Interview with PB Illustrator Doris Ettlinger

I met Author and Illustrator Doris Ettlinger at the 2012 NJSCBWI Conference in Princeton, NJ.  We attended a Yoga For Writers Intensive Workshop and made an instant connection. Doris has illustrated such notable books as BLACK-EYED SUSAN written by Judy Young, and G IS FOR GARDEN STATE, written by Eileen Cameron .  Her most recent book WELCOME TO AMERICA, CHAMP! by Catherine Stier will be released in March 2013.  Doris’ books have received the International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award, National Parenting Publications (NAPPA) Honors and Gold Awards, Bank St. Best Books of the Year, the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, and numerous state reading nominations. G IS FOR GARDEN STATE was chosen as featured book at the National Book Festival (2005) in Washington, DC.

Thanks so much for joining me Doris.

1. Where did you get your artistic training?  I started with how-to-draw books and the comics.  Eventually I earned a BFA in illustration at RISD and an MFA in printmaking from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

2. What led you to the field of Children’s Book Illustration?  I started out illustrating magazines, newspapers, and the occasional book cover.  When my second child was born, we moved from Manhattan to an old gristmill in western NJ.  Tight deadlines no longer fit my lifestyle.  I shifted my focus to educational illustration.  It didn’t pay as well as editorial, but the projects were bigger and the schedule flexible.  At this time my artist representatives, Cornell & McCarthy, were just putting together their stable of artists.  They had seen a piece I did for Parents Magazine in an illustration directory (RSVP).  Pat and Merial helped me develop my portfolio for the children’s market.   When one of their illustrators, Renee Graef, needed an extra set of hands on the Little House program for Harper Collins, they asked me.  I helped with everything from shading THE DEER IN THE WOODS to making sketches for Little House Chapter Books.  Eventually I illustrated my first two picture books, A LITTLE HOUSE BIRTHDAY and SUGAR SNOW, followed by Rose and Caroline chapter books and novelty books.  By the time the program ended I had 15 titles to my credit.

3. What was your first assignment? My very first assignment was to illustrate animals at the zoo in Providence, RI.  $15 per drawing.  And the client kept the drawings.

4. Many of your PB’s have been historical.  Do you feel a special connection with these time periods?  I didn’t enjoy history class in high school.  It was always about war, and what led to the next war.  I enjoy learning about how people lived their everyday lives.  Right now I’m reading Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk, an intimate history of the home.  What kind of preparation do you do before you begin drawings for this kind of book?   I research on the internet, my own image files and library.  Often I’ll read a book about the period for inspiration. I’ll sketch costumes or settings while I watch period films.  For A BOOK FOR BLACK-EYED SUSAN I read a woman’s diary from her trek on the Oregon Trail.  (It wasn’t until the last page – when she reached her destination and gave birth – that I realized she’d been pregnant for the whole trip.)  My latest book takes place in England during WW2.  I watched a few British movies from the period to sketch train compartment interiors.  Also, Masterpiece Theatre’s Foyle’s War for costumes and interiors was very helpful.  For color palettes I visit a web site called, where I could type in a key color or words to view a selection of color harmonies.  My color palette for CHAMP! is very different than that of ORANGE SHOES or …BLACK-EYED SUSAN.

5. Favorite medium?  Watercolor. Why?  It’s fast and doesn’t require ventilation. Watercolor requires careful thought before wetting the brush, courage when applying the paint, and restraint from fussing over it afterwards. Let the pigment do its thing. When done right the color looks fresh, not overworked.  If you are a control freak, avoid watercolor.

5. How long have you been doing picture book illustration?  Since about 1995.   Before that I illustrated textbooks and other products for the children’s market for 5 or 6 years.

6. Which book is your personal favorite and why? Each book has something particular I’m partial to. I’m very proud of my watercolors in …BLACK-EYED SUSAN.  I love my characters in THE ORANGE SHOES.  I love the boy Thomas in my latest book, CHAMP! I think my concepts for T IS FOR TEACHER and NUMBER ONE TEACHER are clever.  And I have a special place in my heart for Catholic Book of Bible Stories because the stories are very dramatic and I used many friends and family as models.

7. What factors do you consider before taking on a project? First the project has to come from an established publishing house through my agent. This tells me that the manuscript has been vetted by editors and others who believe in the story and its potential in the market.  I don’t illustrate self-published books for that reason. Also, I want to work with an art director or designer, not a non-visual person (the author). Then I consider the advance, royalty, and schedule.

8. What books are you currently working on?  I’m revising several stories I’ve written and making drawings for dummies; revamping my website; creating an etsy page to sell prints of my work; teaching 3 watercolor classes, one for illustrators; and painting watercolor landscapes and still lives.  In other words, I don’t have freelance work right now, but I want to make the most of my time before I get a call.

9. What’s the most unusual or extraordinary thing that has happened to you since you became an illustrator?  People from my past discover me by encountering my books.  A classmate from grade school was browsing in a tiny library in Alaska, when she came across T IS FOR TEACHER.  My name popped out at her.  She eventually tracked me down through one of my publishers.

