Lori Mitchell graduated with honors from the internationally renowned Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Lori wrote and illustrated the award-winning children’s book, ‘Different Just Like Me’, for which she appeared on Oprah and the Today show. She has illustrated 9 more books since, including ‘Holly Bloom’s Garden’ and her latest, ‘Bal Yoga for Kids’, which won the San Diego Book award for 2012. She also does advertising and editorial illustrations. She is the president of the Society of Illustrators, San Diego.
For what age audience do you write/illustrate?
Three of my books are for K through third grade (‘Different Just Like Me’, ‘Holly Bloom’s Garden’ and ‘Bal Yoga for Kids’), six of them are for second and third grades (‘Spruce Street Six’ series), and one is for K-12 (‘Marfan, from A to Z’). This book is for all kids that have a connective tissue disorder called Marfan’s Syndrome.
Henry: I always have immense respect for someone skillful enough to be a published writer AND illustrator.
Tell us about your latest book.
My latest is ‘Bal Yoga for Kids’. It won the San Diego Book award in 2012. I worked with Sylvia Roth and Glenda Kacev on this book. They are both teachers and have been teaching kids and yoga for many years. They were both so much fun to work with. They let me do pretty much what I wanted and they were always so complimentary on the final drawings. They also worked with Lorna Masaki, a wonderful designer, so the book looks very professional. I illustrated the poses. They run the alphabet from the Airplane pose to the Zebra pose, and I got to draw each one. They may some day make stuffed animals based on some of the images.
Henry: How unique! Yoga pose plushies!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I have heard that so many parents and teachers use the book and the kids love it. It relaxes them and they learn how to calm themselves down on their own if they ever feel upset. Sylvia and Glenda did a demo with an audience of K-12 students. They thought maybe they could do a couple of poses but all the kids liked it so much they did the whole book! The book comes with a CD and DVD that helps too.
What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?
I think the most challenging thing is when I meet a client and have to figure out what they want. I need to come up with just the right questions so I get the answers that I need before I get started.
Henry: That is true of so many fields. 🙂
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an illustrator?
I’ve learned so many lessons over the years as an illustrator that it’s hard to narrow down. One of the biggest lessons I learned as a young illustrator was that it was okay to spell out everything in a contract. I think it’s so easy for an illustrator and a client to get their wires crossed that it’s okay to get it in writing. It’s a professional way of doing business that protects both the client and myself.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an illustrator?
Out of everything, the most memorable was meeting Oprah and being on her show. It happened after I had watched one of her shows and written her a note about it. It wasn’t even related to anything I had done professionally. A producer called me, and we wound up talking about my first book, ‘Different Just Like Me’. He asked if I could send a video of me working on the book and of my daughter, who was the inspiration for the book. After they got the video, they liked it so much they put me on a plane to Chicago the next day to talk about it on her show. It was very exciting.
Henry: Wow. “I must have her NOW!” said Oprah.
What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Illustration has changed so much since the Norman Rockwell era. There just aren’t the same number of jobs as then, and there are a lot of talented students getting out of art school every term. It can be hard to make a living as an illustrator these days, so do something else if you aren’t really committed to it. But, if you know in your heart that illustration is what you have to do, then stick with it.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
Oh, I have so many favorite quotes. One of my newest favorite quotes is from a Macklemore song: “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great because they paint a lot.” Another is by Picasso: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
Henry: So true. Learn by doing.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you illustrate?
Well, I’d like to say that I light candles and have séances, but I’m not sure I really do anything unusual. I do always clear out my work area so I can start a new project fresh. It’s so nice to have a clear desk with a row of pens and brushes just waiting to get started. Unfortunately my cats like this, too. They tend to drink or step in my water, so I need to be careful where I leave things, even if I just step away for a few minutes.
Henry: Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
This makes me laugh, because my husband and his daughter were talking with me once about what would be the most USELESS superpower. That takes some thinking, but I eventually said the most useless superpower would be to manifest dust. Top that.
Henry: That is pretty useless, but it would be worse if one was a dust magnet!
If you could have three authors or illustrators over for dinner, who would it be?
Oh, this is so not fair, but I’ll try. One of my favorites is Carl Larsson. He’s from Sweden, and he did the most beautiful watercolor and pen & ink paintings of his family. You can just see the love on the page. Next would be Holly Hobby. Do you remember the “Holly Hobby girl?” She was popular in the 70’s and 80’s. She had a little bonnet on and looked like a prairie girl. Now Holly is doing the “Toot and Puddle” series. It’s about two little pigs and one goes off to see the world while the other waits at home. The illustrations are dreamy and so much fun! They make you smile, but they are also very well executed technically. The last would be E.H. Shepard. He illustrated the original pen & inks of ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. I LOVED that book. I could just look at the pictures over and over. My mom painted a whole scene from the book on my wall when I was little, so I guess it left an impression. It’s funny, because my pen and ink sometimes looks like his, not as good, of course, but similar in style.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Christopher Robin. I’m not much on goblins and scary stuff. I love Christopher’s attitude, how much he loves his bear and all the others, and how he loves his walks in the woods.
Henry: So, no evil Lord Voldemort, eh?
What do you like to do when you’re not illustrating?
I like to travel. My husband and I just got back from a trip to Italy and Turkey. I took along a sketchbook, so I got to do sketches almost every day. If you sketch it, you’ll never forget it. Sketching keeps me fresh with my illustrations, so I try to sketch at least a few times a week.
Henry: Interesting. The best way to remember is to sketch, and the best way to learn is to teach.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
I don’t want a tombstone. That just doesn’t feel right to me. I have other plans, and one is not to be buried in the ground with a rock on top of me.
Henry: The whole not being alive thing has no appeal.
Where can readers find your work?
http://www.differentjustlikeme.com is a good website for teachers. It has lesson plans and games that go with ‘Different Just like Me’. On the left side of the home page, just click “Other Book By Lori Mitchell,” and you can find links to my other work.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.