Kelly Light lives in New York, but grew up down the shore in New Jersey surrounded by giant pink dinosaurs, cotton candy colors, and Skee-Ball sounds. She was schooled on Saturday-morning cartoons and Sunday funny pages. She picked up a pencil, started drawing, and never stopped.
Kelly is the author / illustrator of LOUISE LOVES ART and LOUISE AND ANDIE: THE ART OF FRIENDSHIP. She has also illustrated ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS and ELVIS AND THE UNDERDOGS: SECRETS, SECRET SERVICE, AND ROOM SERVICE by Jenny Lee, and the QUIRKS series by Erin Soderberg.
She pinches herself daily that she gets to spend her life drawing.
Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly at a Los Angeles SCBWI national conference.
For what age audience do you write/illustrate?
I primarily make picture books. So ages 2-6? The middle grade chapter books that I have illustrated were for ages 7-11. I like doing both. I love the broad humor I could really play with in the chapter books, and I love the cinematic feel of making picture books. A picture book is like an animated short in my mind that I get to write, direct, cast and shoot. It’s the closest I‘ll ever get to being Orson Welles or even better! Mel Brooks.
Henry: Picture book idea: LOUISE LOVES YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. You’re welcome.
Tell us about your latest book.
Well, I am currently sitting working on a book that won’t come out for 2 years. So, I will talk about Louise and her first book, LOUISE LOVES ART and then her continuing series. In LOUISE LOVES ART, we meet Louise – seven year-old girl who is obsessed with drawing. She is consumed with the need to create. She says, “I love art. It’s my imagination on the outside.” She’s so focused on making art that she doesn’t notice her admiring little brother, who just wants her attention. His name, just happens to be, Art. Art may just mess up some of Louise’s great works of art! Their cat sees it all happening, and tries to warn Louise. Louise realizes her little brother just wants to be like her, a great artist.
LOUISE AND ANDIE, came out Spring 2016. Louise and Art get a new neighbor moving in next door. Louise just knows the new kid will LOVE art too! Andie, the new girl… does love art – a whole lot!! What Louise thinks will be the best day ever doesn’t go exactly as planned when she realizes she and Andie have artistic differences. Can they see past their differences to friendship?? We’ll have to see…
Louise also has a series of leveled readers coming out soon. I am a huge fan of books from Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman and Syd Hoff. I had trouble learning to read, so I spent a lot of time at this level as a kid. I am excited to make books like these!
Henry: We look forward to seeing them!
What do you hope readers will get from reading LOUISE?
I hope to connect directly with the creative spirit that thrives inside of all kids! I hope that Louise is relatable and can act as a muse and a mirror. By showing her in situations that are true to the artistic experience and also funny, I hope readers see themselves and get a glimpse into the universality of those feelings. Everyone experiences self doubt, criticism, rejection, pride, fear, jealousy, wanting to belong … whether it’s about art or life or school or friends. It’s human and real. I hope that’s what they get.
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
Illustrating is easiest. I actually storyboard the whole book for weeks before I ever write a word. I have a whole moving , animated short in my head.. then I have to hit PAUSE! Choose just the right image…the fewest words from the ongoing dialogue ….. and start cutting! Oh, I do not recommend this process to anyone. Oh the pain!! I often say, drawing is like breathing…. writing is like punching myself in the face.
Henry: It always amazes me how much process variety there is by different author/illustrators. Some write first, and some illustrate first. I can only write, so it’s face-punching for me.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?
Creating and publishing a book is like a trip through the Fun House. Excited and happy, ticket in hand, you are now tall enough to ride this ride!! You make the book on a long and winding line. Waiting is hard as the release day draws near. You climb the metal steps behind all of the people with books coming out with you that publishing season…thinking, “Let the fun begin!!”. But, Fun Houses are designed to distort reality. The floors move, the mirrors make it hard to see yourself clearly. You try to climb a ladder that has steps that shift. With a lot of effort and determination, you make it almost all of the way through and then you reach a giant spinning barrel. You can kind of read the writing on the barrel..”Does it say Award season?” “ ….can’t concentrate… too much spinning…” You are DIZZY. Ahead….you can see daylight. You are a little worn out and discombobulated. Someone is taking your picture, yelling at you to SMILE! You have to hang on and get through the barrel. Then you slide…down… and out of this book’s release. People are all waiting for you outside of the Fun House anticipating the tale of your trip. You feel like you want to barf, so you force a smile and you squeak out, “That was great!!!” You have to remind yourself to laugh through all of this. You got to be at the Amusement Park when so many people didn’t get to come! Remind yourself that you wanted this. Approach it with the feeling that it is a wild ride, and being knocked off of your feet is part of it. There’s more rides to go on. Take some time and play skeeball. Win an unfortunate-looking stuffed animal at whack-a-mole. Celebrate the small victories. Have some cotton candy. Then you will think – “I had the best time…can’t wait to do it all over again.”
