7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #529: Featuring Corinna Luyken

h1 April 9th, 2017 by jules

Today, debut author-illustrator Corinna Luyken visits to talk about The Book of Mistakes (Dial), which will be on shelves in mid-April.

This beautiful book, which celebrates the imaginative, playful spirit of an artist letting mistakes guide her work, is more than just an embracing of the artistic process, both messy and lovely. It’s also quite the odyssey, one that takes readers on unexpected paths, opening minds and perspectives. I don’t want to say much more than that, because I wouldn’t want to ruin the reading experience for you. You really want to see this one — and not just for the journey of the mind it takes you on. The art is also exquisite and the palette, warm and inviting.

Another reason not to go on and on is that Corinna is here, visiting today to tell us all about the book — and share lots of art. I thank her for visiting! Let’s get to it so that we can hear more.


Path to Illustration:



Corinna: As a kid, my mom often read to me from Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories. It was a thick, red, cloth-covered book, filled with strange stories and detailed ink drawings by Maud and Miska Petersham. The stories were grouped together by theme — Three Stories About Three Ways the Wind Went Winding and Four Stories About The Deep Doom of Dark Doorways. They were absurd and beautiful. They were strange and silly and sad. And we loved them all. We read our favorites—like, How They Bring Back the Village of Cream Puffs When the Wind Blows It Away—over and over, laughing every time for the silliness of the sound of the words.


— From Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg and Maud and Miska Petersham
(Click to enlarge)


But it wasn’t until after college that I realized making picture books was what I wanted to do. The manager of the bookstore where I’d worked in high school handed me a book one day. “You are going to love this,” she said. It was The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders and Lane Smith. And she was right. I had goose bumps up and down my spine as I read it for the first time. I read it again, and then again, thinking, “you can do this?”


— From The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders and Lane Smith
(Click first image to enlarge)


That was seventeen years ago. Over the next ten years, I did a lot of writing, drawing, waitressing, and teaching. And then I became a mother — and something shifted. I’d always loved the weird and strange books, but now I also loved the tender ones, the ones with heart.

Then one night, about two and a half years ago, I woke up at 3 a.m. (after a bad stomach flu) and drew/wrote the first half of The Book of Mistakes. I mocked up a dummy and sent it, heart pounding, to Steven Malk, an agent at Writers House, hoping he would see potential in the story. He did. He loved the beginning, he said, but the ending needed work. Finding a more interesting and satisfying ending took me another year. That year was difficult and absolutely necessary. During that time, I learned a great deal about my process as an illustrator-writer. I learned how to trust the work, how to listen, how to find my way through and out of the dark.

I made fourteen dummies that year. And the book doubled in size.



But eventually, with Steve’s help, The Book of Mistakes found a wonderful home — at Dial with Namrata Tripathi and Lily Malcom.

And now (seventeen years since The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip sent tingles down my spine), The Book of Mistakes is making its way out into the world!


(Click to enlarge)




Most of the work that really inspires me is either absurd or, for lack of a better word, profound. And when a book is both, I have a physical response. I get chills. My heart beats faster. If I had to choose four books that have had the strongest influence on me, it would probably be these:


Pictured above: Extra Yarn, The Art of Lisbeth Zwerger,
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Rootabaga Stories


Next, I’d add Where The Sidewalk Ends; Snow by Uri Shulevitz; Migrant by Maxine Trottier and Isabelle Arsenault; Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel; The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall; Wave by Suzy Lee; and the poetry of Carl Phillips, Yehuda Amichai, E. E. Cummings, Issa, and Mary Oliver. And, very quickly, my pile would turn into a tower of books:



Favorite Medium:


Arguing with stones
(Click to enlarge)


I’ve always loved working with ink and watercolor. I enjoy how fluid they are — and also how hard they are to control. I love the way watercolor blooms and shifts and can have a life of its own on the paper.


