The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Leanne Hatch
Leanne Hatch is a children's book author/illustrator, textile designer, and accessories designer who lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Growing up, Leanne and her little sister would spend hours drawing paper dolls. Then they would draw them again in different outfits. One day, Dad brought home a gigantic roll of plain white paper from Boeing Surplus. They cut the paper into various lengths in order to make settings for the dolls. They created everything from bedrooms to playgrounds to retail shops. The possibilities were endless!
Leanne went on to get a BA in fine arts with an emphasis on drawing, then received a second BA in apparel design. With her combined interest in art and fashion, she began her career as a textile print designer in the clothing industry. While her passion and appreciation for characters and stories never went away, Leanne’s love for picture books was revived when her two children came into the world. She loves reading with them and looks forward to sharing her own books with them!
Her debut picture book, Unraveled, releases tomorrow.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write and illustrate? How long have you been writing and illustrating picture book drafts? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to work on?)
My background is in art and fashion which led me to work as a print/textile designer in the clothing industry for the past several years. While I loved fashion, I had always wanted to make a picture book, but I didn’t know where to start. A few years ago, through a quick Google search, I discovered a picture book making class taught by author and illustrator Dana Sullivan just a few miles from my house. I was instantly hooked and haven’t stopped since. As an illustrator, I really enjoy working on picture books and bringing the text to life.
I know Dana Sullivan. That's so cool that his class was the impetus for your books(s). What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I met my best friend in kindergarten, and we still talk (or at least text) almost every day. She recently showed me a stuffed lion I had given to her for her 5th birthday. I couldn’t believe she still had it! She even had the homemade card that went with it featuring a drawing I had done of the lion.
What a special treat! Where did the idea for Unraveled come from?
Surprisingly, the idea for Unraveled was originally inspired by a sitcom that my daughter was watching when I arrived home from work one evening. I remember so clearly, walking in the door, dropping my keys on the counter and as I sorted through the mail, I overheard in the background, one of the characters telling a story about how she pulled a string that was hanging off the sweater she was wearing. I remember thinking that could be a fun idea to expand on. The moment I woke up the next morning, my son’s baby blanket (handmade by his great grandmother) came to mind and how it had come unraveled over time. Unfortunately, I’m not a knitter so it remains a pile of yarn to this day.
A story nugget from a sitcom, that's a new one for me. But I love how just about anything can inspire a story. And I love that you still have that special pile of yarn! How many drafts, or revisions, did you do for Unraveled? Which was harder the text or the illustrations?
I did about three drafts before I felt that it was ready for submission. I didn’t have an agent at the time, so that was my first obstacle. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to find a wonderful agent who believed in this sweet story. Once it was picked up by the publisher, there were some issues in the story that needed to be worked out. That’s when it got a little more challenging. As a writer, you get so used to what you originally wrote that it can be hard to see it differently. But editors are there to help and want your project to be the best it can be. I’ve always felt that I was a stronger illustrator than writer so I would say writing is harder for me.
Interesting that you aren't as attached to specific illustrations. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was favorite book as a child?
Like many kids from my generation as well as before and after, Where the Wild Things Are had a huge impact on me. I remember my mom taking me to the library for story time in the afternoons. Behind the librarian was a table filled with books for the kids to borrow afterwards and if you were the fastest, you just might be able to grab it first! Where the Wild Things Are was by far the most in-demand book. Years later, when I got my first car (a 1988 Jeep Wrangler), I painted an image from the book onto the tire cover. You can see it on my Instagram.
I love the cabling design on the end pages. When and how did you come up with that idea?
Text and Image © Leanne Hatch, 2021.
Thank you! Since I have a background in textile design, I knew I wanted to incorporate some pattern into the design of the book. I really love the warmth and coziness it adds. I am an expert at seamless repeats, so I didn’t actually draw every single knit stitch. You might find some matching ones if you look closely!
It really felt snuggly & soothing, as well as really unique. Which was the hardest illustration to complete? Why? What is your favorite spread in the book?
