I have admired Judy Schachner’s picture books for YEARS. I can’t wait to share today’s picture book interview with you.
Judy Schachner was born into an Irish Catholic working class family from New England. Money was as tight as their apartment was tiny and though she may not have had the easiest of childhoods, she credits her imagination with helping her survive it. She can’t ever remember a time when she was not drawing and like most budding artists she doodled on everything, including her father’s bald head. She drew herself into stories where she was the smartest in her class and into a family where mothers lived to be a ripe old age. In many ways, Judy feels that her own life has resembled the fairy tales she loved reading as a child, complete with a happy ending. And the best part of this author/illustrator’s story? She married a prince of a guy and they had two beautiful daughters and just like the mothers in her earliest tales, she plans on living to a ripe old age. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Instagram.
STRETCHY AND BEANIE is a sequel to a previous picture book, STRETCHY MCHANDSOME. In the first book we saw Stretchy go from being homeless to finding and falling for a girl named Beanie. We saw everything they had in common and knew that they were each other’s soulmates. Even better, Stretchy’s whole family was soon adopted by other children who lived in the same house as Beanie. In this book, there is trouble in paradise! Beanie is a bit too bossy, demanding, and TOO loving. Stretchy can’t handle it and crisis ensues. This is a story about when friendships are tested.
Me: I can’t imagine anyone isn’t familiar with your work, but can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting? How did that lead to where you are now as an illustrator of this book?
Judy: I don’t remember a time when I was not drawing and making up stories. I loved creating characters that I could morph into. My most popular stories focused around fancy ladies in ballgowns and jewels. They lived in mansions filled with drama and misery until they sacrificed it all for life in a convent, where they experienced even more misery. But the stories usually ended happily, with a touch of tuberculosis and the love of a handsome English doctor. I was raised catholic during the 50’s and 60’s, so that should explain a lot. I may never do a book about rich ladies, tuberculosis or nuns, but you never know, there is still time. However, I certainly have created many books about cats and that brings us to Stretchy McHandsome and Beanie McBright.
Me: Can you talk about your art process for this book a little bit? Are you mainly a traditional artist, a digital artist, or a combination of both? What tools do you use?
Judy: I am a traditional artist. Mixed media is my favorite way to illustrate – Watercolors, pen and ink, acrylics, pastels, colored pencils and collage are typically what I have used for my entire career. I love the imperfection and humanity of raw art.
Me: I love that. And I love that your book “Stretchy McHandsome” now has a sequel. I sense that you are a fellow cat lover, given all of your stories with cats. I love both of your characters in this story. They feel so real! Is the character of Beanie with her bossiness and overly-affectionate behavior based on anyone you know? Where did the idea for this book come from?
Judy: Yes, one could say that I am a bit obsessed with the kitties.
I think Beanie is like most kids faced with caring for a new pet or meeting a new sibling. Children must learn to be gentle, patient and how not to “love something to death.” Especially that last one! And we can all learn a thing or two from Stretchy and Beanie about perfection – it doesn’t exist.
Me: I love that you had all of the homeless kitties adopted. I just adopted two kitties from the pound myself! I sense that Beanie might be adopted as well. Is this an important topic for you to share with young readers? Why or why not?
Judy: I’m so happy to hear you’ve become a new kitty mama, yay!
Yes, Beanie is one of 9 adopted children – all with different ethnicities and abilities. I loved the idea that the McHandsome’s were the feline counterpart to the McBrights. There was no particular reason for having Beanie’s siblings being adopted other than it made for the perfect surprise ending to the first book STRETCHY McHANDSOME. I have never adopted a child, but I have adopted many pets.
Me: You have been an author-illustrator for a few years now. Where do you start with a book idea? Do you find it easier to write a story first or illustrate it?
Judy: I was forty when I illustrated THE PRINCE OF THE POND by Donna Jo Napoli. At that time I never thought I would write a book myself, but life has a funny way of surprising us. All of my story ideas begin in journals. I call them character bibles. Inspiration comes from everything everywhere all the time. Though I’ve been most guilty of exploiting my own family and pets for fame and fortune. My writing and illustrating are often done in tandem – like parallel play. If I get stuck writing, then I draw and vice versa.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in creating and/or illustrating this story?
Judy: After thirty years of doing this job, just how hard it is to illustrate a book. It never gets any easier, and that always surprises me. And not in a good way :\
Me: Any advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Judy: Read tons and tons of picture books. Explore ideas in journals. With so much digital work out there, make sure you keep the YOU in your art. I’m increasingly having a hard time telling illustrators apart. Try not to follow trends. Write from the heart…even if your heart is broken. Stick your ego in your back pocket, creating books is a team sport. Repeat.
That is such great advice. Thank you for stopping by my blog Judy.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, I highly recommend it. It’s fun and funny, but it explores patience, high expectations, friendship, and various aspects of love too. It’s hard to believe one book can cram all that in, but it does. This is one you won’t want to miss.
AND, as an added bonus, Judy shared a ton of photos of her studio. There was a video tour as well, but alas! I can’t get videos to post in my blog for some weird reason! =( At any rate, enjoy the tour of her fantastic studio!
And if you enjoyed this sneak peek into Judy’s creative space, be sure to check out her instagram! She shares a lot of her creations there. Thanks again Judy for stopping by my blog!