Seven Questions Over Breakfast with
Stacey Dressen-McQueen

h1 December 17th, 2008 by jules

Here’s something new I learned: Illustrator Stacey Dressen-McQueen is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly new to children’s literature. As in, she has five books under her belt. I’m a fan of her work (in fact, I reviewed one of her illustrated titles at 7-Imp back here in ’07), but I had assumed, as I’m wont to do, that there existed a big long line of books she’s illustrated that I had never seen. Turns out I’ve seen most of them. And that’s lucky for me, because—as Publishers Weekly put it when reviewing Candace Fleming’s Boxes for Katje—Stacey’s illustrations resonate with joy and fellowship. Here is one of the illustrations from that title, Stacey’s first illustrated title from ’03, which tells the story of a young Dutch girl who writes to her new American friend in thanks for the care package sent after World War II:

I find Stacey’s stylized folk art to be mesmerizing. Her work is bold and expressive and the textures and patterns so vibrant that I want to reach out and touch the pages. Yet her illustrations never overwhelm the text. In her latest illustrated title, The Elephant Quilt by Susan Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2008), Stacey’s work has never been better. Her paintings feature quilt patterns, bold paint strokes, heavily bordered characters in some instances that make them seem as if they’re leaping off the page, and lines made to look like stitches, all for the tale of Lily Rose and her Grandma, stitching a quilt that tells the story of their family’s journey from Missouri to California by covered wagon in 1859. Kirkus wrote that the story “bubbles over with verbal and visual vim,” and Booklist praised Stacey’s “dramatic, mixed-media paintings portray{ing} majestic landscapes and frontier dangers as well as moments of family merriment.”

I always look forward to a title illustrated by Stacey, and The Elephant Quilt made me seek her out and ask for an interview. Fortunately, she said yes to a breakfast chat. For her own breakfasts at her Oregon home, Stacey usually has “a Lara bar or something of the sort, and more coffee and vanilla soy milk after dropping my oldest, Finn, off at kindergarten. My youngest, Emma, will be joining us with her bribe ice cream for peaceably leaving the play kitchen in Finn’s classroom.” Ice cream for breakfast? I like her even more.

So, let’s set the table and get the basics from Stacey before we sit down to eat our ice cream…I mean, drink our coffee. (I dunno, maybe Emma will let me have a scoop or two.) And I thank Stacey for stopping by to talk about her work a bit and share some images with us.

* * * * * * *

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

Stacey: Illustrator.

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


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

Stacey: I use a mix of acrylic paint, oil pastel, and colored pencil.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Stacey: I grew up on a farm in South Dakota, but I have lived in Oregon for the past nineteen years.

Stacey’s ’20s girl

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

Stacey: I went to school at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and then started sending samples of my work out to various magazines and publishing houses. I was fortunate to have some of my illustrations that were published in Ladybug Magazine come to the attention of Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges of Studio Goodwin Sturges. She became my agent. That led to my first book with Melanie Kroupa at FSG, Boxes for Katje.

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


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

Stacey: Being front and center of anything is absolutely unnerving to me, and I have a pretty quiet speaking voice (quieter still when unnerved), but—that being said—I adore school visits. I am really honored and excited to draw pictures for the author’s words and characters, so it is great fun to share that.

Stacey’s “Alaska girls”

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

Stacey: I am involved in a project about one-room school houses.

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, the table’s set for our six questions over breakfast, and we’ve got our coffee AND ice cream for Emma. Now we’re ready to talk more specifics . . .

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?

Stacey: Once I get a manuscript, I read it over and then just kind of live with it for a little bit. Then I start collecting references and things to help me think about the direction of what I want to draw. One of the biggest steps for me is figuring out a palette. Even when it is just at sketching/pencil form, if I can have an idea of colors, it helps. I also start some rough character sketches so I have an idea of who is going to be running through the pages. Then I break down the text to pages, start doing quick thumbnail sketches, sketches with text blocked in, rough sketches, more research and references, then the final sketches — all the while going back and forth with the editor. Once the final sketches are nailed down, I can start to paint — this is the most meditative, wonderful part to me.

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

Stacey: I have a room downstairs in my house with a big closet where I can stash lots and lots of stuff — and then shut the door. Fantastic! My favorite part of the room is the drawing table my husband made for me forever ago.

