Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author/illustrator Chiêu Anh Urban. Chiêu is the creator of novelty books, her most recent being Away We Go! A Shape and Seek Book.
Away We Go! is a concept book about basic shapes, published by Scholastic, Cartwheel. Triangles become sailboats and hearts become airplanes as each spread reveals a different mode of transportation made from bright colors and geometric shapes. Die-cuts of shapes are layered throughout each page, for a fun shape-and seek-game. The challenge is to find the vehicles in the shapes and the shapes in the vehicles.
Not only is Chiêu a wonderful creative talent, but she is generous and kind-hearted too. Last summer she donated her own books to Life Connection Mission, a Christian non-profit organization serving the poorest children in the Western Hemisphere. She received these wonderful photos as a thank you. In September she began the Books and Smiles for Haiti book drive. If you are interested in donating new books to the cause, please click this link to find out more.
Chiêu’s blog is also worth visiting, especially if you are a parent or work with little ones. She has free activity and party printables to use as a companion to her books, and she also shares amazing creations she’s made, like all the decorations for a Despicable Me themed birthday party!
And this week one lucky reader can win a copy of Away We Go! Just leave a comment that includes some means for me to contact you should you win, and I will randomly draw and announce a winner on Sunday. (Open to US/Canada only.)
Now let’s step inside Chiêu’s creative space and learn a bit about where and how she does her work.
DESCRIBE YOUR WORKSPACE.
I have a small office with a nice bay window and an iMac. My workspace is packed with crafts and art supplies, and is where I mostly spend time designing on the computer. When I’m ready to put together a dummy or a project, I prefer to work in the open space of my family room and kitchen.
DESCRIBE A TYPICAL WORKDAY.
During the school year, I spend a good four to five hours daily driving my girls to and from school. After morning drop off, I come home, unload the dishwasher, have a light breakfast, and write my to-do list for the day. The house is pleasantly quiet, and I have about three hours to work before school pick-up begins. Several days a week, I take a mid-break from working to go for a run or to the gym. When my kids are home from school, my work time is pretty much over. If I’m deeply involved with a project; I will start-up again after dinner, or when the kids are in bed.
WHAT MEDIA DO YOU USE AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?
I create most of my art on the iMac, and use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I also love working with traditional art, and enjoy watercolor, collage, pen and ink, and chalk pastels.
LIST THREE OF YOUR MOST FAVORITE THINGS IN YOUR WORKSPACE AND WHY THEY ARE MEANINGFUL.
I have the first picture my husband and I took together when we were dating, next to my computer. There are moments where I space out and get distracted, and love looking at the picture. It reminds me of how much our lives have grown since we first met. I also have old letters and drawings from my girls’ early childhoods displayed on my desk.Their keep-sakes decorate my office. My third favorite thing is my comfy office chair; I like to spin in it while thinking or when I have a creative block.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RITUALS IN YOUR WORK HABITS? IF SO, DESCRIBE THEM.
I always start my morning off with a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. I check my emails and engage in a bit of social networking. I send my husband an email of what I have planned for the day, and touch base with my family and friends. After that nice bit of procrastination, I start working for a few hours with several hot water and cookie breaks in between. I’m a grazer and snacks keep me going.
WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHILE YOU WORK?
I have a running track on my iPod that I enjoy listening to when I’m in the production phase of my work. If I’m fleshing out a design, I can’t listen to music because it’s too distracting.
WHAT IS YOUR DRINK OR SNACK OF CHOICE WHILE WORKING?
Hot water and cookies. I have the biggest sweet tooth.
WHAT KEEPS YOU FOCUSED WHILE YOU’RE WORKING?
Having the house to myself keeps me focused. A quiet working environment is very rare in my household. It’s uninterrupted time, which I fully make the best of. I take advantage of having all the space to myself, and I lay my project out in the kitchen and family room. Here I am working on an Away We Go! themed diaper cake for Operation Shower, a non-profit organization that provides baby showers for military families. I sent them fourty signed books and this matching diaper cake made up of around 140 diapers.
DO YOU WRITE LONGHAND, ON A COMPUTER, OR ANOTHER WAY?
I prefer to use my computer for work and administrative household stuff. On the flip side, I like to handwrite personal notes and letters, and endless to-do lists to keep organized.
HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR STORY IDEAS? DO YOU USE AN OUTLINE, LET THE MUSE LEAD YOU, OR ANOTHER TECHNIQUE?
I am always sketching, and have at least four sketchbooks on hand: in my bag, the car, my bedroom, and office. I’m jotting ideas down when I’m on the go: while I wait for my kids at the school pick-up line, in the waiting rooms for appointments, and in restaurants while waiting for the food to come out. During the summer, I sketch at the pool, or outside while the girls are on the playground. My favorite time to brainstorm with an open sketchbook is in bed, winding down for the evening.
WHAT ASPECT OF WRITING AND/OR ILLUSTRATING DO YOU FIND THE MOST CHALLENGING AND WHY?
I create novelty work, which includes interactive elements that can make a book innovative. I come up with many neat ideas, but getting the novelty elements to work in a clever way is challenging.
IF YOU WERE FORCED TO SHARE YOUR WORKSPACE BUT COULD SHARE IT WITH ANYONE OF YOUR CHOOSING, WHO WOULD IT BE?
I like working with my kids, when they are really into their projects. It’s fun to have them do art or homework with me. They keep me company, and it’s good mother-daughter time. We share our progress and provide critiques, including the six year old, who loves to comment on my art. Though, the fun is over when someone spills paint on the carpet or knocks over a drink.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF WRITING AND/OR ILLUSTRATING ADVICE YOU’VE HEARD OR RECEIVED?
When I get discouraged by reading rejections from editors, my author/illustrator friend reminds me that with every rejection, I am one step closer. I always keep that in mind; she has been a wonderful and supportive friend.