breathing room!

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

1. I keep baskets of intricately decorated eggs around.  I have created Ukranian-style batiked eggs, as well as handpainted and drawn eggs, since I was about ten. They are a link to my childhood, and are pretty as well.

Here are some of the eggs that “keep me company” while I work.
A detail shot. (You can see more of Elisa’s craftwork at her website too!)

2.  I like to have some of the kind and beautifully decorated letters I’ve received from children and their parents close by, as well. These encourage me when I’m feeling daunted! 

3.  Photos of my beloved family, friends, and animals also shine down on me while I work. 

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

Not really.  Work is a ritual in itself I suppose.

What do you listen to while you work?

Classical music, oldies (especially Springsteen, Dylan and Motown)–whatever makes me happy or moves me.  I hardly ever listen to country music, though, and I’ve never developed an appreciation for opera.

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

When I’m really into my work my appetite goes away. 

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The momentum of my work itself and my own joy in my projects–and deadlines! 

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way? 

I write my stories in teeny handwriting on the blank backs of used  paper, and when I have something resembling a coherent first draft I write it out on the computer.

How do you develop your ideas?

Wispy little images and phrases just start clumping together into snowball-like formations.  Sometimes the whole idea melts overnight, so I abandon it. But if it’s still there when I come back, I try to build upon it. Once I have a solid story I start making sketches to go with it. Occasionally, though, the visual image comes first.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I like ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and collage materials.  I never do my art on the computer, though it might be interesting to learn how to.
What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

Making a dummy book is very hard.  I’m taking pencil and paper and trying to create a new world, filled with consistent settings and characters.

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

Anne Frank.  I’d love to have her back in the world, and I wish I could give her a safe, quiet, comfortable place to work.

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

“You must love your work more than you like being loved.”  I think George Ella Lyon said that, or something like that.


6 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Elisa Kleven”

  1. cqangel

    Such a wonderful interview, and such an extraordinary artist. Elisa Kleven is a unique, one-of-a-kind treasure in the world of children's book illustration. With tremendous respect to the work of other wonderful illustrators, I find that her work transcends the medium. Her images are simply magical, and one can get lost in any one of the worlds she creates and possibly not want to come back…!

  2. Anonymous

    What a delight to get glimpse inside Elisa Kleven's magical world! Thinks for a great interview!

  3. Holly

    What can one say about Elisa Kleven's work that doesn't involve beautiful, magical, and timeless? She knows how to pull us into a story and take us on a beautiful journey. There is no one else like her. More books by Elisa please…!