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Saturday, August 20, 2011

An Interview with Lisa J. Michaels!

Hi Lisa, Welcome and thank you for being here today!
What inspired you to take an interest in art?
     When I was finally old enough to sit up by myself, I'd sit next my father, (who was an architect) and watch him draw little trees and bushes around his houses. You could say I got an early start in my art education! The fine details always fascinated me.
     When I began to talk, I drove him crazy, asking him to draw cartoons for me. He drew little swash-buckling mice, which eventually morphed into comic strips. I was watching an illustrator in action, but I had no idea it would turn out to be my life's work!
     When I was seven, my parents separated, and luckily for me, my new step dad was also artistically inclined. He recognized that I was developing into an artist, and was really supportive of my talents. . . now he’s very proud!

Who are the artists and illustrators that inspire you most?
     Right now, Tomie DiPaola is my artistic rock star! I'm fascinated by his great success and I love to break down his manuscripts in order to uncover his formula and the genius at work. His art is simple, yet stylized and unique to Tomie. His books pull the reader right in, and they're a fun read…that's what I want my books to do as well.
     I’m also inspired by my students and those up-and-coming illustrators who I mentor.

Have you ever tried or thought of painting your own version of a masterpiece by one of the Masters you admire?
     Yes, in the fifth grade! Everyone in the class was suppose to pick out their favorite image to draw, from a magazine. I searched and searched, until I found something I thought was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Remember, I was eleven, so I was limited in my views of the world! It was tiny, (about 2”x2”) and I carefully tore it out.
     The next morning, the teacher instructed us to clear the dusty, wooden floors by pushing all our desks against the wall. I can still hear the chairs scrapping and our little feet tapping against the hard wood.
     Then she gave each of us a huge brown piece of paper (as tall as I was). I laid mine on the floor and crawled on top, with my freshly sharpened pencils and box of 64 crayons. I pulled the coveted clipping from my pocket and smoothed it out against the crunchy brown paper, and began to draw with determination.
     It was as if time stood still.
     For the next hour, I might as well have been the only child in the room. I was unaware of the goings on around me. I fell into the drawing, just as sure as Alice had fallen deep into the rabbit’s hole! I was so deeply involved and intent on getting it right.
     Carefully I sketched out my drawing, paying close attention to every detail in the picture. I noticed where the light fell on her face, and the delicate curve of the child’s chin.
     When the bell rang, I looked up for the first time since my pencil had first touched the page. Around me stood teachers from many classrooms, all staring down at me in disbelief. Someone whispered, “child prodigy”, but I didn’t know what that meant.
     As I got to my feet, I looked down to see what I’d accomplished, and smiled. A rough version of Raphael’s “Madonna & child” smiled back at me, and I knew exactly who I was. I was an artist, and always would be.  

When do you paint and how easy is it to become distracted?
     I paint best in the early afternoon and late at night, when the house is super quiet. I don't have too many problems with distractions, (I realize my good fortune, as many of my colleagues struggle with this), but when I do have trouble focusing, I pop in one of my favorite CD's and then my drawing pen flies!

Have you ever illustrated a children’s or any other art book?
     Yes, my first dummy book was a story I wrote myself, called "Purple Piggies”. I submitted it many times, and made all the classic mistakes of a novice. I bound it like a real book, then cleaned up all the sketches and colored in 3 of the illustrations. I had color backgrounds behind each framed illustration, and typed the text onto each and every page. It was just too “finished”. In addition, the character continuity just wasn’t there. I didn’t draw kids very well at the time. I’m happy to say that this is no longer the case!
     I've done several book covers that went to print, and won several picture book contests. I recently illustrated a picture book, "Alphey Loves Letters", for Castlebridge Press. It's available for purchase at

How do you approach a painting or drawing when you start a new project?
     Well, first I do a character study, and roughly sketch out the main character of the story. I don't stop until I know the charter really well, I mean both illustratively and personally! Through visual composition, I try to develop and expose personality quirks that aren't mentioned in the story text. For example, a little girls jewelry choices tell you something about what she likes, if she's whimsical, classy, or vain (rings on every finger!) -or- a little boy who carries around a frog in his pocket, or a jar full of worms - this tells you that he's all boy and loves nature.

