Sunday, January 6, 2008

An Interview with Maria van Lieshout

Author & Illustrator of:
Bloom! A Little Book About Finding Love

Lynn: Which comes first when you create a story--illustrations or words? Tell us about your creative process.

Maria: I used to try to write stories first, but it didn’t work well for me. Now I come up with a character first, and I let the character tell me the story. So I will draw some images, then write a bit, draw some more…

Lynn: How do you decide which idea to pursue?

Maria: When it excites me. When my heart beats faster thinking about it, when I cannot get to sleep at night because I keep thinking of how to develop the idea further…that’s when I know I’m on to something.

Lynn: How do you capture emotion in your illustrations with seemingly simple and spare lines?

Maria: I like watching people a lot. I love sitting in a coffee shop and observing. I also used to act all throughout high school. I think that acting foundation taught me to be expressive in my drawing. While illustrating, I often get up and act an emotion out-just so I know how to draw it.

Lynn: What inspired you to create Bloom? Is it true Bloom is part of a trilogy of little books?

Maria: YES, BLOOM is part of a trilogy. I came up with the third book first. Then I decided to create several books, each done in one color, with one distinct character, tied to one idea. My friend Lynn suggested I should tie them to an emotion. So when I decided I wanted to do a little book about love, I felt that book had to be pink, and the character just had to be a pig! There was no doubt! BLOOM just claimed that territory!

Lynn: What did you discover on your road to publication?

Maria: Hmmm…I always thought writing and illustrating was a very solitary thing. And in a way, it is. The actual act of writing and illustrating is mostly done alone, but I discovered that the path to publication and success as an author is made up of friends, cheerleaders, critiquers, teachers, editors, designers, agents, and a busload more. I can honestly say I would not be published if it wasn’t for a long list of people. So therefore my advice to people out there is, go to conferences! Join a critique group! Meet other writers/illustrators! It is the best way to get your book on bookshelves.

Lynn: Do you have any particular ritual involved in your writing and illustrating process?

Maria: You mean aside from procrastination?
I need to have my cup of tea.

Lynn: What is your favorite color? Favorite media?

Maria: My favorite color changes often. Right now it is the green/grey color that the sea has right before a storm. My favorite medium is watercolor-it is not obedient, has a will of its own, goes where it is not supposed to, and if you let it, it will take you to great places!

Lynn: What food or drink feeds your creativity?

Maria: My cups of tea! I have this green tea from Japan-Genmaimatcha, that is sweet and toasty and delicious.
But a glass of red wine does miracles for me! And don’t get me started on chocolate…

Lynn: Do you listen to music while you work? What music do you like?

Maria: When I am drawing, I like to listen to This American Life podcasts, or I listen to music. I like so much-John Mayer, Paul Simon, Diana Krall, Gwen Stefani…When I’m writing, I can’t listen to anything-it confuses me.

Lynn: Did you have any pets as a child?

Maria: When I was very young, I only had goldfish, because my sister had asthma. I really wanted a German Shepherd, because my favorite series of books were about a German Shepherd who solved mysteries! My wish was to have a German Shepherd and solve neighborhood mysteries.
When I was 16, my sister had outgrown her asthma, and my parents got me a German Shepherd named Kiko. I loved Kiko, but I wasn’t interested in solving mysteries anymore. I was more interested in boys…

Lynn: What childhood experience(s) influenced you in deciding to become an author and illustrator?

Maria: I loved to draw, and to make up stories. But I didn’t always want to become a children’s book creator. When I was young, I wanted to be a detective! But as turns out, working on books is a little like being a detective. Once you come up with a story idea, you have to figure out how the rest of the story will be, who the characters are, how it ends…it’s like a puzzle sometimes.

Lynn: What children’s books inspire you and why?

Maria: Interestingly, I became familiarized with American children’s books only 10 years ago, when I moved here. I grew up with Dutch books, so my favorite childhood books are Dutch.
I am a visual person, so books with pictures stimulate me! I love Dutch illustrator Dick Bruna. His work still feels very contemporary, but when his first book came out 50 years ago, he shook up the children’s book world with his simple, graphic images. He is a huge inspiration to me. So are the books by Oliver Jeffers, or anything illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. American books I love are The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson and The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.

Lynn: What can we expect after Bloom?

Maria: SPLASH! is the follow-up to BLOOM. It is about a blue seal and deals with sadness…

Lynn: Since this is an imaginary blog--could you please offer aspiring authors and illustrators any imagination advice, for example how do you keep going when what you are imagining is not yet showing up for real on the page?

Maria: To jumpstart my imagination, I go away from my studio
and live life-I read, see movies, go to a museum, read
comics, read magazines, go to a party. Especially when
I'm stuck in a story. Somehow, doing different stuff
and taking in ideas from other sources, often provides
me with that little electrical spark I'm looking for
to get through a hurdle....

Lynn: Last question: If Bloom were to give advice to another children's book character coming into being, what would Bloom's advice be?

Maria: Chase after your butterflies! Even if it breaks your heart, you just might stumble across something in the process.

Buy Bloom at Amazon

Today's Forecast: Blooming with a chance of butterflies


Yuyi Morales said...

A Blooming interview!

Anonymous said...

Great article...what a lovely book to feature