A Peek at the Creative Space of Sarah Frances Hardy

Sarah Frances Hardy is the author and illustrator of Puzzled by Pink, which was published by Viking Children’s Books in April 2012. From the publisher:

Izzy hates pink as much as her sister, Rose, loves it. So when Rose plans an all-pink birthday party with the guests dressed in fairy costumes, Izzy decides to give her own alternative party in the attic, where the guests will be monsters, spiders, ghosts, and the pet cat. But some powerful magic triggers the appearance of yet another guest–an unexpected one. This will be a party nobody forgets!

Sarah’s also hard at work on several more books including a YA and middle grade novel. You can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website and her blog.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is located off the back of our garage where most people have a storage room, so even though it’s attached to my house, it has a separate outside entrance. This gives me a bit of psychological distance from my home and the constant nagging of the laundry mountain, dinner, unmade beds . . . but I’m still here if my children need anything or if I need to take the chicken out of the freezer so we have something to eat for dinner.

The style of my space is eclectic. My floors, wonderful beat-up heart pine, are reclaimed from the house where I grew up, and I’ve populated my studio with things I love–things like my tattered but comfy writing chair and crazy quilt ottoman, artwork, more reclaimed wood lining the walls, my drafting table that I received for my fifteenth birthday, and of course, my Tim Gunn bobblehead (“Make it work!”).

Describe a typical workday.

Most days I drop my children off at school and head straight to yoga or the gym. When I get home and fix my second cup of coffee around 9:00, I head out to my studio. I usually spend about thirty minutes checking emails and reading blogs. Next, I do a few sketches (I’ve been copying Old Masters’ drawings lately) just to get warmed up and get my head in a good place. I start off my work day sketching even if I’m going to write; it just helps ground me.

Next, if I’m working on picture book illustrations, then I dig in and either begin painting or sketching. Right now, though, I’m working on revisions of the text of an illustrated middle grade novel, so after my few minutes of sketching, I’ve been heading to my computer to write.
I work until around 2:40 when I have to hit the carpool lines and pick up my girls from school. If I’m on deadline or really involved in a project, I sneak back out to my studio at night and work for a few more hours.
What media do you use and which is your favorite? (If you do digital art, what software do you use?)

In the planning phases, I use a combination of pencil on paper sketches with digital images. I start with a few sketches on paper and I scan them into my computer using Photoshop and my Wacom tablet to manipulate the images. This is how I create my book dummy which is what I submit to my agent (and later to publishers along with a few final illustrations).

For my final artwork, I’ve been using gouache on Strathmore illustration board. I water down the pigments and use them much like watercolor paints, but with gouache, I’ve discovered that you can build up layers and get some intense color. I love color!!

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

1. The floors in my studio came from the house I grew up in. A few years ago, my mom happened to drive by and the new owners were ripping out the floors and putting them in a dumpster. These are floors that she had salvaged from an old home in Natchez, Mississippi, so she grabbed a truck and did some dumpster diving! Since the workers weren’t careful when they pulled up the floors, they’re in pretty bad shape with lots of dings and gouges, but that’s part of the reason I love them . . . and why they’re perfect for my studio.

2. My writer friends Irene Latham and Pat Weaver surprised me with this wonderful (and warm) blanket inspired by my debut picture book which came out last April. One side of it is pink and flowery like my character Rose, and the other side is covered in spiders for my off-beat character Izzy.

3. Um, my bathroom. The fact that I can stay out here for hours and hours without having to go inside and be distracted by the stuff-of-life, is one of my favorite things about my studio. We almost didn’t put in a bathroom because of the expense–I was just going to have a sink for washing paintbrushes–but I am so glad we did!

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

Only the ones described above in my typical work day . . .  although I guess I should add that it’s rare to have a typical workday! I have three children, so I’m often on sick duty or taking someone to the orthodontist. Plus, I do some volunteer work (although I’m finally learning that it’s important to protect my writing time).

What do you listen to while you work?

If I’m drawing or painting, I love my Van Morrison Pandora mix. If I get tired of that, I have several go-to artists: Ingrid Michelson, Eric Hutchinson, Ben Harper, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac (Rumours), Of Monsters and Men, old R.E.M., Regina Spektor, Taj Mahal . . . and anything blues.

When writing, though, I can’t listen to anything with words, so I click on my Pandora yoga radio mix and get in the zone.

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

Coffee with vanilla soy milk in the morning and a giant Turvis Tumbler full of ice water later in the day. Dark chocolate mid-afternoon.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I’m not!!! I take lots of tiny breaks all day long (mostly to read non-writing related blogs).

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

For novels, I brainstorm longhand in notebooks, but once I get past brainstorming I write on my computer. I love using Scrivener, especially for the first few drafts.

When I’m working on a picture book, I write the words along with a very rough storyboard with stick-people sketches. I have to be able to see how the words and pictures are going to interact as I’m writing.

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

I come up with lots of ideas (often when I’m supposed to be meditating and emptying my mind in yoga). But I’ve learned that ideas are cheap!! It takes a ton of work to develop an idea into a workable plan for a story. I brainstorm ideas in my notebooks, asking myself “what if” over and over again. Few of these ideas make it past the brainstorming stage (maybe 5%). When I’ve taken the “what ifs” pretty far and think I have a workable concept for a story, I’ll run it by my agent before I really start developing it. Then I’ll do a rough outline so I know in general where I’m going before I start writing.

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

My hand is so much slower than my brain! I wish I could take a screen shot of the pictures in my brain and have them magically appear onto my paper. I get frustrated with the amount of time each illustration takes, although in the end it is rewarding.

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

Quentin Blake. I adore him!

What is the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?
Join SCBWI. I learned so much from going to conferences and getting to know other writers through SCBWI events.

13 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Sarah Frances Hardy”

  1. Elizabeth Rose Stanton

    What a great interview–I feel like now I "know" you a little better 🙂
    I hope one of these days our paths cross and you can sign my copy of PUZZLED 🙂 🙂 I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work!

  2. Sarah Webb

    I thought this was amazing. I hope that your children, husband, friends and all your family have read this…it's an eye opener even for those of us who thought we knew you! You are doing great things! Congratulations.

  3. Meera Desai Shah

    Loved your Workspace, and the book Puzzled by Pink even more so. Reminds me of my identical five year old twins, one likes Pink, the other? Perhaps Monsters? Meera