What happens when a well known illustrator (even an author-illustrator) decides to switch hats and just work as an author? Well, that’s when you get a wonderful book like “Louis” which has the honor of two fantastic creators!I’m super excited to talk about today’s book. It’s written and illustrated by TWO of my favorite illustrators!
Tom Lichtenheld doodled his way through school then worked as a sign painter, set designer, printer and art director. After a long career in advertising he accidentally stumbled into the job he was always meant to do; creating children’s books. Tom has illustrated MANY books, but he’s also been an author-illustrator. He has spoken at major industry conferences and written reviews for The New York Times. Tom is honored to have collaborated with outstanding authors and editors and is grateful for their contribution to the development of his craft. In his spare time Tom enjoys riding his bike, eating chocolate, and getting other peoples’ kids all wound up then sending them home. You can learn more about him at his website or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
“Louis” is written by Tom, not illustrated by him this time around. Instead, the lovely Julie Rowan-Zoch had the joy of doing so (and we will talk with her today too!). Louis is another amazing story told from a unique point of view. Of course I’ve seen other picture books out there told from the teddy bear’s point of view, but none quite like this. This Teddy bear is fed up. He is disgruntled and definitely has a fun and unique story to tell. It’s hilarious and the illustrations add amazing depth to the simple lines that had me rolling in laughter one minute and marveling at the combination the next.
Me: You are perhaps better known as an author-illustrator or an illustrator of others’ work. This is the first book of yours that I think I’ve seen where you’ve written the text, but left the illustration to someone else. Was it hard letting go of the illustration side of things? Why not illustrate this story yourself?
Tom: The simple answer is that I have more ideas than time. Illustrating a book takes me anywhere from four to eight months, so I decided to let go of illustrating this story in order to get it out there. It was also an experiment to see if I could write a manuscript good enough to sell on its own, and to see if I could then step back to let someone else bring it to life.
Letting go of the illustration side of it wasn’t hard because I had plenty of other work, as well as confidence that the publisher would find a fabulous illustrator, which they did.
Me: Yes they did! “Louis” is incredibly funny. It is full of great puns and jokes and yet the text is incredibly spare. Were there many revisions of this text? Did you use art notes for some of the text that could be vague for another illustrator?
Tom: The first manuscript was called “Teddy Bear Revolt,” about a worldwide uprising of all the teddy bears in the world. Wow, that was ambitious! It quickly got pared down to my own teddy bear, Louis, and there weren’t many revisions from there. As for the simplicity of the text, as an illustrator, I know the extent to which illustrations can carry a story, so I only wrote what was needed for the pictures to do their job. The art notes were minimal, just enough so the illustrator would understand the irony between what Louis was saying and what was actually happening.
Me: Speaking of the illustrations by Julie Rowan-Zoch, they are hilarious! Was there any collaboration on them? Or was it a surprise to see the finished results? Any illustration surprises for you?
Tom: Yes, they are great! I saw samples from the illustrators being considered and Julie won me over with one simple drawing of a crabby rabbit, which I think is appearing in a book she wrote and illustrated. She captured the cute side of crabbiness and she obviously understands how to visually convey nuances of emotion with just the right brush stroke. The biggest surprise was how much I like her digital art or, more accurately, that it doesn’t matter that the art is digital. Drawing is drawing, and Julie can really draw. The digital part is just a tool and she uses it as deftly as a painter uses a brush.
As for collaboration, we didn’t work together but, toward the end, I did make a few sequence and framing suggestions about the last few pages, which she accepted graciously.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in the writing of “Louis”?
Tom: How naturally the story came to me. Louis, despite living the life of Riley, has been complaining for years, so all I had to do was channel his crabbiness onto the page.
Me: Ahh! It was a gift from the muse then! There are plenty of books about teddy bears out there, but none quite this clever. So I have to ask, where did you get this idea from?
Tom: Don’t tell Louis this but it came straight from his crabby disposition, which comes straight from his permanent expression of incredulity. Since this expression is sewn-in-place, I owe the whole thing to a 1970s-era plush toy designer.
Me: Any advice for new picture book writers or illustrators?
Tom: I have a ten-page collection of advice from myself and people who are smarter than me, which I send to people who inquire about making children’s books, but a person really only needs to know three things: join SCBWI, always over-deliver, and be nice to everyone.
Me: Excellent advice! You have several books coming out this year. Can you tell us a little bit about your other projects that we can look forward to?
Tom: The other new fall book is “Moo-Moo, I Love You,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and me. Amy passed away before we completed the book, so I recently went back and gave it the finishing touches. It felt great to once again be in the presence of her ideas. The book is a collection of declarations of love from a parent to a child, both of whom happen to be cows, so everything they say includes the word “moo.” It’s a silly book and a moo-ving tribute to Amy.
I just finished illustrating a follow-up to “Stick and Stone,” created with Beth Ferry. I am not a fan of sequels, but Beth is such a fabulous writer and we have so much fun working together that I couldn’t turn it down. Beth and I and enjoy collaborating so much that we have a ridiculous number of books in the works, most of them ridiculous.
