Today I’m quite honored to have Shelley Johannes joining me here for an interview!
Hello, Shelley! Thank you for joining me here!
Hi Dylan! Thank you so much for inviting me!
Tell us a little bit about Beatrice Zinker— and what’s coming up!
Beatrice is the unstoppable third-grader at the center of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter book series, and for me, she’s a personal reminder that being yourself has endless upsides.
I spent a lot of my life trying to disguise the things that made me different. Several years ago I ran across the Joss Whedon quote, “Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset.” As an experiment, I decided to flip my perspective and believe my weird things were my best things. The next day I pictured Beatrice for the first time.
Making this series is a dream come true. I’m so grateful for the team I get to make it with, and for all the teachers, librarians and readers who’ve embraced Beatrice. Book #2, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito, came out September 18th and I can’t wait to share Beatrice’s next adventure, too!
Tell us about your illustration process.
I work mostly by hand and I’m a huge fan of tracing paper. My first career was architecture, so I’ve been sketching on it for over twenty years. I used to worry that tracing paper wasn’t a finished material, or that it was cheating somehow, but it’s truly my favorite drawing surface. Ink moves freely across it. Marker puddles on it like watercolor. And the translucency allows me to layer my process sketches. Both the rough sketches and the final artwork for Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker were drawn on trace with felt-tip pen, as well as marker, colored pencil, and occasionally watercolor.
Each book in the series features a different spot-color—orange for the first, and aqua for the second. I love how each color lead in its own direction and influenced the art. For the two-color printing process, the color and the line-work have to be created separately, then pieced together in Photoshop. It can be tedious, but I love that the process allows for experimentation and imperfection along the way.
Making the art is a pleasure for many reasons, but mainly because I can’t draw Beatrice without smiling.
Have you always been into writing and illustrating?
Reading, writing and drawing have always been my favorite things, but I had no idea those things would eventually manifest themselves into making children’s books. There were a million little steps along the way, and each bend of the journey is important and sentimental, and a piece of who I am. Which is also true about the winding process of making a book, and I’m very sentimental about that too.
What inspires your creativity?
“Everything!” might be the truest answer. I started to make a list, but it was so long, it ended up seeming silly. Topping the endless list were things like risk and play and other people’s creativity.
Also true: I often say all my good ideas were accidents, because it definitely feels that way. In reality, most good ideas show up after you show up. When you put in the time and trust the process day after day, eventually the subconscious kicks in and surprises you. I adore Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s picture book Square because, for me, it perfectly captures that part of the creative process. There’s all this hard work and aspiration and feeling not worthy of the task—then, hopefully, on the other side, is this unexpected thing you made, seemingly, on accident. That surprise is one of my favorite highs.
What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?
I kept a diary throughout my childhood, mostly because I had a deep fear that I’d grow up and forget everything that seemed so clear to me as a kid. I hope young me would see Beatrice and consider Operation Diary a success.
If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?
This is my favorite thing in the world, so if I wasn’t making books, I’d still want to be immersed in them. You’d probably find me working in a bookstore or begging my kids’ school to let me do book talks all day.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
More adventures with Beatrice!!! I’m working on the third book right now and it’ll hit shelves in Fall 2019. Also—in Spring/Summer 2020, I have a picture book releasing! The rights report describes it like this: “The story centers around a brother and sister who brave the elements with a megawatt supply of invention, play, and vision.” Picture books are one of my favorite things in the world, and I feel especially lucky and giddy to work on this one.