An Interview with Author and Illustrator Sarah Lynne Reul on Having a Regular Creative Practice, Being More Present, and How She Approaches Problem Solving

Sarah Lynne Reul, author and illustator of The Breaking NewsAllie All AlongPet The Pets, and Farm the Farm: A Lift-the-Flap Book (out April 2019), was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about creativity, courage, and books she has read and enjoyed. I hope you enjoy – her answers are thoughtful, enlightening, and helpful.

What did you love about making Allie All Along?

One thing that made ALLIE ALL ALONG super fun to create was that I was working in color almost from the beginning! Here are my rough thumbnail drawings for the layout of the book.

From Sarah Lynne Reul‘s rough tumbnail drawings for the layout of her book Allie All Along

Usually I start my projects with just plain old regular pencil and leave decisions about color for much later in the process, but for this story, the color scheme was integral all of the shedding layers.

What is it about writing and creating for children that calls to you?

I love the format of a picture book – there’s so much art packed into one place, and the right words can carry you along, both enhancing & contrasting with the images.

As a creative person, what do you find nourishes your creativity? (How do you keep that part of yourself filled?)

I find that it’s all about regular practice – sitting down on a daily basis to write or draw, as well as a practice of trying to balance with the other parts of my life, such as family time, socializing with friends, exercising, cooking healthy stuff and sleep. If I sacrifice another part of my life too much (in trying to squeeze in more work) I can function for a couple days but my productivity tends to take a nosedive after that.

How do you have the courage to be creative and to share your work with others? (Do you have a great support system? Do you have a role model/role models? Etc.)

I’m lucky to be part of a couple fantastic critique groups – one mainly for writing and the other for illustrating (as well as a few additional groups in the past), and I’ve learned so much by meeting with other picture book creators. Over the course of a few years, I’ve watched how other people share their work and that’s helped to build up my own courage to continue sharing my own.

Sometimes engaging with other kid lit people on social media helps, but usually it’s the in-person stuff that really makes a positive impact for me.  The New England conferences of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) have been hugely instrumental in learning about the industry, gaining confidence and finding ways to improve my work.

Image Courtesy of Sarah Lynne Reul. (I love this!)

How do you persist when being creative gets difficult? (Is there something you tell yourself? Is there a group of people you spend time with? Is there a movie you watch or a book you read? What do you do?)

I find that I function best when I approach solving problems a little at a time. For me, the 100 day project has been a great way of practicing creating every day – it’s an Instagram challenge to choose a hashtag to post each day for 100days.  I’m currently on a short hiatus around day 75 of my third year – this year it’s #100daysofmakingtinythings (typewriter image); last year and the year before I completed #100daysofdrawingonphotos. (mermaid image)

If I’m having issues on a specific project, I might share it with my critique group for some new ideas, I might put it aside for a bit and work on something else (if possible). Running at the gym sometimes helps my brain make new connections when a line of thinking seems to have stalled. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks and read a lot of picture books (and other books) – I find that immersing myself in other people’s work can help me get out of my own head.

What’s your creative process like? (Is there one? What’s been helpful for you?)

I feel like I have different creative processes throughout the year, and depending on the kind of work I’m trying to do! As I mentioned above, dedicating a small amount of time each day to an ongoing project is sometimes part of my process – in addition to #the100dayproject I also usually do Storystorm each year in January – it’s a challenge started by author Tara Lazar to write down one picture book idea per day for 30 days. Otherwise I use excel sheets for planning production schedules (for specific projects and for my monthly work), as well as handwritten weekly and daily to do lists. I try to remember to let myself play sometimes (by sketching, trying new mediums) but it’s sometimes hard to prioritize that.

Image Courtesy of Sarah Lynne Reul

Do you have any advice for your past self on being creative? (Just in case time travel becomes a thing and your past self is reading this.)

Something I’m always forgetting is that the quality of the time that I’m NOT doing creative work is often super important to being able to create things when I have the time to focus on my own. If I could have told my past self to try to be more present when I’m taking care of my kids, etc, I think it could have put me in a better space for creating when I actually got the time to sit down. But I’m not sure if my past self would have been able to listen to that advice, since my future (and present!) self probably needs to remember it too!

What steps did you take to go from doing art as a form of expression/”just for fun” to becoming a professional?

After working in unrelated fields for nearly a decade after college graduation, I actually went back to school to get a Master’s degree in 2D Animation. I was able to log tons of hours drawing as part of that program, which really helped level up my illustration skills. In addition, as I mentioned above, attending SCBWI conferences helped me learn about becoming a professional in the industry (and I’ve met a ton of great people!)

Tell me about picture books you loved as a child. Do you remember why? What it was about them that drew you in? When was the last time you read it?

Oddly enough, I don’t remember too many picture books from when I was a child (although I read a lot of chapter books and my dad gave me a ton of science fiction/fantasy books as I got older). I did have a beloved copy of Shel Silverstein’s WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, as well as a cassette tape of him reading the poems aloud in his crazy voice. I loved that book because the poems and illustrations were silly, irreverent and ridiculous (and sometimes even sort of creepy!)

What was the last picture book you read and enjoyed?  What was it about that picture book that impressed you?

SO MANY! How do I choose?!  I love Alisa Coburn’s illustrations in HELLO DOOR (written by Alastair Heim) – the bright, limited color palette and the crisp, stylized Edwardian townhouse illustrations are delicious and full of details that are fun to revisit on multiple readings.  Also, I love Beatrice Alemagna’s ON A MAGICAL, DO-NOTHING DAY – her earthy colors, textures & patterns are dreamy and contrast so gorgeously with the main character’s neon orange raincoat.

Have you read a graphic novel/comic book lately? Anything you recommend?

I’ve been studying a lot of hybrid graphic novel/picture books for an upcoming project that I’m attempting, so I’ve been reading a lot of fun ones. Julie Kim’s WHERE’S HALMONI? is a super fun book with great formatting (including vital-to-the-story endpapers!) I haven’t seen anything else quite like it; also, my kids love flipping back and forth to the Korean translations at the end of the book. I also recently got my hands on an advance copy of Caron Levis’ STOP THAT YAWN; it is so, so good! The way that LeUyen Pham wove the illustrations into the story with graphic-novel style panels is simply magnificent!

How can people learn more about you and your work?

My website is www.reuler.com; you can also find me on Twitter @sarahlynnereul or on Instagram @thereul. Thanks so much for this great interview!

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me! I really appreciate it!

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