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Interview with Illustrator Christopher Denise

Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward10 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! Today we have the incredibly talented illustrator Christopher Denise stopping by to chat with us! I’m a huge fan of Chris’s books and I’m thrilled to share his work with all of you today! I was lucky enough to meet Chris and his lovely and talented wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise a few years ago at a writer’s retreat in Vermont. You can read Critter Lit’s interview with Anika here. Their newest book, BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE came out earlier this month with Henry Holt and has received wonderful reviews:

"This sweet picture book acknowledges the special place each sibling occupies in a family. . . Kids will savor adorable details, such as children's artwork on a bedroom wall and winsome animal students lined up for school in a tree. Charming and comforting."Kirkus Reviews

So without further ado, please welcome Christopher Denise!

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Where do you live?

We live in Rhode Island in a little bayside community just outside of Providence. We love it here! We found an old beach house, fixed it up (most of it), and built a studio out back. The best part is that we can walk barefoot to the beach.

How many years have you been in publishing?

I started in publishing before my graduation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1990. So, about 29 years ago. My first book, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, was published in 1994.

How many books have you published?

Bunny in the Middle just published this July. It is my twenty-fifth book in trade publishing. When I first started out I published a number of books for the educational market.

Do you illustrate full-time?

I do! But it’s not necessarily like most full-time jobs. My wife, Anika Aldamuy Denise, is a kid lit author so in addition to our careers, we share responsibilities for taking care of all the house and family things. If I am on a deadline, she will step in and make sure all the home things happen. If she is in the thick of a project, I will take over. It’s not uncommon for either one of us to be back at work on a Sunday night.

What inspires you to create picture books?

I am inspired to create picture books that I like to read. Humor is big for me. I love to laugh and I love surprising and funny picture books! I also try to keep myself in a state of wonder. Children are fascinating and have such a truthful and amazing way of seeing the world. If you can tap into that, there is always inspiration.

What surprised you the most working as an illustrator?

The degree of tenacity that is required to stay in the field surprised me. While at RISD, I was fortunate enough to study with David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work). Just before graduation, we had a long chat and he told me that it is not always the most brilliant or the most talented that make it in this business. You need the grit to stick with it, day after day, year after year.

What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

The ever-changing challenges of each book. Every author that I work with has a distinct voice and requires me to start over, to start fresh. I try to get myself into a beginner’s mind at the start of each project so I that I can respond to what is in front of me and what that particular book is asking for in terms of pacing, character development, and even the look of the book. It’s a wonderful way to be constantly in a state of growth and exploration.

What do you find difficult working as an illustrator?

The hours can be tough but I have gotten much better at managing production schedules. Even more difficult is managing the uncertainty of the market. You never really know how a book is going to land and if it will find its audience. That can make it difficult to plan and can be a challenge when raising a family.

What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Spending time with my family is hands-down the best thing I can do to generate new ideas or get a fresh perspective. It gets me out of my own headspace. The dinner table at our house is like a brain trust and the perfect place to beta test ideas.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

This sounds odd but I am habitual about routine. I need to show up in the studio and get in my hours. After so many years at this job, I know what works. I’m very good (an expert, actually) at breaking routine when I want to, but if I have too many days of distractions that take me out of the studio, I get very grumpy. Also exercise! It’s another way to get out of my own headspace and come back fresh.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the kid lit community?

A few years ago I was asked to speak at Kindling Words East as a guest illustrator. I really didn't know what to expect but it was such a good fit for me, I ended up joining the committee and being their Resident Illustrator — and in many ways, finding a family. It truly is a safe and trusting place where we can discuss kid lit and the real nuts and bolts of living a creative life.

What is your favorite picture book?

A very tough question. I am going to skip listing the classics. But I can’t choose just one! I have so many favorites in different sub-genres of picture books and they change all the time. I do love I am Small by Emma Dodd. Swan by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad, is a big favorite. Also Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli, and Days Like This by Simon James.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Hmm, another tough question. In a way, living as an artist and spending my days in the studio, I am living the highlight every day. I’m grateful for the good reviews, the stars, the acknowledgements, and certainly when something happens like your book lands on the NY times list! But looking back at highlights can be tricky because comparison is inevitable. Comparing what was then, to this day in the studio. It just doesn't not feel right to me. There are things I am proud of. Firefly Hollow was a journey that required me to grow and change in different ways. Recently, I completed and sold my first picture book manuscript and I feel great about it. But really today, with all the possibility it offers, is the highlight.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started illustrating?