Wow, both of those sound moo-ving and fun. I can’t wait to read them. Thank you again for stopping by Tom. But wait dear readers, there’s more! I have been a virtual friend (and fan) of Julie’s for a few years now. I was delighted to see not one but several picture books with recent publication dates coming out with her name on them. I’m delighted to be able to interview her on my blog today.
Julie Rowan-Zoch grew up collecting freckles and chasing hermit crabs in NY, and spent years slicing rich breads in Germany before waking up to 300 days of blue Colorado skies. If she doesn’t answer the door, look in the garden! You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
Me: Can you tell us about your artistic journey that brought you to this book? When did you start drawing or creating? Has your illustration work changed much over the years?
Julie: I have an advertising/graphic design background but hadn’t done more than a bit of freelance for years when a friend learning to be a creative coach needed a guinea pig! I took her up on it, and I joined SCBWI. I immediately focussed on learning how to write as I thought my drawing skills were decent. Luckily, I found the 12×12 in 2012 Picture Book Challenge, met some of my dearest kidlit friends, and absorbed everything! But I quickly found that drawing is NOT illustration! I joined a doodle group on fb and still keep to the practice of drawing something every day. That practice changed my skill set immensely! And in late 2017 I was very lucky to receive the opportunity to read the manuscript and create sketches and be considered for the illustrator for LOUIS.
Me: I absolutely LOVE your work in this story! Can you tell us about your process? What are your favorite digital tools? Do you add in traditional media?
Julie: I have worked in pencil and colored pencil, but now create all my illustrations in Procreate on an ipad. I had used the ipencil but I got impatient waiting for it to charge and started using my fingers instead – haven’t looked back! Through all the doodling I found a few brushes that suit me well and mainly stick to 3 or 4. At this point I do not add any additional media, but that might change! I took part in a collage workshop with Vanessa Brantley-Newton at our regional RMC-SCBWI conference and LOVED it!
Me: “Louis” isn’t the first book you’ve illustrated, but you’re illustrating for a famous illustrator who usually illustrates others’ work (or his own). Was it intimidating to illustrate this book for Tom Lichtenheld? How did you decide which style to use for his story?
Julie: I have illustrated a series of board books with a local publisher (just 7 blocks from my house!) but LOUIS was my first opportunity to illustrate a picture book. And YEEESS, I was intimidated! Tom has a rock-solid reputation, a strong, recognizable-anywhere style, and numerous honors and awards for his work! I do not know how fear didn’t overwhelm me! All I could do was give it my best shot, right? If my style appears different in any of my work it’s all in the line: inky, chalky, soft, thick, or thin. LOUIS is a story about the gravity of love, and called for a softer brush for the line work, a tweaked version of Bonobo Chalk.
Me: I love the work you did in this book and the way you interpreted some of the text. I think my favorite scene is the “accessory to a crime.” Were there any illustration notes for you? Or were you given free reign to interpret the text as you wanted? Did you have a favorite scene that you illustrated for this book?
Julie: There were one or two simple art notes in the manuscript which I had first ignored, but eventually went back to for the x-ray spot illo in the airport. Otherwise I had free reign which is best for the way my brain works. I don’t mind changes or suggestions at all, in fact I really love collaboration. But the imagination is a powerful yet fragile tool. Best to let ‘er rip from the get-go! The “accessory” scene came from my darling brother always trying to scare (or just annoy) me! I don’t know that I have a favorite spread but I am really happy there was a sibling for a little bit of friction!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in illustrating this story?
Julie: Drawing characters is what I do all the time, every day, but creating the spread compositions in LOUIS took me back to my design roots and it surprised me how much fun it was to combine new and old skills.
Me: Yes! I love your Louis costume sketches too, by the way. Any advice for other picture book illustrators just starting out?
Julie: Draw every day! I’ve been through a bit of personal struggle on this journey and there were months where I couldn’t bring myself to make a scratch. Eventually I did manage. The dailies from that time are uuugly, but the daily practice resuscitated me.
Me: Man, do I hear that! I see that you also have your author-illustrator debut book coming out next year. Can you tell us a little bit about that project? How long did it take to make that dream come true?
Julie: Yes, I’M A HARE, SO THERE!, also with HMH, will release on March 16th, 2021. The manuscript came together really quickly (lucky!) after my agent asked me to write a story for a character I had drawn. It’s about a Jackrabbit mistaken for a rabbit. He goes on to explain just how different (superior, really!) hares are – to a ground squirrel Jack has mistaken for a chipmunk! There are more similar-but-not-the-same animals throughout his tale told in the Sonoran Desert. AND it has some fun backmatter!
And there’s that grumpy rabbit Tom was talking about! I love it. That sounds like another fun book. Thank you for stopping by my blog Julie.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read “Louis” yet, you’ll want to track down a copy. It’s simple and funny and yet so incredibly nuanced and layered! Plus, who doesn’t love a cranky teddy bear?