We recently caught up with illustrator Lisa McCue, whose work can be seen in the Snuggle Bunny titles as well as over 175 other children's books! Learn all about her creative process, her advice for aspiring illustrators, exciting upcoming projects, and more.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became an illustrator.
I grew up surrounded by creative people. My mom was an artist and my dad was a TV director and writer. Art and creativity were their gifts to me.
What sparked your interest in illustrating children’s books?
My biggest inspiration was my love of nature and all things cute and fuzzy. I was often found in my backyard sketching flowers and plants, but drawing animals was what I loved most. My desire to capture the sweetness in the little faces of the baby bunnies that I nursed back to health after rescuing them from the jaws of Calico, the neighbors’ cat, inspired hours of sketching. To me, nothing was cuter than the big sparkling eyes and the tiny twitching noses of the little field mice my brother caught in our shed. Even after we released them into the woods behind our house, I would continue sketching, trying to remember every detail. Going back to my earliest memories, every person who saw my fuzzy animal drawings—family, friends, teachers, and neighbors—had the same response: “These pictures look like they should be in children’s books.” I guess it was destiny!
Can you walk us through your creative process?
My creative process always starts with visualization. Whether I am illustrating books, greeting cards, or fabrics, or creating models and plush toy designs, I always start by visualizing the entire project before I put pencil to paper. When illustrating stories I’ve written, I visualize every scene as I formulate the story. Illustrating stories written by other authors is very much the same, only I am visualizing the pictures as I read the story. Sometimes an image will pop into my head immediately, and others may take days, but when I am finally ready to start sketching, every picture and how the book flows is crystal-clear in my head. Then, I merely copy what I see. After the publisher approves the sketches, I trace the sketches to my paper of choice for this project and begin to paint. My final art is scanned, and minor adjustments are made digitally if needed.
What is your favorite medium to work with?
I’m not sure I can say I have a favorite medium to work with. My projects are so diverse that one day my studio floor may be covered in faux fur and the next my hands are covered in clay. But I am happiest when I am illustrating a book, lost in what my husband calls “my fuzzy world.” I know right now you’re thinking, “But what is your favorite medium when illustrating?” Well, here too I am very diverse. My most comfortable go-to mediums are watercolor and acrylics. I also love to work on scratchboard.
What are your perfect working conditions?
Over twenty years ago when my family moved to Annapolis, Maryland, my husband and I bought property on Chesapeake Bay and began to design our own house. This is when I asked myself that very same question. I wanted a space separate from the household activity, and I definitely needed a space big enough to express my every creative whim. So, an entire third floor was added for my studio space. I have a section designated for illustrating, a sculpture station, a sewing station, and lots of floor space to spread out and create!
How does the children’s book illustration process differ from other illustration work you’ve done?
What I like most about illustrating children’s books versus other illustration work is that in books the characters travel throughout a story and develop personalities, whereas in most other illustrations, the characters appear only once in a singular piece. Through pictures, I can tell the story and express the characters’ personalities and emotions in a way that a child can feel connected. I believe every child should be able to pick up a picture book and tell themselves the story through the illustrations alone.
Is there any type of project you haven’t done, but dream of doing someday?
One dream I have always had is to illustrate a book with no words, where the pictures alone tell the story. And because everyone should follow their dreams, this interview has inspired me to finally start working on an idea that has been floating around in my head for a long time.
Any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?
Much of my recent energy has been in the toy, craft, and licensing world. This spring, Kohl’s Cares will feature a plush and Quiet Bunny book set. And now, with my new dream project sparked to life, you can look forward to a Lisa McCue “picture only” book!
Any advice for aspiring illustrators?
To all you aspiring children’s book illustrators, expression is everything! A beautifully illustrated book will not catch the attention of a child if the child does not connect to the characters. The art of children’s books is about storytelling. The most successful books are those that children can relate to emotionally.