What are your favorite books on art that inspire you?
     Any books that teach or examine illustration techniques. I've been fascinated by all the new magazines that are available for illustrators now. There are so many 3-D artists in the spotlight! I LOVE to spend my friday mornings in the bookstore. I grab a vanilla coffee and find an out-of-the-way table, then I sit and pour over all the new magazines, reading them cover to cover and making notes as I go. I’ve learned a lot from this practice, and it shows in my latest works.

What mediums do you prefer to work in and why?
     I USED to work in pencil, then ink my drawings and color them in with Prismacolor pencils. THEN I discovered digital painting! My world completely changed overnight, and I felt as if I could accomplish anything in picture books!

What would be the ultimate goal I would like to achieve as an artist?
     My ultimate goal is to become a sought after illustrator, who's so good at what I do, that I am asked to speak at writing and illustrating conferences all over the country. It's been such a long and difficult journey to publication, (for me) and that's mostly because there was so much to learn before I could even begin.
     New illustrators flounder over the simplest things, like; what's necessary to include in your portfolio, and should you use/show more than one technique, or should you spend money (that you probably don’t have) on conferences, which ones should you attend and how should you prepare?
     I'd like to get paid for sharing all the information I spent years accumulating. I've paid my dues, learned from my mistakes and shared most of what I've learned freely.

What are your upcoming projects?
     I'm currently working on illustrations for a picture book called "Come Fish With Me" for self-publishing author, Jim Baragar. Jim & Lori (his wife) just had their first baby, and Jim wanted to share his love for fishing with his son, just as HIS father did with him.
     Basically, the book chronicles the lives of a father and son's fishing adventures. As the boy grows up, the father grows old and eventually the boy has a son of his own. The illustrations move through all the colors of the four seasons, to emphasize and celebrate the season's of life. As an illustrator, this book is a dream come true, in that I get to explore all the color palettes of nature.
     In addition, love it when a manuscript tugs at your heart strings, as this one does. Every time I work on it, I can feel the magic in the air! After the physical book is printed, I am planning to build and release it as an animated book application for ipads and iphones.
There’s another book app that I'm working on with fellow author and entrepreneur Sue Laneve (she's an SCBWI icon in Florida!) I'll be animating that book to be interactive as well!
     Then I have my own idea in development for an educational pre-school Apple application. And of course, there are many, many more picture books in my head, and I'm just dying to get the illustrations going!

How did your art career begin?
     In 2003 I discovered two things that changed my life. The Personal Computer and the SCBWI. Everything's been a blur since then!

How do you describe your style of art?
     Realism with a touch of whimsey. Unique and identifiable, with personality!

Where has some of your art been displayed?
     The SCBWI Bulletin Magazine (several times), Newspaper ads, library galleries (I had a 40 piece show on “How to Construct a Picture Book”, several magazines, picture books, on-line galleries and The Picture-bookie Showcase), blogs, websites, etc.

Where can everyone find your art work and learn more about you?
     My website: has it all - bio, portfolio, resume, contact info, etc. You can also read my blog and find me on Twitter (wscribbles) and Facebook.
     Over the years, it has become my passion to build and contribute environments where authors and illustrators can grow and learn from each other, without the burden of exorbitant membership dues. I am the creator, developer and moderator for “The Yellow Brick Road”, a free professional critique group of 25+ published children’s lit authors. “YBR” provides a privacy protected, encouraging and productive atmosphere in which members can work together towards the common goal of publication. YBR has a public promotional page, where visitors can read excepts from member manuscripts, author bios, photo’s and more!
     Along with my colleague and friend, Jill Bergman, I created, developed and moderate the ever-growing “Visual Storytellers Studio” (VSS), a virtual revolving illustration gallery, free to it’s 35+ professional members, and it’s daily multitude of visitors.
     In addition, I created the first official SCBWI illustrator critique website for Florida members. “The SCBWI West Coast Critters” (WCC) is now in it’s second year, and membership is growing!
     Thank you to the many authors and illustrators who have freely extended the gift of information, education, and friendship to me over the years. My friends at the Manic Network are among them! Kindness is seldom forgotten.

Thank you so much for being on Manic Network’s Blog, Lisa!
~ Michelle and Jan

Other pages where you can find out more about Lisa J. Michaels:


  1. Very interesting interview, and charming illustrations!

  2. Yellow Brick Road sounds really cool--I'm going to go check it out right now!

  3. It's good to see another digital artist! Thanks for being a great member, Lisa!

  4. Wonderful interview, very interesting and fun to read! Yours is a very fascinating story Lisa! Congrats on your new book, too!