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

Stacey: When I was really small, I could not get enough of Eloise Wilkin’s We Help Mommy. Along with checking out their busy day, I really liked their house! I loved that she created such a complete, detailed place — and it just seemed so lovely and exotic in contrast to the orange shag here, purple shag there, Midwestern seventies style I was in the middle of at the time. I loved (and still really do) Lois Lenski, too. There was also a mix of old books, children’s books, school books, and encyclopedias from my Grandma’s house that I always loved looking at and drawing from.

Stacey’s children, Emma and Finn

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

Stacey: I would be way too tongue-tied to meet any of them, even if I could, but I admire to no end: Alice Provensen, Ezra Jack Keats, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, and an artist, Fay Jones, who isn’t an illustrator, but I love her characters as much as if there were books and books about them.

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?

Stacey: I’ve been on a kind of Brian Eno thing and, as a family, a big time Pete Seeger bender, but when I draw . . . I don’t know if it’s adding young kids to the mix, age, or what, but I can genuinely only do one thing at a time with anything close to focus. Other wise I sort of go on tilt and stare, not draw. So no more TV, audio books, or music — it’s all about the sweet, sweet silence.

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

Stacey: I sneeze like an old man.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Stacey: “Beautiful.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Stacey: “Pamphlet.”

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

Stacey: Color, quiet, people and places I love, cake.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Stacey: Bleakness.

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

Stacey: I’m trying to reel it in, because of the company I keep, but really just any and all in any order.

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

Stacey: My family laughing and/or singing, water.

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

Stacey: Excessive whining and shrieking for no good reason.

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

Stacey: Ceramicist.

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

Stacey: Anything keeping close track of numbers.

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

Stacey: “Welcome.”

* * * * * * *

All photos and art, with the exception of the book covers, courtesy of Stacey Dressen-McQueen. All rights reserved and all that good stuff.

12 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with
Stacey Dressen-McQueen”

  1. Thanks for interviewing Stacey! I was not familiar with her work before *hangs head*, so this was a real treat. Especially love the “Alaska girls” spread, and the Elephant Quilt book looks very interesting. You’re right about the leap-off-the page textures and colors that distinguish her unique style. Pass the ice cream!

  2. I love your colors and the faces are so expressively happy. Also the textures are super. I have such a hard time pulling texture and color into my work. Your work feels very refreshing. Thanks. Good luck with the kids- hah

  3. What exuberant artwork! (And having coincidentally just been led to this video, together with this interview’s art, suddenly I’m all in a November 5th-y mood all over again…)

    I have a pretty quiet speaking voice (quieter still when unnerved)

    That parenthetical remark shows the mind of a lovably modest master at work.

    Thanks for the interview!

  4. Another great interview! She sounds wonderful. Boxes for Katje, Little Mamá Forgets, and the Biggest Soap have been favourites around our house for a while…but I hadn’t realized they were all the same illustrator — thanks for helping me connect the dots. I’ve suggested that our library purchase her newest as well.

  5. Thanks, all.

    Jeremy, I had remembered that you were a fan, ’cause I think you were the one raving here one day about Boxes for Katje, which is what made me jot it down and go get a copy from the library. I love it. Stacey’s art work is something, isn’t it? I read some place — some review, I think, but I can’t remember which one — a comparison of her work to Patricia Polacco’s, and I guess I see that (a little?), but I think Stacey has a style all her own.

    Looking forward to what she does next…

  6. I agree. This art is gorgeous. Really different.

  7. I really, really like Boxes for Katje. It’s one of those books I recommend a lot.

    And how cute are Emma and Finn? I totally see why she gives Emma ice cream for breakfast; I think I’d give that girl whatever she asked for with those big eyes and everything.

  8. I kind of fell in love with Boxes for Katje the first time I read it – now I’ll have to keep an eye out for her other illustrations!

  9. […] Stacey Dressen-McQueen (interviewed December 17) on school visits: “Being front and center of anything is absolutely unnerving to me, and I […]

  10. […] Seven Questions Over Breakfast withStacey Dressen-McQueen December 17th, 2008 &nbsp&nbsp by jules […]

  11. Hi,

    I am interested in contacting Stacey.
    As we use to work together at the Book House in Minneapolis some years ago. I had visited her in Portland in the 90ties when she really started to do her artwork more n have since been traveling internationally myself. If you can reach her please give her my email address n name. Let her know that alot of magical n positive things have been happening n Id love to share n listen to what shes up to..

    Have a positive n life affirming day!

  12. […] I’m also sharing some illustrations today—from two separate titles, one illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen (top image) and the other both written and illustrated by Grace Lin (bottom image)—to take […]

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