Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Lauren Castillo

h1 April 16th, 2008 by jules

Did everybody see What Happens on Wednesdays last year, written by Emily Jenkins (and reviewed here at 7-Imp)? If you didn’t, you’d make your own day by taking a gander. It’s Emily Jenkins we’re talking about, so you can trust it’s well-written (which it is), but what got my attention, in particular, was the work of then-debut illustrator Lauren Castillo. Just take a look at some of the glowing things said about her illustration in this first book of hers: “Newcomer Castillo’s illustrations evoke Margot Zemach, with thick smudgy lines and a wintertime palette that celebrates the leafless beauty and energy of this intimate patch of Brooklyn” (Kirkus‘ starred review); “{r}adiant mixed-media art by a debut illustrator captures the warmth and candor in Jenkins’s . . . sparkling slice-of-life tale” (Publishers Weekly’s starred review); “Castillo’s slightly impressionistic mixed-media illustrations give viewers a real feel for the youngster’s Brooklyn neighborhood” (School Library Journal); and “{i}n an extremely promising debut, Castillo envelops the young narrator in warm tones . . . and renders figures and settings in a naive style while picking out rich elements . . . in a manner consistent with a child’s intense but often selective memory for details” (Booklist’s starred review).

Being compared to Margot Zemach with your first illustrated title? Nothing to sneeze at, I say.

I decided to invite Lauren over for a cyber-breakfast in 7-Imp’s new illustrator-interview series, launched a couple weeks ago, to find out what she’s done since the wonderful What Happens on Wednesdays, what books are forthcoming, and generally how she works her magic. Lauren’s breakfast of choice is a large cup of coffee with cream and sugar. And a toasted whole wheat English muffin with raspberry jam and a side of scrambled eggs. Mmmm. She drinks her coffee just the way I like it, so I’m going to have a cup with her. Hey, wait, I love English muffins, too. She’s a good breakfast companion — as well as a talented illustrator. Let’s get the low-down on Lauren and then ask her seven questions over breakfast, shall we?

Spread from What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins;
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2007

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Lauren: Currently, illustrator. But soon to be BOTH (which I am so very excited about!)

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?


What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins; Frances Foster Books, FSG. {2007}.

The Pig and Miss Prudence by Linda Stanek; Star Bright Books. {2008}.

Buffalo Music by Tracey Fern; Clarion (forthcoming May 2008).

That’s Papa’s Way by Kate Banks; Frances Foster Books, FSG (forthcoming April 2009).

Big Cat Pepper by Elizabeth Partridge; Bloomsbury (forthcoming summerish 2009).

Spread from The Pig and Miss Prudence by Linda Stanek;
Star Bright Books; 2008.

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or -– if you use a variety -– your preferred one?

Lauren: It’s always mixed. Usually acetone transfer (a printmaking of sorts) as a base texture, and then a variety of materials on top (could be watercolor, prismacolor, marker, brush pen, ink, a little collage, etc.). I find that varying the way that I work continues to keep me interested and sometimes surprised (it is best when the surprise is a HAPPY one).

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Lauren: I live in Brooklyn, NY. In the neighborhood of Greenpoint, which is predominately Polish. This means yummy breads, pastries, and pierogies.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell us about your road to publication?

Lauren: I graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2003 and went straight on to attend the Masters Illustration as Visual Essay program at SVA, in Manhattan. While I was attending SVA, I took advantage of being nearby all the publishing houses in the city and scheduled appointments with various Editors and Art Directors. I was fortunate enough to receive my first picture book deal (What Happens On Wednesdays) from Frances Foster at FSG, right after graduation in 2005. I am very grateful to be working with Frances — she’s wonderful!

Spread from Buffalo Music by Tracey Fern;
Clarion; Forthcoming title — May 2008.

7-Imp: Can you please point us to your web site and/or blog?

Lauren: and www.laurencastillo.
{Ed. Note: Jules would like to add that one will be greatly rewarded by perusing the “Illustration” and “Sketchbook” portion of Lauren’s site. Good stuff.}

7-Imp: If you do school visits, can you tell us what they’re like?

Lauren: I have not visited any elementary schools, but look forward to hopefully having that opportunity some day soon. I have, though, spoken in a couple college illustration classes, and those were great fun!

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Lauren: I am currently most excited about MELVIN, which is the working title of my first picture book as author/illustrator! I will be working with Laura Godwin at Henry Holt, and it won’t be out till sometime in 2010 (so far away!). Oh and the book involves a boy and a turtle. Melvin is the turtle.

* * *

Okay, the table’s set, and I’m ready to sit down and talk more specifics over coffee with Lauren — and Pivot her (yes, I’ve decided to make Pivot a verb. Just run with me here).

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Lauren: Once I receive a manuscript, I read it over a few times and then jump right in to thumbnail sketches, which are super-small (hence the name “thumbnail”). I lay the whole book out in this tiny storyboard-like fashion.