Arguing with flowers
(Click to enlarge)


More recently, I’ve been using pencils, dark ones — 4B, 6B, 8B. I love how you can almost erase them, but not quite. The smudges that are left behind, the visible memory of those first thoughts and impulses on paper — I love that.


(Click each to enlarge)


I also love printmaking. The texture, the built-in surprises that come with applying ink to one surface, and then transferring it to another — there is so much possibility there. Since finishing The Book of Mistakes, I’ve been experimenting with printmaking again. It’s so fun!


(Click to enlarge)


Favorite Illustrators:


I have so many favorites — Lisbeth Zwerger, Isabelle Arsenault, Marc Simont, Suzy Lee, Komako Sakai, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Beatrice Alemagna, Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein, David Roberts, Quentin Blake, Maira Kalman, Arthur Geisert, Marla Frazee, Maurice Sendak, Istvan Banyai, Jen Corace, Jon Agee, Jordan Crane, Lane Smith, Sophie Blackall, Tomi Ungerer, Christian Robinson, Erin Stead, Patrick McDonnell, Ben Shahn, Ellen Raskin (yes, she was an illustrator!), Ezra Jack Keats, Olivier Tallec, Julie Morstad, John Hendrix, Renata Liwska, Nikki McClure, David Small, Zachariah Ohora, Sergio Ruzzier, Adrian Tomine, Yuko Shimizu…. It’s a very long list, and it just keeps going!


On The Book of Mistakes:



It all started with a series of mistakes.

I used to draw with pen, because I liked how, with pen, a line could take on a life of its own. But that life often led to shapes and marks I didn’t intend and couldn’t erase. Because I loved to draw and loved to draw with ink, I learned to deal with those accidents. If I messed up something in a face, I’d add glasses. If I didn’t like the way I’d drawn a hand, I might add gloves. And somewhere along the way I learned to enjoy how each mistake forced me to find a new way of looking at the world. And I began to wonder if celebrating mistakes was something that could be taught.

While working as both a teaching assistant and artist in residence in elementary schools, I also noticed a pattern. In every class there would be one or two kids who, within minutes of starting to draw, were raising their hands asking for another piece of paper. They didn’t like what they were seeing. They wanted to start over. They wanted to make it perfect. I began to wonder if I could teach them to see the possibility in that mistake — to see how they could keep going and transform their drawing or painting into something that they still might love.

This all circled home for me when my daughter was four years old. At that age, she loved everything she drew. She didn’t see mistakes — only pattern and line and color and texture. And she loved to draw. Then one day, while drawing, she burst into tears and threw her paper on the ground. She had made a mistake. She couldn’t fix it. And it broke my heart. Not yet, I remember thinking. Not her. Not already. Not now.

So I wrote The Book of Mistakes. For her. For them. For me. For anyone who has ever made a mistake.


“Even the ink smudges scattered across the sky look as if they could be leaves—
like they’d always wanted to be lifted up and carried.”

(Click to enlarge)


In La Conner, Washington, where I lived when I was making The Book of Mistakes, there is this tree:



In The Book of Mistakes, there is also a tree, halfway through the book:


(Click to enlarge)


In the first ten dummies, the story ended with a variation of this tree. It took me almost a year to realize the tree belonged to the middle, not the end, of the story. During that year, I drew the tree many, many times!



Re-drawing an image over and over isn’t usually much fun. It’s hard to keep the life and energy in a drawing when you’ve re-worked it too much. But this tree was different.

With each version, the details changed. And it was these small changes that kept it interesting — and fun.


(Click each to enlarge)


As one of the final changes, I added a tribute to three of my favorite picture books with beautiful trees (All The World, Extra Yarn, and A Tree is Nice).



Can you find them in the finished tree?


(Click to enlarge)


What’s Next:


(Click to enlarge)


Right now I’m working on a second picture book with Dial. It’s about the heart, and how it can open, close, and open again.

I’ll also be illustrating a middle-grade novel for Candlewick (Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi), due out spring 2019.


