Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author/illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Bethanie’s picture book debut, Buglette the Messy Sleeper, published this month from Tricycle Press.
Buglette is an adorable ladybug who has ambitious, adventurous dreams while she sleeps which result in her being a messy sleeper. From the publisher, “Buglette’s quirky sleeping habits worry her family–what if her messy sleeping wakes the scary crow?–until her big dreams help her to save the day.”
Describe your workspace.
I work in the corner of my kitchen. I have serious studio envy. I love to dream about the REAL studio I will have someday. But for now, being in the kitchen has its benefits. I am a stay-at-home mom with two children under five and most of my day revolves around the kitchen. I keep my sketches and work in progress on the wall. That way, even if I am not technically working, I am subconsciously solving problems every time I glance at my art table. My desk is next to a sliding door that opens onto our lovely little backyard deck. On warm days, I open the door to the smell of jasmine and the conversations of our neighborhood chickens.
This is my kitchen before I began to use it as a studio.
When I am writing, I typically try to escape to the café. I prefer to write in an environment that supplies coffee and a certain amount of energy and bustle. Plus, there is an element of danger in entering my favorite café that keeps me alert. Is it because I was not born in California that this sign actually makes me think twice before entering?
As a stay-at-home mom, there is no typical workday. I have childcare for a few hours each week. I always plan ahead for that time to be sure it is used well. I find that I am extremely productive during those short periods because they are so limited and so valuable. Otherwise, I work primarily at night and on the weekends. The bulk of my work is done after the kids go to bed.
On some days, my eldest daughter works with me while my youngest naps.
What media do you use and which is your favorite?
I work traditionally. I spent many years working digitally when I was a designer. Getting away from the computer to make art is freeing—I am a very tactile person. I love the ritual of painting with watercolor. I stretch my paper onto boards. Each painting becomes precious because I’ve taken the time to stretch the paper. When I work digitally, I don’t have that sense of investment. It is too easy to start over again and again because I don’t thoroughly think things through before beginning. Over the years, I’ve combined watercolor with a variety of media—pen and ink, colored pencil and crayon. Right now, I am really digging pen and ink.
I keep letters from art directors, editors, and illustrators nearby for inspiration. I won this drawing from Mo Willems last year during the ripple blog fundraising effort. Extra credit if anyone can recognize the handwriting on the postcard to the right that says: “To Bethanie”)
I have a drawer filled with swatches and palettes that I’ve used for previous paintings. When I’m getting ready to begin a painting, I spread out my palettes and choose color combinations. It’s a great way for me to find my way into a painting. Plus, they help me to remember which paints I’ve mixed to make specific colors in the past.
In anticipation of Buglette, The Messy Sleeper’s release, I made a Buglette doll. She keeps me company.
I always have my iPad at my side. I keep reference photos in the iPad photo library and I keep PDFs of my work in progress on the iPad bookshelf. I download music, podcasts and, just recently, I’ve discovered the joy of listening to audiobooks while I paint.
I listen to music when I’m sketching and/or writing and I listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m painting. These days I’ve been playing a lot of Lucinda Williams, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Be Good Tanyas, and The Head and the Heart. I tend to get into ruts and listen to the same things over and over again. Is that bad? (You don’t have to answer.)
I don’t eat much while I’m working. It distracts me. When I’m writing, I love coffee. Confession: I just drink decaf because that’s enough to get me totally wired.
I try to set goals for myself ahead of time. I have always been a list keeper and goal setter. Depending on the task at hand, listening to something helps to keep me focused.
I am always very daunted when it is time to make the leap from sketches to final illustrations because there are so many decisions to be made about color, value, details and so on.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I keep a “seed” notebook of things that strike my fancy: situations, words, phrases, quirky behaviors, and so forth. My kids provide quite a bit of inspiration. When I have quiet moments, I read the notebook. Every so often, one of those seeds begins to grow. Once that happens, I usually do character sketches and/or thumbnail illustrations. I worked as an art director for many years so it feels very natural for me to think of a story in terms of spreads.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Well, I already have quite a bit of company in my workspace (two kids and one dog) and I honestly can’t imagine it any other way. In fact, my studiomates are so thoughtful that I often find gifts on my drawing table. The tally from last week includes two barrettes, one stuffed bear, and one half-eaten PB&J sandwich.
This is somewhat practical and utilitarian, but it’s something that I go back to again and again. When you are struggling with a work in progress, write the flap copy. Force yourself to summarize the book in two or three sentences. This helps me to find and focus on the heart of the story.
Thank you for inviting me to stop by, Jennifer!