Painting from Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (click to enlarge)

Painting from the 1998 Caldecott Medal book Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (click to enlarge) “I’ve benefited a lot from practicing figure drawing. Spring Studio in SoHo is not so far from here. It’s figure drawing all day everyday and you just show up, but on certain days and times Minerva Durham, who runs it, teaches anatomy. That has helped me tremendously, whether I’m drawing a person realistically or making up a cartoon character.”


I was first introduced to Paul O. Zelinsky’s work when I heard him speak at the 2010 SCBWI Illustrator’s Intensive. I was inspired by the way his style changes depending on and in service to the story, so I was very excited when he recently agreed to speak with Liz and me at his Brooklyn studio. 

Paul received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for Rapunzel, and Caldecott Honors for three more books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995). (You can see more of his work on his website.)

Paul at his desk pretending to use his computer.

Paul at his desk pretending to use his computer.


Hometown: Wilmette, Illinois

Now lives in: Brooklyn, NY

Tools of the trade: You name it. I have lots and lots of brands of many kinds of paint and other media. I get Staedtler (black) pencils for no good reason; generic nylon watercolor brushes because the fine sable ones have not lasted well for me; Arches 120 lb cold press paper is a fallback but I use others, too. Epson 10000XL scanner, Photoshop CS5.5, Epson SP2200 printer. Faber Castell Pitt artist pens, S and XS, for doodling, but I keep losing them. Faber Castell Pitt Compressed Charcoal extra-soft, for chalk talks.

Workspace: Studio apartment across from a churchyard in Brooklyn Heights

Book Trailers:  Z is for Moose, The voice of the glove is Maurice Sendak. I hadn’t planned what was going to be in the trailer exactly and I didn’t know who he would be.  I just said, “Would you record something?” [ED NOTE: You'll have to watch it to see what Sendak chose to say.] I also created a few animations for The Shivers in the Fridge here and here.

Fun Fact: My recent hobby has been to fix on certain numbers that are interesting or significant to me, and to track the number of my Twitter followers until it reaches those numbers, feeling like I’m urging things on, as in a horse race. When my following was in the 1,000s there were lots of interesting dates to aim for; after the low 2,000′s that stopped being a possibility except for an occasional significant Star Date from a Star Wars episode. Oh, yes: my Twitter name is @paulozelinsky.

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These three books are on my bedside table*; they make me happy. First and foremost, they happen to be fantastic reads that I highly recommend full of humor, heart and outstanding illustrations. I look at them and rearrange them often and even though I’ve finished them, I just don’t want to put them away. I think that has something to do with the yellow. I rarely use yellow in my work, it seems like a bold choice and an even bolder one for a cover.  But seeing these three side by side is a reminder that I should. I can’t get over how great they go together and most of all, how they make me feel just seeing them. I looked on my bookshelves and found only two other book covers that were yellow (both unremarkable books). Is this a trend in publishing and book design or is this just a happy circumstance?

Do you use yellow or have any noteworthy yellow covers? Tell me about them in the comments!

And make sure you check out their work:  Sara Varon, Allie Brosh, Marc Boutevant and the Ariol series written by Emmanuel Guibert.


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My piece for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, an assignment for the Illustrators’ Intensive.

I am still riding an inspired high from last weekend’s SCBWI Winter Conference. I’ve been to the conference four times now and the Illustrators’ Intensive Day is always the highlight for me. Art Director Cecilia Yung’s interview of Tomie dePaola was fantastic. They structured the talk around a comparison of Tomie’s book illustrations and his costume and set design work. Tomie and Cecilia drew insightful parallels between the stage and the picture book spread and picture books and the theater in general. As an illustrator, you are the casting director, costume designer, set designer and director.

Cover from Fun With a Pencil. Brett Helquist says "If you buy one book on drawing, buy this."

Cover from Fun With a Pencil. Brett Helquist says “If you buy one book on drawing, buy this.”

Brett Helquist offered some great insights into creating memorable and engaging characters. He also encouraged us to practice every day. “Musicians practice daily,”  he said. We should practice things that won’t necessarily be published to refine our skills. His recommended reading: Fun With a Pencil and Creative Illustration, both by Andrew Loomis, and Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm.

An interior page from Fun With a Pencil by Andrew Loomis.

An interior page from Fun With a Pencil by Andrew Loomis.

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My Heart (click to enlarge)
Map of My Heart (click to enlarge)

I’ll never forget when I came across Sara Fanelli’s My Map Book while I was re-shelving books at the independent bookstore I worked at many yesara_fanelli_my_map_bookars ago. It made me chuckle that the bookstore had decided to shelve it in the non-fiction area under geography. Anyone looking for a map or an atlas would not find what they needed in this book. Though I’m not sure where I would have shelved it. After all, it is non-fiction.

It was so unlike anything I had ever seen. Really raw paintings, honest representations of mappable factors in a child’s life. These aren’t the kind of maps you would study in school. But they should be the maps that children be asked to illustrate for themselves.These maps make particular sense to me. I cannot tell you how many times as a kid I tried to imagine how the food I just ate all looked in my tummy at that moment. I often pondered the layout of my bedroom that I shared with my older sister, where my stuff ended and her stuff began. A few of my favorites are pictured here, but there are several more in the book just as engaging.

An added bonus: the book jacket unfolds to become a giant map. On the other side is a large blank area asking the reader to make their own map.

Perhaps I’m a sucker, but I get a lump in my throat when I look at my favorite of these maps: the Map of My Heart.

My Face (click to enlarge)

Map of My Face (click to enlarge)

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This is a lucky time of year for New Yorkers. There are a bunch of fantastic things to get out and see in the world of children’s books. And it’s the usual suspects who offer us these great opportunities. Click the bold title for more details:

  • Writing for Children Forum at the New School 6:30pm on December 3rd. “A panel on the nuts and bolts of breaking into publishing. With Alessandra Balzer, editor, Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins, and Joe Monti, agent, Barry Goldblatt Literary.”


If you have events, readings, exhibits, lectures, screenings anywhere in the country that you’d like us to share, please leave info in the comments or hit me up at

Speaking of endpapers: I was at my friend Sarah’s recently, digging through her children’s books. (Sarah teaches third grade.) She kept handing me stuff, saying, “Oh, this one is GREAT.” Then she handed me Johnny Penguin, published by Doubleday in 1931.


My immediate reaction: “OH HELLO DELICIOUS ENDPAPERS.”


(Click to enlarge.)

Ah, the good old days of pre-separated artwork (some of which appears to have been prepared in lithographic crayon, yum yum!). These endpapers, and some of the interior illustrations, are printed in black, a lovely warm gray, orange, and turquoise. All I can say is that I would like wallpaper made out of this stuff.


Illustration from Miss Elephant’s Gerald, a tablet app based on a song by the Pop Ups.

A couple of months ago, the awesome Brooklyn-based children’s band The Pop Ups contacted me, asking me if I wanted to illustrate their jazzy Halloween song Miss Elephant’s Gerald. There would be animals. Playing instruments. Wearing costumes. Oh yes, I was very interested.

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