 Where can readers find your books and learn more about you and your process? My website has a list of over 30 of my books, with descriptions and reviews of my most recent titles. Local bookstores are happy to order any of my books.  They are also available on line or directly from the publisher. To see what’s happening in my studio, visit If you’re on fb, give the studio a “like”.


Lovely Leaves

Fall is the perfect time of year to discover the variety and splendor of trees by identifying some leaves.  The next time you go out on a walk, take a camera and a container to capture some of the beauty of Autumn before it disappears. You can take photos of fallen leaves and then go back and identify them or collect some specimens to examine later as well.  When you’re finished being a Botanist, you can:

1.  Make collages by arranging various leaves onto a large sheet of paper and then taking photos of them.  You can enlarge the photo and make place mats, posters or the like to hang anywhere. 

2.  Do leaf rubbings by putting a clean sheet of paper over some leaves.  Press the side of a crayon over the paper and watch the leaf details emerge.

Make a Difference…One Day at a Time.

Make a Difference Day is the nation’s largest day of volunteering.  It is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27,2012.  You and your children can make a difference in your neighborhood, nationally, or in the world by doing something simple, yet meaningful.

Neighborhood: Pick up trash from a schoolyard or local park. Adopt a section of roadway and keep it litter free.  Donate old clothes and household items to a local shelter.  Collect canned goods and deliver it to a local food bank.  Visit sick children or seniors and sing songs or play games with them.  I am sure you can come up with many other ways to help your neighbors.

Nation: Support your local STOCKINGS FOR SOLDIERS campaign by collecting items to be shipped overseas for soldiers serving our country. Go tot the  website for a list of needed items and where to send them.

Globally: Help a family or individual in developing countries to be self-sufficient by purchasing all or part of a domestic animal through Heifer International. This wonderful program enables families to bring themselves out of poverty by raising their standard of living with the help of a farm animal that would provide meat, eggs or wool that can be sold. The families then pass on the gift to others.  Go to   for details.

Every time we give of ourselves, we get back much more than we’ve given. Make a difference.

The “Bear” Facts on Collecting.

Three years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who loves collecting Teddy Bears. Jackie Miley – AKA The Bear Lady – from Hill City, SD has a LOT of Teddy Bears.  So many in fact she holds the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most Teddy Bears.  As of 2012, there were more than 7,800 bears in her collection.  What makes this feat even more remarkable is that every bear in the collection is unique.

When asked why she collects bears, Jackie says, “I was raised in foster care and never had Teddy Bears as a kid.  They are a comfort when you’re scared, tired, or hurt. I could have used one so many times growing up. I’m making up for it now.”  Her collection began in 2000 when she got her first “Grandma Jackie Bear” at a Build-A-Bear factory in Myrtle Beach, SC. Jackie now has bears from twenty three countries and all fifty states.

All these bears are housed at TEDDY BEAR TOWN, right across the street from the Super 8 Motel in Hill City. When you walk into the building, it’s impossible not to smile at the sight of bears, bears and more bears.  They cover every inch of wall, floor and ceiling space. The hardest part is deciding which bear you like best.

One small corner of Jackie’s collection.

So, if you’re thinking of starting a collection, here are a few tips from Jackie: Collect something you care about. Set a goal. (Her first goal was to collect the same number as the population of Hill City, which was 780 at the time. ) Keep track of where and when you get each item, and any other unique details. Most important: Have fun! Take it from the Bear Lady, it’s never too late to start collecting.

Jackie Miley – Collection Curator – can be contacted where she works, at the Super 8 Motel on 109 Main St. P.O. Box 184, Hill City, SD 57745-0184

The Guinness Book of World Records web site is:

Books, Books, Who’s Got Books?

If your children are getting tired of some of their picture books or you have some MG or Ya novels lying around and don’t know what to do with them, don’t toss them just yet.  The Pittsburgh Manchester School District K-8 School is in dire need of good fiction for children. There were only 50 fiction books suitable for children in the school library!  LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON  has posted the information on her live journal blog post from 9-23-2012 with the address of where to send the books and some titles that are on the school’s wish list. If your local library is getting rid of books, ask if they’ll donate them to the school as well.

Here is Laurie’s link:

Here is the address of the needy school: Pittsburgh Manchester K-8, 1612 Manhattan St., Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Spooky Halloween Treats

The editor of the food blog DASH – Shannon McCook – has some awesome, kid-friendly treats that are easy to make for Halloween parties and celebrations. You use store-bought candy and food items to create Werewolf Pops and Franken Kit Kats.  Shannon shows you step by step in her easy to follow, short videos. I know your children will have a ball making these creepy creature treats.  Bet you can’t eat just one!

Check out the site ate:

Stay tuned on Friday when I’ll show you how to make a scary breakfast treat called Monster Toast.

Free Fall Friday

If you writers out there would like an opportunity to have a first page of your manuscript critiqued, check out Kathy Temean’s offer. Kathy is an Author/Illustrator with an amazing blog full of helpful and informative tidbits for those who write for children.

Here is the link for her current contest:

Good luck!