A House That Once Was:
A Visit with Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith

h1 May 29th, 2018 by jules


Pictured above is a preliminary image from Julie Fogliano’s A House That Once Was (Roaring Brook, May 2018), illustrated by Lane Smith. This, Lane says, was his attempt to use “very absorbent newspaper, but the line here was a little too blobby and uncontrollable.”

Lane sent a few other roughs from the book, as well as some final art, which you can see below. Both Lane and Julie also share a bit below about the book’s creation.

I’ve reviewed the book here over at BookPage, if you’d like to read more about it.



Lane: I had been a big fan of Julie’s for years. I sensed we had similar tastes in writers — Ruth Krauss, in particular. Every so often my agent Steve Malk brought her name up, regarding a possible collaboration, which I thought would be great one day.

Then One Day, I received an email from Ms. Fogliano herself. She just wanted to say hi and to mention we actually knew each other. She said she used to work at Books of Wonder. I had never made the connection that the person who enthusiastically hand-sold, when no one else was interested, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, my book with George Saunders, was that Julie! I immediately suggested she write something for us if the spirit moved her. Then, as if by telepathy, she wrote an abandoned-house book. How could she have known when I was a kid my friends and brother Shane spent hours traipsing around old abandoned houses? I had an instant connection to the material.



The book is illustrated in two styles. The boy and girl in the story imagine who might have lived in the house, and these illustrations are full oil paintings. But the book-ended sequences are done in pen and ink in a blotted line technique that Warhol used when he was an illustrator — and I think Ben Shahn might have, too. Under the line, I created mixed-media textures (mostly in oils) that were very much influenced by Evaline Ness and her Sam, Bangs & Moonshine.



Here are some early style tests. . . .

I tried drawing with the eyedropper-top of the ink bottle, but it was too messy:



This below is a Warhol technique, where you draw on vellum and, while the ink is still wet, press it into watercolor paper, creating a reverse image with a unique and unpredictable line. This is how I did most of the illustrations.


[The three below are] early book dummy images that made it no farther than the dummy.




(Click each to enlarge)


Julie: A House That Once Was is actually a true(ish) story. My kids spend a lot of time in the woods with their cousins, and one day they came across an abandoned house. As far as we could tell, the house had been abandoned since the ’60s, so it had really become a part of the forest — yet the pots and pans were still on the stove, the recliner still sat by the fireplace, and the sagging bookshelves were still full of books. So, the boys were totally fascinated by the whole thing. They couldn’t understand how or why someone would just leave their house and all of their stuff — and never come back.

When they came home that day, they couldn’t stop taking about who might have lived there and where they might have gone. Lucky for me, their little discovery happened shortly after Lane had suggested we do a book together. (Lane and I met close to 20 years ago while I was working at Books of Wonder.) I had been totally racking my brain, trying to come up with a Lane Smith-worthy idea, and as soon as the kids walked in that day, so curious and excited, I knew I had found it. Luckily, Lane loved the idea too. (Phew!)

Lane: I have included [below] four of my favorite spreads. I love the way Molly did the typography. It’s the old Minuteman 18th Century font she used in John, Paul, George & Ben, yet here its dilapidated look is perfect for House. It kinda looks like faded rubber-stamped type.


A final spread: “Tiptoe creep / up the path / up the path that is hiding. …”
(Click to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


A final spread: “At the front of the house / the house that is waiting /
there’s a door that is not really open / but barely. …”

(Click to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


A final spread: “Who was this someone / who ate beans for dinner /
who sat by the fire / who looked in this mirror? …”

(Click to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


A final spread: “Was there a cat who would sleep by the fire /
or a girl who would twirl to her records and sing?”

(Click to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


* * * * * * *

A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS. Text copyright © 2018 by Julie Fogliano. Illustrations © 2018 by Lane Smith. Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Lane Smith.

3 comments to “A House That Once Was:
A Visit with Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith”

  1. I love everything about this. Such a beautiful book. So many favorites all in one place. And then The Gappers! THE GAPPERS!! Julie F, you and I may be their biggest fans. Thank you all for sharing the backstory behind this very special collaboration.

  2. Love this interview and peek at technique and influences. Sam, Bangs and Moonshine, Ben Shahn, and the Warhol pen and ink drawings, live beside my drawing table, too — LOVE seeing how their influences have evolved into something unique and new in this book. So inspiring!

  3. Beautiful book.

Leave a Comment

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