Working so small and loose helps me to rely on my intuition, rather than worrying about how pretty the drawing looks at that early stage. (And many times the layouts in these little “roughs” turn out to be the exact composition of the final art.) I blow these tiny sketches up to actual book size and work them over, incorporating the type to make sure image and text play off each other well — both the storytelling and composition. During the entire process, I am developing the main character/s in my sketchbook, which most times I’ve visualized in my head from the very first read of the manuscript. When I’ve got the final okay from my Editor I jump in to final art, which takes me normally 3-4 months. Then I wait, and wait, anywhere from 12-18 months to hold the actual bound book — it feels like Christmas when the first copy comes in the mail!

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

Lauren: I work out of my apartment in a pretty small studio space. I’ve got a drawing desk, computer/printer/scanner setup, bookcase, and not to mention the “lovely” ’70s wood paneled walls (which I try my best to hide by wallpapering artwork and such!). My studio is pretty comfortable for the time being, but a room with modern walls and a bay window letting in a lot of natural light, is my dream space. One of these days . . .

3. 7-Imp: As book lovers, it interests us: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Richard ScarryLauren: Geez, there were so many books. I’ll start with Norman Rockwell. My parents love Rockwell and kept a few of his art collection books on the coffee table when I was young. I loved flipping through those. At some point I tried to mimic his work (that is HARD to succeed at). As for children’s books: anything Richard Scarry {pictured here} and Tomie DePaola (whom I just had the wonderful opportunity of meeting!). Also a book titled Henry’s Awful Mistake by Robert Quackenbush and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein — both of which still sit on my bookshelf today. And Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books (wonderful atmosphere!). I could go on and on . . .

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or author/illustrators — whom you have not yet met — over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Lauren: Hmm, at this very moment I say Maurice Sendak, Sara Midda, and Kate Banks. Maurice Sendak, because he is one of my all time favorites. Who doesn’t love him though, right? And for those who don’t know Sara Midda, you must look her books up. My favorite title, Sara Midda’s South of France: A Sketch Book, is just that: an amazing visual journal of her experience in France. I would like to know how one pitches a project like this (how incredible would it be to do such a book?). And I have just finished illustrating one of Kate Banks’ picture books, That’s Papa’s Way, which was quite a dream project for me, as I have been a big fan of her writing for years. I’d love to hear more about her career path, her inspirations, AND how she ended up in such a fantastic house on the Mediterranean in Southern France!

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Lauren: I mostly listen to Pandora Internet radio while working, and love love LOVE it, because I can create any sort of station I feel like at that moment. Check it out —

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Lauren: I have a mini obsession with old wallpaper and fabric patterns (which I collect scraps of). It’s great when I get to incorporate them in to my work.

Spread from That’s Papa’s Way by Kate Banks;
Frances Foster Books, FSG; Forthcoming title — April 2009.

The Pivot Questionnaire

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Lauren: “Vardig.” The Armenian word for underwear, which my family sometimes uses. I find it pretty entertaining.

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Lauren: “like.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Lauren: Excellent coffee and music. Add a sunny day, open window, mild breeze, and I’m all set.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Lauren: Lack of sleep. And paperwork. Those in combination make for a pretty crummy time.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Lauren: “Stupid-head.” But only when my mom says it.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Lauren: Stream currents. The sound of moving water is so so soothing.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Lauren: Car horns.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Lauren: Singer/songwriter/guitarist. The female equivalent to José González would be perfect.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Lauren: Telemarketer. Anything monotonous, really.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Lauren: “Thank you for sharing your gifts with others” . . . I’d be happy with that.

33 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Lauren Castillo”

  1. What a cutie! And what a great studio — definitely way to cover up that wood paneling!

    I love the way her characters move — so much action, long strides and even on characters that are standing still, the shading of the colors on their clothes seem to make them have a life of their own. Very cool! Great interview, guys!

  2. I love Lauren’s work! I’m drooling over all the spreads. I was jumping up and down over Sara Midda, too — I’m a big fan from way back. And vardig? Love it. Going to use it from now on. Thanks for the fabulous interview!!

  3. Thanks, you all. I hope everyone can see the link to Kate Banks’ home in France (I know you have to subscribe to read NYT articles, but it’s free. Since I’m subscribed, the link comes right up for me, but it may not for others??).

    Anyway, I WANT THAT HOUSE.

    And I can’t wait to see that book, in particular. Not only do I really like Lauren’s style, but I love Kate’s books. Lauren’s spread from that book — with the father-and-daughter pair in big stride — is something special.

  4. “Excellent coffee and music. Add a sunny day, open window, mild breeze, and I’m all set.”
    -Oh, man. Me, too. Especially this time of year.

    I loved What Happens on Wednesdays, and I’ve been looking forward to the new Katie Banks even before you drew my attention to Castillo’s work. Now I’m double looking forward to it.

    I’m really loving this series. You ROCK ON, Jules.

  5. Great interview. You provide good insight to answer how a beautiful and talented woman brings her inner beauty to life in her work. Strap on your seatbelts as this author/illustrator is just getting started.

