I am chuffed about today’s interview! (I’ve always wanted to use that word! Chuffed!) I’m interviewing a torkidlit author and illustrator who not only has a most excellent name, but is also a most excellent artist. Even just the fun little doodles she puts up on her facebook page make you go, “Wow. This girl’s talented!”
When I asked her to do this interview her response was, “You do know that I don’t write MG/YA, right? Picture books are my thing.”
Well, that’s exactly why I asked her! Picture book authors are my writing heros. Anyone who can tell a story in less than 1,000 words (and have it pass the submissions test!) must have vocabularic superpowers.
Meet Patricia Storms. (Now, if that name doesn’t generate a sense of awe, right off the bat, I don’t know what will!)
Please introduce yourself to us.
I’m a full-time illustrator and cartoonist, and struggling writer whenever I can squeeze in the time.
Tell us what an average day looks like for you.
I don’t really think I ever have an ‘average’ day. All my days are amazing! Ok, what I really mean is that I don’t have a specific routine (ie, always write or always check emails in the morning). Well, actually, there is one thing I always do every morning before I start work – drink COFFEE!! But really, some days I might have a lot of drawing that I have to do, or a lot of colouring in Photoshop, or I may meet with clients, or I may need to do research on a new project, or attend to (ugh) administrative work – it all depends upon my workload and my deadlines. Or some days I just might say “the hell with it all!” and go play in the garden! (Sadly, those kinds of days don’t happen often enough).
Was there a specific person or event that inspired you to develop your artistic self?
Interesting question. Hmmm. I think there are pivotal moments in one’s life that have a great effect on one’s young psyche – it certainly was that way for me, anyway. I have always loved drawing and writing, but due to a great lack of confidence in my teens and early 20s, I did not initially follow this dream. As a result, I was deeply unhappy in my 20s – wanting to create, not feeling I was good enough, feeling like I was just ‘filling time’ working in libraries, feeling lost, really. During this time a cartoonist from Hamilton named Steven Toth helped me on my path to becoming a cartoonist and illustrator, through his kindness, his support and his pushing and prodding. I will be forever grateful to that wonderful man.
But you know – it’s not just the positive experiences that can inspire a person. This is something that I don’t encounter very often when I read about other writers or artists, perhaps because it’s not a very attractive motivation, but I have to say that negative experiences have been very inspiring for me, too. From the age of about 17 to 22, I was head over heels in love with a guy who was for lack of a better word, a total jerk. He belittled everything about me, including my writing and drawing (he could draw & write, too). After that relationship finally ended, I felt like less than zero for a long time. But as my confidence slowly grew, and I began to get more positive feedback (and freelance jobs!) I would sometimes think back to that time with that jerk and be astounded that I believed all the things he told me about myself. So even now, 25 yrs later, when I am feeling down on myself, or not fully motivated to work on a project, all I have to do is play that movie in my head – him mocking me and putting me down, and suddenly I’ve got a fire in my belly that can’t be stopped. It’s basically that “I’ll show you, you (insert foul word here)”. I’m not saying I’m always motivated this way, but I think I should be honest and say that these feelings inside me do exist. I wonder if other artists have these feelings. I hope I’m not the only one!
But I want to end this rather long answer (sorry!) by saying that the one person more than any other who inspires me the most is my amazing husband Guy. Without his continued love, encouragement, support and free therapy, I would be a very different person. I know that I am very, very lucky.
When you first started out, how did you come about finding your own artistic “voice”? Did you try to emulate anyone in the beginning? If yes, who?
That took a long time for me, and honestly, I feel as if only in the last few years have I really started tapping into my artistic ‘voice’, whatever that really is. When you’re an artist or a writer, a lot of the stuff that comes out of you is so personal, and for me, there was a lot of personal mess that I had to deal with before I could feel truly confident enough to think that I even had a voice, and that it was worth sharing with others.
When I first started selling cartoon gags, I confess that I was often trying to emulate one of my first cartoonist heroes – Lynn Johnston. A lot of my early stuff looks like her work.
Which artist inspires you most now?
Oh, I couldn’t just pick one artist. So many different artists inspire me – ones from the past as well as many contemporaries. I love the works of Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg. But then I also get excited about the works of author/illustrators Mo Willems, or Oliver Jeffers, or the very talented Carin Berger. My interests are all over the place.
You’ve illustrated many books for various publishers. Tell us about your very own picture book, THE PIRATE AND THE PENGUIN.The Pirate and the Penguin is a fun, silly story loosely based Mark Twain’s classic tale ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Penguin and Pirate are both unhappy with their lots in life, and through happenstance they meet up, and figure out a way to find the lives that best suit the both of them. Although it is silly, and filled with lots of good cartoon humour, there is a message about the importance of following your bliss, and choosing the life that is right for you. And it’s got pirates and penguins! What’s not to love?
Is there any way you can sum up the process of writing and illustrating your own book? Do you think in words or pictures? Or both? Do you think you have an advantage over someone who’s just writing the text, or someone who’s only illustrating? Or is it more difficult to do both? (Time consuming yes, but is it easier to write AND illustrate, or easier just to illustrate? Or just write, for that matter. I know, this is a complex question :))
Yes, that IS a complex question! I’ve been asked a lot lately whether or not I think in words or pictures, and I think I really do a bit of both. But when it comes to thinking of stories for picture books, for me, the thing that usually comes first is the idea. So is an idea a word or a picture? For me, in the beginning, it’s just sort of a blurry blob in my head. And then it simmers for a while, and starts to take shape. Sometimes the image for the story will come first, sometimes the words. But once the words come, I prefer to spend my energy on the words, because for me, that’s the hardest part of creating a picture book. Writing a picture book is hard, hard work. So I try to not allow myself the luxury of playing around too much with drawing the characters, because for me, it’s really just an act of procrastination, since I know how difficult the writing is going to be. So no, in many ways I don’t have an advantage over someone who just writes, because no matter what, I still have to write the damn story, just like them. But yes, in some ways it works well, because of the fact that I do also draw, so hopefully the more I do this, the more I will be able to do better editing, since I will realize that a certain percentage of the story can be told in the images.
Which medium do you favor?
I’m one of those funny ones who likes to toggle between hand-drawing and digital. I pencil all my work the old-fashioned way on paper, then ink it all with a brush and India ink, and then I scan it and colour it in Photoshop. But if I was forced to make a choice, I would choose inking – I love the feeling of moving the brush onto paper, and playing with the thickness of lines. I’m a very tactile person – I need to physically feel the project as I’m working on it.
What do you love most about being an artist?
Oh gosh – so many things. I love that I don’t have to commute. I love that I don’t have to work in an office and deal with ridiculous politics and petty gossip and jerk bosses with massive egos. I love that I can wear my jammies all day, play whatever music I want, and belch loudly and no one will fire me. Don’t I sound like a really attractive person? I love that I get to create one of the most precious objects on this planet – books! – and that I get to make them for little wonderful people who hopefully will be inspired enough to become readers for the rest of their lives. I love that I get paid to make people laugh and smile. But most of all, I love that of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, this is the one job where I get to truly be ME, the me that I remember when I was a little kid, drawing cartoons on the kitchen table and laughing and feeling that life couldn’t get any better than this.
Can you share a favorite quote with us?
The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.’
– Dorothy Parker
Ha! Love it! Thanks so much for your transparency, Patricia. Your honesty is refreshing. While reading your answers I found myself nodding, more than once. And lol-ing at times as well. I’m guessing others will, too.