One Last Thing …


As a mostly self-taught illustrator, who has lived in a series of small towns with little in the way of art community, 7-Imp has been an incredible gift. The opportunity to see so much art, and especially art process, has been something I’ve looked forward to every week, for years. I’ve discovered some of my very favorite illustrators though 7-Imp. And my agent, too. Throughout my journey as an illustrator, it has been a resource and a source of inspiration. So I can’t end without saying THANK YOU, Jules, on behalf of aspiring illustrators everywhere — for the amazing work that you do. It has more of an impact than you know.

All images used by permission of Corinna Luyken.

* * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

Well, that “one last thing” that Corinna typed pretty much covers my seven kicks for the week. Thank you, Corinna.

Actually, one more kick: I got to spend time with a friend on Thursday. She is ill. Every minute counts for a lot.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

16 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #529: Featuring Corinna Luyken”

  1. Congratulations Corinna!
    This book looks fantastic. I’m so happy for you.
    It’s been a while since I’ve done any kicking here.
    I’ve been working on other aspects of illustration.
    1. – 2. My kids did me proud, yesterday. My son had a double header baseball game and my daughter had two ballet performances. I only had to do the driving and watching and I was exhausted. But it wasn’t their endurance that made proud to be their mother. It was their ability to step in when needed to help their team and a friend.
    During the second game my son’s coach asked him to take over for the first baseman. This is my son’s favorite position and he hadn’t had a chance to play it all day, but he asked if he could take over left field. The left fielder had been struggling the last couple of innings against a team that liked bombing it to left field. The boy’s father had been riding him from the sidelines and my son wanted to give the kid a break.
    My daughter did not have any major parts in her ballet shows but she is a solid dancer that knows her parts and rarely complains. She was the understudy for the first act of the second show which meant she was likely going to have to sit out while her friends performed. She learned the part and even learned parts she hadn’t been asked to study, just in case. Five minutes before the show her teacher told her to put the costume on to fill in for a girl that had an injury. She quickly changed and performed beautifully.
    3. Baby nieces
    4. The Osprey are back.
    5. Painting
    6. Hints of green
    7. Good coffee

  2. Good morning! Oh I hope Corinna makes it down to Portland. Will be talking to Green Bean Books to see if she can get her. I love this book.
    Jules, you do so much for illustrators. I totally agree with Corinna.
    Moira, how cool for you kids to be asked to step up. Hooray for hints of green.
    My kicks:
    1. Spring break.
    2. Sunshine in between rain showers.
    3. Lunches with friends.
    4. Naps.
    5. Reading.
    6. My poetry collaboration w/ Christy Peterson, nonfiction writer and photographer at Deowriter.
    7. Signs of spring.
    Have a great week.

  3. Thank you for the interview. I am definitely a fan of Corinna’s work. Corinna, congratulations on your fabulous projects! I love the premise of mistakes becoming great – perfect, even!

    Moira, I can see why your are proud of your kids.
    Jone, glad you enjoyed your spring break.

    My kicks:
    1. This blog!! I have to agree with Corinna. I find much inspiration here. Thank you, Jules.
    2. The start of “birthday week” for my youngest
    3. Visiting Colorado College with my oldest, who is likely to attend there
    4. Knowing that if she chooses CC, she’ll be less than an hour away!
    5. Cookie bars
    6. Dinner out where they open the wall for patio-like seating in our nice weather
    7. Time for drawing

  4. Good morning, Imps!

    Hello, Corinna! Thank you for sharing your art, your inspirations, your Mistakes, and your successes!

    Jules: Sending good thoughts to your dear friend.

    Moira: Three cheers to your two dynamite kids!

    Jone: Enjoy your spring break.

    Dow: Happy birthday week to your youngest.