Henry: Beautifully said. You should write for a living.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been in KidLit?
I used to work in animation. Then I worked in cartoon licensed merchandise as a character artist for companies like Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Henson, Nickelodeon, etc. Cartoons are my life-long love, and I came to making books through my love of cartoons. My favorite cartoons are the Warner Bros. shorts. My favorite of all of the Warner Bros artists is Chuck Jones. I followed on the web, all of the Chuck stuff that I could for years as I pursued being published. When I was touring the U.S. last Fall for LOUISE LOVES ART, I thought I would make a stop at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa, CA. Well – that little thought plus a few ounces of wishing and a pinch hope plus a smidge of believing anything is possible…and I found myself there. The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity was set up to inspire and encourage the creativity that flourishes naturally in kids. Free art classes, outreach to schools that have lost art funding, talks and workshops for kids and adults… all of these things keep the legacy of a great artist alive, Chuck Jones. A man, who in his lifetime, thoroughly enjoyed meeting and encouraging young artists. His family runs the center along with a wonderful staff and volunteers sharing that common goal. I gave a workshop on character design that had an unprecedented attendance for me and for the center. Since then, I have become a “International Creative Ambassador For The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity”, enjoying a continuing connection with that amazing place and helping to keep awareness of what they do and hope to do, along with the the work of Chuck Jones – thriving!
It was making a book and creating a character of my own that lead me to this opportunity. Life is nuts.
For more information on The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity- go to: http://www.chuckjonescenter.org/ And Henry? I know you live pretty close to it…so your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go with your kids and check out a “Drop in and Draw” day!
Henry: Challenge accepted.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?
You have to really want this and treat the pursuit of being published as if you already have a career in publishing. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a dream, it’s not weekend trip to a conference. It is your life if you want it to be your life. Keep making new work and continuously show it at every opportunity you can find or make. You are your work as well, be your best self, make your best work. Everything else is beyond your control – but what you can control? Bust-a-move.
Henry: And be patient. Don’t give up your day job.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
The Gospel according to Laverne and Shirley…
“Give us any chance – we’ll take it
Read us any rule – we’ll break it
We’re gonna make our dreams come true….
Doin’ it our way
Nothin’s gonna turn us back now
Straight ahead and on the track now
We’re gonna make our dreams come true…
Doin’ it our way.”
Henry: “Na na na na, na na na na, Batman. Batman! Batman! Batman.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
Music and loud singing …while doing final art. Podcasts about comedians and old movies… if I am in the studio doing general stuff. Total silence if I am writing (punching myself in the face).
Henry: I’d be happy to collaborate on a picture book with you to save you from self-punchitude.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
My superhero name would be “Deadline”. I would have the ability to freeze time, add time, procrastinate without any penalty, the more pressure I was under the stronger I would become and I would have “Storm”-like control over the world supplies of coffee and chocolate. I would always return after a battle to the fortress of Bubble bath.
Henry: Your nemesis would be “Thoughtless Reviewer”. The only drawback to Bubble Bath Fortress is when it rains.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I’m bending the rules. These are all writers/creators.
Well- I want Chuck Jones to be there, and his pal, Ted Geisel. I am fascinated by their friendship… and let’s add Mel Brooks. Oh, that – would – be – fun.
Henry: “Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have
to know how.”
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The Cheshire Cat. He’s kind of helpful but also a little snarky… and he can disappear when things get out of hand. I dig that.
Henry: “Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to rummage through antique stores and I collect old photo albums (clue to upcoming book) and old radios.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
Why are you here? GO. Live!
Henry: I notice a similarity in your words and glasses to another famous lady…
Where can readers find your work?
Well, I am truly fortunate to have books available at all major book outlets like Amazon and indies all around – check Indiebound.com… and to my ultimate happiness..in SO many libraries!!! My website.
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Kelly. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.