Being a children's book author and illustrator has always been high up on our 'dream job' list so we were super thrilled to chat it up with artist Johanna Wright, author of the just-released book 'The Orchestra Pit'. A fellow Oregonian who has been living her own dream of publishing children's books since 2007, Wright's work is enchanting, beautifully childlike and filled with wonder.
Read our interview below and leave a comment telling us your favorite children's book to enter to win an original painting by Johanna Wright, plus a copy of her latest book and a pair of Hanna pj's!
**UPDATE** Congrats to Melanie D. for winning the giveaway!**
6 word memoir:
"Hair twirler, busy brain, painty hands."
New York vs. Portland:
"Oh man, not sure they can be compared! They're both so weird in the best ways. New York for its crowded intensity...all of that energy packed so tightly with its smells and history and passion all around. And Portland is weird in its sweet earnestness. Spirited folks, doing their own thing. I've seen some weird stuff in both places, that's for sure. But I'm definitely a weirdo, so you know, birds of a feather and all that."
The most magical place on earth:
"I guess the most magical places, are the places where I'm happiest. And that would definitely be the Oregon coast. Campfires on the beach, cozy rainy days reading books and watching the waves, big family picnics with gritty bits of sand mixed in, stunning dunes and tide pools and beaches that stretch forever. Magical stuff! I spent a lot of my childhood making up stories on long walks up and down the coast. Still one of favorite things to do!"
"I have a running list of ideas that I think might be worth pursuing, but it's mostly just a gut feeling. Once in awhile there's an idea that just shines. For me, all book ideas come from a painting, first. Sometimes I'll make a painting that just feels like it could be more, and I just go from there. Every single picture book that I've ever done, has started as a single painting. From that painting I'll have a loose idea of a story, make additional sketches, and if it's working, I'll pitch those things to my agent and editor."
Reoccurring themes in her work:
"Quilts, tree houses, night skies, kids in nature, books...I paint things that I love to do and be around. I try to paint quiet moments, the feeling of being out on a starry night, or walking through a soft field of snow."
"Textured, painted illustrations, with warm, whimsical, nature themes."
Kids and art:
"Any mom who has tried to do...well do anything with young kiddos around, will tell you that they tend to impede things! But in other ways, they inspire me daily. Pre-kids, I pulled on my own childhood memories for inspiration, but these days, watching my kids and seeing things through their eyes...it's amazing. Most of my work is now inspired by things that they say and do and get excited about."
On art or story first:
"I think most author/illustrators approach this in different ways, but I like to do one strong painted piece first, and a story tends to form out of that. I love to paint, so that's the easiest way for me to work with a new idea."
"Errol Le Cain is one of my all time favorite illustrators. I also love Gyo Fugikawa's illustrations. There are so many amazing children's books coming out right now, it's hard to list them all, but children's book illustrators are (unsurprisingly) my favorite artists."
Dealing with creative blocks:
"I definitely take a break. A shower has always been my go-to for creative burn out. If I have time, I try to slosh around the creative bits in my brain by going for a swim. And of course, nothing is better than a good night's sleep. Ahhh, sleep!"
The perfect day:
"Quiet coffee time in the morning, then reading, writing, painting. Lunch with a friend. Afternoon river swim or beach time with the fam. More reading, writing, painting. Dinner with friends and family. Margaritas with a pal. BOOM, perfect day!"
"llama! Preferably one like this guy."
Risk vs. reward:
"My job is pretty dang mellow and fun. The most challenging part is pushing myself to change and grow and seek out new opportunities that push me to do that. The most rewarding thing about what I do, is connecting with kids and adults and hearing how what I do has helped them in some way. Whether it's inspired them to write or make art, or they've just enjoyed reading a book at bedtime. Those connections make me incredibly happy!"
"I tend to like the stuff that I'm working on at the moment the best! But when I look through my past works, there are a few that I do still love. This snow piece is definitely one of my favorites."
Her dream super talent:
On her latest book The Orchestra Pit:
"I knew that I wanted to make an orchestra story. I grew up playing the violin in Eugene, Oregon and spent middle school and high school and college playing in orchestras. I've always loved drawing instruments, but I couldn't really figure out how an orchestra story would work.
I worked on it for ages, probably two years, until one day I was watching the Portland Cello Project perform, and the Orchestra Pit story kind of came to me like a fully formed egg. What if a snake accidentally wandered into an orchestra pit, instead of a snake pit?
I took that idea and built the story around it, and it totally worked! My editor liked it, and we moved forward from there, tinkering with the text and the refining the illustrations."
20 years from now:
"So far, the last 20 years have been pretty fun creatively and professionally, so I guess I'm just hoping to have more of the same. I hope to keep challenging myself and step towards things that are new, even if they're hard or scary. That seems to be my recipe for creative happiness, so far..."
"I've been lucky enough to illustrate a new book series by Julie Sternberg. The first in the series, Celie Valentine, Friendship Over, comes out in October, and there are two more on the horizon, I've just started sketching for those. They're wonderful books, and I'm so excited to be taking part. Other than that, I've been working on a few new picture book ideas and making new images for my etsy store and beyond!"
Comment below and tell us your favorite children's book for a chance to win this incredible original painting by Johanna Wright titled "Tiny Duet" below, plus a copy of her book The Orchestra Pit and pair of Hanna pj's! We'll pick a random comment to win! Giveaway ends Tuesday, Sept. 16th.
You can pick up a copy of 'The Orchestra Pit' online and visit her etsy shop for prints of her favorite pieces and original artwork. Also, this month we kicked off our partnership with Raising a Reader. From now until the end of the year, we will donate 15% of all proceeds from the sales of our signature striped long johns to help fight child illiteracy and give kid's in need more access to books.
All images by Johanna Wright