Text and Image © Leanne Hatch, 2021.
In the spread where we see the eight images of Cole growing up and playing with his blanket, my editor wanted to see Cole in the “crawling” stage. It took me awhile to figure out how a child at that age might be using a blanket. I love the Peek-A-Boo image with Mama that I came up with and sometimes wish it was bigger! Another favorite spread is the one at the dinner table where Cole’s blanket resembles his spaghetti.
This is a great series of vignettes, especially when they are mimicked later in the book. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Unraveled?
I want kids to understand that all children grow at different paces and that there is no “right” time to give up a favorite thing. Just because Cole felt ready to give up his blanket, doesn’t mean other children should. My kids are much older than Cole and still keep their blankets (or in my son’s case, pile of yarn) close by.
*Smiling* I know a few cherished stuffed animals that still have a place on beds or dressers. Many illustrators leave (hide) treasures in their illustrations. Did you do this? If so, can you share one or more with us?
There are no hidden treasures in this book, but many of the items and toys in Cole’s life are inspired by toys my son grew up with. The stuffed frog resembles one that was especially important to my son (and still is) and I wanted to be sure to include it.
That is a perfect hidden treasure. One that means something very special to you that readers wouldn't necessarily know about. Thank you for sharing it! What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
As a writer, I get a lot of ideas from my own childhood experiences. I’m also much more aware of things I overhear and often wonder how they might be translated into something a child can relate to. I recently asked each of my co-workers about their childhood memories and now I have another idea in the works! Having only their partial story leaves a lot of room for my imagination.
What a fun way to find inspiration. Did you get any push back for having Mom appear to create the solution to the problem?
I didn’t get any push back on this one, but it was definitely something I considered since typically the protagonist finds the solution. While the story is mainly about Cole and his relationship with his beloved blanket, it is also about the relationship between Mama and Cole. It opens with “The bond was instant” and I want readers to see it both ways. In a sense, Cole’s solution was to simply give up the blanket and move on to more grown-up activities (shown in his dreams), while Mama, who isn’t quite ready for her “baby” to grow up yet, comes up with a sustainable solution that works for both of them.
Which is indeed the perfect ending. I love that they both got to remain relevant in the story. How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
I try to mix up my projects so that I don’t get burned out on one thing and I try not to force creativity. It will come when it’s ready! I draw a lot because it’s how I relax but I also enjoy sewing and I’ve recently picked up playing the piano again after having not played since I was a child. I imagine it’s good for stretching out my fingers after long hours of drawing.
And making both sides of your brain play together. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I am currently wrapping up my next picture book, Rosie and the Pre-Loved Dress about a girl who finds the most amazing second-hand dress in a thrift store. This book is scheduled to release in summer 2022.
We'll have to keep our eyes out for this one. As part of The Broad Strokes critique group, what have you learned from them over the years? Or from your writing/illustrating journey so far?
I feel so fortunate that The Broad Strokes welcomed me into the group. We are an all women group of writers and illustrators and are in similar places in our careers. Being able to share our accomplishments and things we have learned along the way has been so much fun. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is how to be a better critique partner. When I first joined the group, I didn’t feel that I had enough book experience to give valuable advice, so I mostly listened, but we are all creative individuals and have ideas and thoughts on how things can be done differently or better with or without experience. We get together at the end of each month to look at and discuss each other’s current projects and that motivates me to be productive so that I have something to bring!
Sounds amazing. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?
My ten-year-old daughter is a huge animal lover so I’m usually on board with whatever she’s into at the moment (except ferrets). She has a different obsession almost weekly from okapis, sharks, and fennec foxes to Russian tortoises and most recently axolotl. I learn so much from her.
© San Diego Zoo, 2021.
There is something so adorable about the axolotl's face. And thanks for the rabbit hole - I didn't realize they had such a variety of colors. Thank you Leanne for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
Be sure to stop back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Unraveled.
To find out more about Leanne Hatch, or get in touch with her:
The Broad Strokes: https://thebroadstrokes.art/about/