The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Stevie Lewis
For half the year, Stevie Lewis travels out of her van, furthering her passion for art and the outdoors. She is also an avid hiker and rock climber. After working for four years in animation, working on Boss Baby, Penguins of Madagascar, Peabody & Sherman, and Go Go Cory Carson, she now illustrates children's books. Stevie currently lives in Northern Arizona where she lives with her partner and two dogs.
She’s the illustrator of 20 books, both picture books and chapter books, including Baby Shark (2020), Moon, Earth's Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty (2019), Smart Girl’s Guide: Travel (2019), Magic on the Map series, Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack (2018), Lost in the Library by Josh Funk (2018), Sun! One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty (2018), A Smart Girl's Guide to Social Media (American Girl 2017), Duke Kahanamoku (You Should Meet) (2017), Finding Serendipity (2013). and And Other Lessons I've Learned series. As well as the upcoming Fatima's Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq (2021), and Mars! Earthlings Welcome by Stacy McAnulty (2021).
Her newest picture book, Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude, releases on October 27th.
Welcome Stevie, Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write and illustrate.)?
My name is Stevie Lewis and I've been living in Flagstaff, Arizona for the last two years. I've been drawing since I can remember. I would draw on napkins, the margins of my notebooks, any blank space I could find. After going to art college, I specialized in visual development for animated films.
In 2015, after working at DreamWorks for many years, I decided to quit my job and move into my Honda Element. I built out a bed in the back and sold all my belongings. I wanted to travel by myself around North America and climb while doing art based on my travels. It was such a wonderful year, that I upgraded to a larger van, so I could work on the road more comfortably. Soon after, I met my wonderful partner and we traveled to Alaska and much of the western US with our two dogs, Kiki and Tigger.
Currently, I illustrate children's books and work on animated projects (part-time). I especially love books that show a different perspective on life, culture, feelings, etc. Also, any books about the outdoors! I think more children should be exposed to the beautiful places our world has to offer.
That sounds like an amazing adventure. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Almost all dreams I have are either scary or apocalyptic, even though I would describe myself as a very happy person!
Interesting! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My favorite picture book was Mrs. Nelson is Missing and my favorite chapter series was the Series of Unfortunate Events. I love the illustrations in both of those series, mostly because they are very stylized and different than other books.
I wonder if Lemony Snickett explains your dreams? If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
Learn how to accept compliments, like your work, and trust the process. Since I was a kid, I've always struggled with self-confidence. Even now, as an adult, I have to catch myself when responding to compliments on my work. Often artists are most critical of our own work, especially when we are learning. It's difficult to grow when you don’t think that you’re good at your craft. I would tell my younger self to say 'thank you' when I received a compliment, and to enjoy each stage of the learning process.
That's a tough skill! What about the Patience and Fortitude books and specifically Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude intrigued you?
Originally, I thought I wasn’t be qualified to illustrate these books. Ha, going back to the last question - ironically, I questioned my abilities. I wasn't a New Yorker, I'd never been to NY Public Library, nor had I been tasked with such a project that focused on old, beautiful architecture. But, after doing a few samples of the lions, and trying to find the right style for the books, it really grew on me. Now, I think these are my most cherished books. The first book was a joy to illustrate. I loved visiting NYPL and bringing the lions to life in the illustrations. With the sequel, I was excited to explore what adventures the lions would go on, at night, throughout New York City.
Wow! I know a couple of lions who will be happy to hear they are part of your most cherished books! What is your favorite medium to work with? Your least favorite or hardest? What is your favorite spread in Where Is Our Library?
I love working with paper cutouts, and painting with watercolors/gouache, but I don't often have the chance to work in those mediums. Because digital is so convenient, I mostly use photoshop to create my illustrations. I do my best to add textures to make it feel less 'digital' - and someday I hope to create a book entirely with traditional media. My favorite spread is when they are walking the 'high line' in NYC. It was a fun opportunity to play with different times of day, using the same setting.
Maybe one day you'll get to do a picture book with paper cutouts. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
My biggest inspiration is following other artists on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. There are so many talented illustrators out there. When I was in art college and while I worked at DreamWorks, I was surrounded by artists who inspired me to be better, to try new styles and techniques. I think we learn the best when surrounded by others who are also perfecting their craft.
I totally agree with you. It's the same for authors, too. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Where Is Our Library? Could you share one or more with us? What's something you want your readers to know about Where Is Our Library?
Text © Josh Funk, 2020. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2020.
Josh wanted to pay homage to many other books created by NY authors and illustrators and books about NY. There are some hidden gems throughout the pages, featuring some of those books. Also, I completed most of the illustrations while I was traveling in Mexico on a climbing trip. It was a beautiful place to be working on such a lovely book.
I guess that's the benefit of digital illustrations. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I recently finished a couple books. One is titled Fatima's Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq. (releasing 3/21) It's a story about an immigrant family that goes camping for the first time, and teaches us that public lands are for everyone. The second book is a sequel to Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack. I was fortunate to be asked to do the sequel!
That was such a fun gender-bending of the Cinderella fairy tale! We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. I really like Fatima's cover. How are you staying creative these days? What things do you do to “prime the well”?
I love to rock climb. As I write this, I'm in my van in southern Utah, heading north to explore some new climbing spots! I love being outdoors and meeting new people in beautiful places!
That sounds like so much fun. It might be silly to ask (and potentially get you in trouble), but what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with at the moment. Why?
Hmm, I’m not sure. I love dogs so much, hopefully that’s not a cliche answer! They are such great companions. When I was creating the library lions, I was dog-sitting at the time. I took care of these two, large mastiffs in Alaska for the summer, and used their large bodies as reference for the lions. I’m thankful they were around to be the best reference I could have asked for!
Thank you, Stevie for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book post #PPBF on Where is Our Library?
To find out more about Stevie Lewis, or get in touch with her:
If you missed it, check out Monday's interview with the author Josh Funk (here).