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Rehearsals
    2) Performances
    3) Stories
    4) Laughter
    5) Opportunities
    6) Helping
    7) Mischief managed

  5. Beautiful pictures and words,all of this.

  6. Corinna – thank you so much for sharing your beautiful artwork and beautiful story! I love the images of arguing with stones and flowers, and the child and the dog. That tree – both in the photograph and your illustrations – is amazing.

    Jules – sending good thoughts for your friend.

    Moira – hooray for your great kids! True teamwork.

    Jone – sounds like you’ve had a wonderful spring break.

    Dow – happy birthday to your youngest!

    LW – Laughter and Mischief Managed sound like very fun kicks!

    My kicks this week:
    1) The satisfaction of a job well done.
    2) More signs of spring on daily walks with Daisy, yesterday we saw blooming hyacinths.
    3) Friday lunch with a friend and her daughter.
    4) Working in my garden.
    5) Catching sunsets.
    6) Planning future travels.
    7) Weekend mornings with good coffee.

    Have a great week Imps!

  7. Moira: YES. Go, Moira’s kick-ass offspring! Those stories don’t surprise me at all, knowing you’re their mama.

    Jone, was Spring Break this past week? Sounds like it was if there were naps, but if it’s this week, have fun!

    Dow, good luck with the college-hunting. My girls are only 13 and 11, but I get teary-eyed, just thinking about them leaving. Happy birthday to your youngest!

    LW: I raise my mug of coffee right now to mischief as a kick.

    Hi, Elisa!

    Rachel, what are you planting in your garden this year?

  8. Jules – right now its still too cold & unpredictable to plant my summer vegetable garden, so its more of seeing what made it through the winter & transplanting and rearranging. I am trying to get my rosemary to grow along one of my fences this year, transplanted a potted raspberry bush to one of my garden beds with a nice trellis for it to climb up, and spreading my Snow Princess flowers to more of my front yard for more ground cover. Have you started plating veggies yet?

  9. Thank you! (Moira, Jone, Dow, Little Willow, Elisa, Rachel) for your very kind words!

    Can I join in? My kicks this week:

    1. This blog, every week.
    2. Surfing at Hobuck beach (on the NW tip of WA) with my family.
    3. Meeting David Small and Sarah Stewart this weekend.
    4. Heart rocks.
    5. Potions (orange-mint-chocoloate-blueberry-tomato)
    6. Sun that’s followed by rain.
    7. Evenings still cold enough for a fire.

  10. Rachel, nope. In this new house, we have to figure out what the what to do with this weed-ridden yard. We also want a fence for the back yard, and then we want to explore raised garden beds. It’s sloooow-going. … Good luck to you! As I always tell my girls, raspberries are the superior fruit.

    Corinna, thanks again for visiting today! Speaking of kick #6, my birthday is soon, and I am thinking about FINALLY getting a small sun tattoo. I have a thing for suns. I said I’d do it last year, and I never did. I think it should be this year; I just don’t know where (on my body) to get it. I have a Rafael-Lopez sun, too, that I have his permission to ink on me! … So glad you met David and Sarah. So much talent in the space of two people.

    Have a good week, you all!

  11. The sun on your twitter header?! How fun!!! Tough decision though. I have some ink splat temporary tattoos for my book launch… I’m going to have to send you some!

  12. Yes! It’s actually that sun. Rafael joked one day that I should get it tattooed on me, and I really would like to. A small one. I just don’t know where.

    INK SPLAT TATTOOS. I love it! Clever idea.

  13. […] more mistakes? See this post for more of Corinna’s […]

  14. As a former teacher and grandmother of two “kick” of a lifetime girls, thank you for this beautiful homage to being human.

  15. This book is so lovely – ran across this interview once more and enjoyed every bit.

  16. […] want to share Julie Danielson’s examination of Corinna Luykens and her 2017 book, The Book of Mistakes. At Danielson’s blog “Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” Luykens makes an […]

Leave a Comment

Should you have trouble posting, please contact sevenimp_blaine@blaine.org. Thanks.