Don’t spend too much energy trying to prove yourself or working towards becoming something that you think that you should be. Allow the work to grow and to change. Just relax and have fun with it! Work hard at refining your tools but focus on allowing your individual, authentic voice to emerge.

Tell us about your newest book?

Bunny in the Middle written by Anika Aldamuy Denise!

We created Bunny in the Middle to celebrate the unique (sometimes challenging), but ultimately very special experience of being in the middle. Our middle is fearless but wise. She holds a unique place in the family. So we wrote a book to celebrate her — and all the middles out there.

What’s up next for you?

Oooo, I wish I could say more! Just last week we reached an agreement to publish my very first book that I have written and illustrated. Check the PW rights report-it may be in there this week!

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Yes, the standard advice is true. Read tons of picture books. Your local librarian should be your best friend. If you can, volunteer to read at a story hour at your local independent bookstore. Reading aloud to an audience is one of the very best ways to really understand what makes picture books work. Once you get going, avoid the comparison game. I know that we all seek recognition for our efforts and award time can be tough for many. Don’t fall into that trap, it will not serve you. Celebrate great books and achievements by your fellow authors and illustrators — especially if they are underrepresented in the industry.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

I guess Star Wars falls in the wrong decade so I would say Back to the Future with Raiders of the Lost Ark being a close second.


Huge thanks to Christopher Denise for stopping by Critter Lit today! Congrats on all your success and your first author/illustrator project— we can’t wait to check it out!


CHRISTOPHER DENISE is an award-winning illustrator of many critically-acclaimed books for young readers including Alison McGhee’s Firefly Hollow, Rosemary Wells’ Following Grandfather, Anne Marie Pace’s Groundhug Day, as well as several in Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. His books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and have been recognized by Bank Street College of Education, Parents' Choice Foundation, and the Society of Illustrators. Christopher lives with his wife and collaborator, Anika Denise (Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bunny in the Middle). They live on the coast of Rhode Island with three exceptionally nice people who happen to be their daughters.

 FOR MORE INFORMATION about Christopher, visit him online at http://www.christopherdenise.com/ or follow him on social media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christopherdenise/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Christopher-Denise-Illustrator-385062757194/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cadenise

Blog: http://christopherdenise.blogspot.com/

TO ORDER Christopher’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of BUNNY IN THE MIDDLE?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, August 1st! US addresses only please.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Authors, Authors + Illustrators, Illustrators, Interviews, Vet InterviewsLindsay Ward2 Comments

Happy Thursday Critters! I’m so excited about today’s interview because our guest is…wait for it…

DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI!

I absolutely adore Debbie’s books and I’m thrilled to have her on Critter Lit and share her fabulous interview with you all. Debbie’s newest book, I’M WORRIED, written by Michael Ian Black, just released in June. If you haven’t read this series, you are missing out! I’M WORRIED is the third book in the I’m Bored! Series. The art is playful and wonderful and the text is spot on. Go check these books out! Debbie also offers incredible advice, templates, and posts about writing and illustrating children’s books on her site inkygirl.com.

So without further ado…please welcome Debbie Ridpath Ohi!

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Where do you live?

I live in Toronto, Canada.

How many years have you been in publishing?

It depends what you mean by publishing.

My first children’s book came out in 2012: I’M BORED was written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me, and was published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. My first book for grown-ups came out in 2001: THE WRITER’S ONLINE MARKETPLACE published by Writer’s Digest Books.

I think that the first thing I ever had officially published was a series of comics I created when I was in high school which ended up appearing in a cross-Canada newspaper for schools. I ended up winning their overall writing contest - I won a typewriter!

But the very first thing I had unofficially published was a family magazine I created with the aid of my sister and brother called FAMILY WEEKLY. I was the editor, and we all contributed stories, comics, puzzles, contests, and jokes.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Debbie Ridpath Ohi and Michael Ian Black

Do you write/illustrate full-time?

Yes! 

My first full-time job, was a computer programmer/analyst.

What inspires you to create picture books?

Interacting with young readers. 

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

Michael Ian Black and Debbie talk to young readers at Savoy Bank Street in Westerly, RI

What surprised you the most working as an author/illustrator?

When I first started illustrating picture books, I was amazed at how much creative input I had. I came from a writer’s world, after all, and used to think that a picture book illustrator just illustrated the author’s text. What I found: there is soooooooo much more to being a children’s book illustrator!

If I could give my young self some advice about writing picture books, it would be this: Leave room for your illustrator. Their creative vision matters just as much as yours. I feel incredibly lucky to have been working with authors, art directors and editors who understand this.

