Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Super Star Interviews: Jennifer Gray Olson

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month. (And yes, I know it's Wednesday—my apologizes! Back-to-school got the better of me!!)

I’m thrilled to be chatting it up with the rock star Author/Illustrator, Jennifer Gray Olson! I'm a fan of her awesome artwork and am so glad to have had the pleasure of joining Jennifer for book events at our local SoCal bookstores back in my LA days!! She i
s the author/illustrator of Ninja Bunny, Ninja Bunny: Bunny vs. Bunny and Me and Mr. Fluffernutter. She grew up in sunny Southern California, where she spent most of her time indoors, drawing imaginary worlds and the characters who inhabited them. Not much has changed. She still lives in Southern California and still draws everyday. But she tries to go outside more...You can view more of her artwork here!

Rock star cuteness!!

Q: You are a super star author/illustrator, masterfully offering your audience humor and fabulous characters! Give us the scoop on your process—from ideas & manuscripts to thumbnails/sketches & color art. What comes first the art or the writing? 

A: For me, my process typically starts off with doing warm-up drawings just for fun or a way to work out something I’m going through at the time. Characters usually show up for me at this stage. If I like the character, I will then come up with a general concept or story to go with her/him. Normally, I don’t really do any actual writing by this point, just a collection of sketches and notes. If the concept and character still feels strong, I will present it to my critique group and get feedback and direction on how to round it out. I’ll then thumbnail it out—many many times in some cases—before laying out a loose dummy or rough draft of the book. I generally leave the writing for last. I like the illustrations to do most of the heavy lifting and try to use the words only when necessary to propel the story forward or to emphasize certain elements of the story. 

Meow! Meow! Meeeeeooow!!!

Q: Dish with us about your most recent picture book, Me and Mr. Fluffernutter—give us all the wonderful details: how the book began, how it sold, what you’re working relationship with your publisher was like—you know, all the good stuff!

A: Mr. Fluffernutter, like most of my characters, started out as a warm up sketch I did one day. Mr. Fluffernutter is a somewhat stubborn cat who finds himself in some pretty unpleasant situations as a result of his human best friend. She makes him play dress up, have tea parties, go swimming with floaties on...needless to say, he’s not entertained. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was my second book in a two book deal with Knopf; my first was Ninja Bunny. My publisher at Knopf was Alison Wortche. We had a great working relationship. Me and Mr. Fluffernutter was the third book we had worked on together, so we had developed a good rhythm at that point.

Karate carrot chop!!

Q: An author/illustrator’s job doesn’t end with publication—this is when promotion kicks in! What advice would you give fellow author/illustrators on book promotion?

A: I actually have a lot of thoughts on this topic. As authors/illustrators, I think so much more of this aspect of publishing is in our hands than we realize. We need to be our books promoters, cheerleaders and biggest advocates. Some people are fortunate and they have a huge backing by their publisher and its publicity department. And some people aren’t even sure if their book has been assigned a publicist at all. The biggest thing I would encourage authors/illustrators to do is to simply ask your publisher what resources are available. There’s no harm in it. And more often then not, if you’re enthusiastic about a promotional idea, your enthusiasm will be contagious. I know personally that I saw the difference in the amount of feedback I got from my first book, which I highly promoted, and the third one that I did not promote nearly as much. 

Illustrator mama getting it done like a boss!

Q: As the working illustrator mom of three, in what ways do you balance your home life and your work life?

A: Most days I feel about as balanced as a three-legged donkey on ice skates. To say I struggle with this, is an understatement. Luckily, my youngest just started first grade, so for the first time all three of my kids are in school all day. The one thing, when I can manage to stick to it, that seems to make a huge difference is focusing completely on one role at a time. When it’s my designated work time, I need to focus only on work. My studio is in the center of the house and has no doors, so this can be challenging. When the kids are home from school, I try to focus completely on them and my household responsibilities. Constantly splitting my focus and jumping from work to kids to house to errands over and over again leaves me feeling overwhelmed and unsuccessful at all of it. 

Ghostly nightmare dream.

Q: Like many of us who work in the children’s book publishing world of fluffy bunnies and adorable kittens, you also have a fabulously rich dark side to your artistic inclinations. Dish with us a bit about this and what role it plays in balancing your picture book work.

A: Like I had mentioned before, most of my book concepts come from my warm-ups, so for me it’s essential to my book making process. When I draw for myself, it’s almost like writing in a diary. It helps me unclutter my mind and problem solve issues I may be struggling with. It’s almost like taking out my emotional garbage, so that I can focus on work. Once I have an issue on paper, I’m much more likely to be able to move on from it.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: Between work, kids and household duties, life can be pretty hectic, so my idea of a perfect Sunday would be one free of plans or obligations. I’m not particularly good at being idle, but sometimes sitting on the couch watching movies for a few hours can be pretty awesome.

Thank you so much, Jen, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! We think you rock!!