  6. Lauren, I really loved your interview! Your work is so unbelievable! I’m so proud of you and your talents!!!

    Jess 🙂

  7. Thanks, all.

    I just realized that I had posted the same studio pic twice. D’oh! Amazing, huh? That I can do up a post and see it a bajillion times and still not see something like that. Anyway, it’s fixed now.

    Adrienne, I really loved that response, too. Coffee, good music, sunlight. Throw in a good book, and it’s my idea of happiness.

  8. You know, Jules. I looked and looked and looked at those two photos. I thought it was one of those see-what’s-different pictures–you know, like they have in Highlights or sometimes the comics section of the newspaper.

  9. I am so proud of my former student and now friend. Keep up the outstanding work. It is as beautiful as you.

  10. Adrienne, yes, it was a test. I meant to do that.


  11. […] Wow! Wow! Wow! How did I miss this? Lauren Castillo was the featured illustrator on the fabulous Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Check out the great spread here. […]

  12. […] 2. This book. I love, love, love stories about city kids and their everyday adventures, mostly because I always wanted to be a city kid myself. And while I love being a city grownup, I have to say that I’m often still envious of the city kids I teach. There is probably room for debate about different city experiences and how race and class factor into them–as well as the interesting conversation my husband and I had about this book and the protagonist’s possible Asperger’s syndrome (my husband identifies pretty strongly with Asperger’s traits, though he’s never been diagnosed, and I know and love a number of other people on that spectrum as well). But this blog is about pretty things, not Family & Culture/psych debates–that’s where my brain is the other 90% of the time, and I write here to come up for air. Visit author Emily Jenkins here, visit illustrator Lauren Castillo here, and read the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast interview with Castillo here. […]

  13. Lauren, let me know if you are ever in town! We should have some coffee for real. I never get to meet other illustrators. . Bythwy I love the way you draw cities. MY fav is the spread from Something happens on Wednesdays. It captures what I was trying to do in the DOg Who Belonged to No One, but so much better. You nailed it.

  14. […] also keeping things simple this week with just one lovely image from Lauren Castillo, whom I interviewed, you may remember, back in April, and whose illustration work I love. This is Lauren’s […]

  15. […] also keeping things simple this week with just one lovely image from Lauren Castillo, whom I interviewed, you may remember, back in April, and whose illustration work I love. This is Lauren’s […]

  16. […] Lauren Castillo (interviewed April 16): “I find that varying the way that I work continues to keep me interested and sometimes […]

  17. Bookmarked 🙂

  18. […] who were very determined and focused on becoming children’s book authors / illustrators. Lauren Castillo, Shadra Strickland, Taeun Yoo and Jonathan Bean were our children’s book […]

  19. […] illustration comes from illustrator Lauren Castillo. You can see this spread and more of Lauren’s beautiful work in the October 2010 Simon & […]

  20. […] thanks to Rachel for visiting 7-Imp this morning. She has a bit of a Lauren-Castillo-meets-Marie-Hall-Ets vibe goin’ on. Best of luck to her in her […]

  21. I visited a coffee shop in Raleigh and found the most charming cup holder I have ever seen. Charming because of the scene (Brooklyn?) printed on it. I absolutely fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe you could squeeze so much atmosphere into such a small space. And the colors are superb. Now that I have looked it up I know that it is “Lyric Diner.” What I need to know is: do you have an outlet for your work? I would love to see more of it.

  22. […] Book Blog Network, I write about the newest picture book from Amy Hest, The Reader, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. That link will be […]

  23. […] week over at Kirkus, I wrote about Amy Hest’s newest picture book, The Reader, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. If you missed it and want to know more about this beautiful book, you can head on over to that […]

  24. […] newest picture book is City Cat, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, so I asked her about that book. But since Kate’s first books were published in the 1980s, I […]

  25. […] don’t know about you, but I could look at the illustrations of Lauren Castillo all day. So, I’m happy this morning to have some artwork from her here at […]

  26. […] at Kirkus today, I talk to author-illustrator Lauren Castillo, pictured here, about her newest picture book, The Troublemaker (Clarion, June […]

  27. […] in the City(Click last two images to enlarge)   Since I chatted here at Kirkus last week with Lauren Castillo, I gotta follow up with some art. Thanks to Lauren for sending some images along for today’s […]

  28. lovely.

  29. […]   This morning over at Kirkus, I write about Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale, illustrated by Lauren Castillo. That will be here […]

  30. […] wrote last week (here) about Eve Bunting’s Yard Sale (Candlewick, April 2015), illustrated by Lauren Castillo, I’ve got some art from the book, as well as some of Lauren’s early sketches and line […]

  31. […] have to take a moment to post Lauren Castillo’s holiday art (which she gave me permission to do):   (Click to enlarge)   Happy merry to […]

  32. […] author Jane Smiley’s debut picture book, Twenty Yawns (Two Lions, April 2016), illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Such a good one. Here’s the review if you want to read about it, and Lauren shares here […]

  33. […] I’m feeling festive and wanting to share holiday art with you all. This one is from Lauren Castillo. You can click on it to see a bigger version of […]

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