What is your favorite thing about being an author/illustrator?

Two favorite things:

  1. The part of the creative process when you fall so deeply into your work that everything else around you disappears.

  2. Talking with young readers.

What do you find difficult working as an author/illustrator?

Trying not to compare myself to others.

It’s hard not to do this, especially when I’m on social media so much!

The fact is that there are ALWAYS going to be people who seem to be in a better place than me, whether it’s book contracts or awards, bestseller lists, getting more attention and public praise, and so on.

Two things that help the most:

  • Trying to focus on enjoying my own journey at my own pace.

  • Talking with young readers and hearing about young readers who love my books. I know I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I do find this helps ground me, reminding me of what’s really important. Sure, I may not have made it onto such-and-such list or someone posted a bad review of my newest book BUT (!!!!) here’s this earnest 2nd-grader who tells me that reading my book inspired her to write a story or draw a picture or helped her in some way.

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What do you do to shake the rust off or get new ideas?

Read books. Get out of my office and take a walk. Going to SCBWI and CANSCAIP events. Hanging out in person with Kidlit friends. Read more books.

Anything you are habitual about when it comes to creativity?

What I find helps me the most: focusing on the FUN, and not being afraid to make mistakes.

For me, this means using inexpensive art materials during creative play. I find it hard to immerse myself in fun creative experimentation if I’m using a piece of watercolor paper that costs $5 a sheet, for example. 

Another important factor for me: uninterrupted focus time. This can be as short as 15 minutes, but I need to know that during that 15 minutes, I’m not going to be interrupted. This means no Internet, no phone calls, etc.

Can you share a positive experience you’ve had in the Kid Lit community?

Omigosh - this is such a hard question because there have been so many!

Here’s just one: Lee Wardlaw was the first children’s book professional who ever encouraged me in my writing. She was also the one to first tell me about the SCBWI, introduced me to people at my very first conference. After working with me on my first middle grade mss, she introduced me to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown. Ginger is now my agent.

Recommended reading?

One of my favorite writing craft books right now is THE MAGIC WORDS: Writing Great Books For Children and Young Adults by Cheryl Klein.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

So many highlights to choose from! I’m grateful for all of them.

But I would say one personal highlight was meeting Judy Blume in person after illustrating some of her revamped middle grade and chapter books with Atheneum / Simon & Schuster Children’s.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

Photo by my Simon & Schuster editor Justin Chanda, moments after I burst into tears after Justin introduced me to Judy Blume.

What is something you wish someone had told you when you first started writing/illustrating?

Working on your craft is important, it’s true, but you also need to get out and start meeting people in the industry. Yes, you are an introvert who dreads the whole idea of “networking” - but you CAN learn how to do it, and will make good friends in the process.

Also, be prepared for rejections. Many, many rejections. Learning how to handle rejection is an essential skill before and after publication.

Can you tell us about your newest book?

I’M WORRIED is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers), and is part of the I’M.... series of books about emotions. The first was I’M BORED and the second was I’M SAD.

This newest book in the series is about Potato, who is worried about everything. Because anything might happen. When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

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Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Spread from I’M WORRIED written by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

What’s up next for you?

I’m working on illustrations for GURPLE & PREEN, a picture book story written by Linda Sue Park. I’m excited about this project because Linda Sue wrote it especially for me to illustrate with my broken crayon art! Our book is coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2020.

Anything else you’d like to share with aspiring authors and illustrators?

Intelligent perseverance is as important as talent.

And last, but not least, favorite 80s movie?

So hard to choose! I’m torn between Back To The Future (1985) and E.T. (1982).


Huge thank you to Debbie for stopping by Critter Lit today! We are so excited about all of your fabulous books! Congrats on all your success!


DEBBIE RIDPATH OHI is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (2015) and Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster, 2017). Her writing and/or illustrations have appeared in over 20 books for young people, including titles by Michael Ian Black, Judy Blume, Rob Sanders, Aaron Reynolds, Lauren McLaughlin and Colby Sharp. Her newest book is I'm Worried, a sequel to NY Times Notable I'm Bored and I'm Sad, written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie. Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Inkygirl.com. You can find out more about Debbie and her work at DebbieOhi.com as well as on Twitter at @inkyelbows and Instagram at @inkygirl.

TO ORDER Debbie’s books, ring up your local bookstore or click here.

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Want a chance to win a copy of I’M WORRIED?! Comment on this post or share it on Twitter. One lucky winner will be selected Thursday, July 25th! US addresses only please.