I became an instant fan of Andrea Zuill when I picked up her debut picture book Wolf Camp. I loved the quirky illustration style and the imaginative and funny text. I appreciated the concept—the way she found a new angle on a dog book and made it fresh. But the book also had the most important quality for me—a laugh out loud scene that made it impossible to leave the bookstore without it. (I will post that scene at the end of this interview for any deprived people who have not seen this book yet!) So when it was time to recruit for this contest, I knew I had to ask her or I would never forgive myself for not trying.
What is your method for writing a picture book and do you find yourself experimenting a lot during the process? What comes first? The words or the pictures?
I always start with a character that I love and form a story around them. How I create the story is very impulse driven. Sometimes I try writing it first or at least try to get some of the interesting bits written down so I remember them. Very often in the middle of this I get the urge to start drawing, and I’ve learned over the years to go with my instinct. It becomes a back and forth of writing a bit then drawing. It’s very important to me not to impose too many rules when I’m trying to develop a story.
What are the main influences on your work?
I adore Ian Falconer’s character Olivia. His books were the first ones I gleaned onto when I started in children’s books. Quentin Blake is a master. I use his books a lot when I’m stuck and need to jump-start my brain. Ryan Higgins’ Mother Bruce is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. And even though he’s not a picture book author, I love Terry Pratchett.
What mediums and tools do you like to work with?
I work with ink (drawing pens), watercolor and Photoshop.
How do you go about selecting your palette?
I try to do a few test pieces to get a feel for what I want. I try to keep it simple so I am able to keep the color consistent throughout the story.
You were mentored yourself when you won the LA SCBWI mentorship. How did that experience help you on your journey?
There’s nothing better than having a person with fresh eyes look at your work. They spotted things that I couldn’t see. The SCBWI mentorship is a very short mentorship. It is mainly one meeting with each of the mentors. I feel if you can find a mentor that you can work with over time, that is the best.
Can you tell us about how your own dog, Homer, influenced the character in Wolf Camp?
My family adopted Homer after our first dog passed away. He was just a puppy at a local shelter. I found him online and fell in love with his little face. When we got him home we noticed some interesting things about him. He likes rules. He doesn’t like to get into trouble, so when he learns a rule he follows it. He’s a scaredy cat. He’s pretty sure the world is out to get him. He was never much of a dog to watch TV, but one day, we were watching a documentary about wolves in Yellowstone. He watched the whole thing. That’s when I started thinking about what would it be like for a very domesticated dog getting a chance to live as a wild wolf.
You have another book coming out this spring, Dance is for Everyone. Can you tell us a bit about it and what was the inspiration spark?
You might say that this book is my answer to artistic elitism. I’m a firm believer that art is for everyone and is not just for the gifted. Plus, I was an awkward child so dance was not considered an option for me. The Alligator in the story is that awkward child, but instead of being turned away from dance she is embraced.
Thank you Andrea! To learn more about Andrea and apply for a mentorship- http://beckytarabooks.com/contest/