February 15, 2011

Meet Cori Doerrfeld!

Okay, all you picture book fans.  Big excitement today!  Allow me to introduce you to Cori Doerrfeld, author/illustrator of PENNY LOVES PINK, as well as illustrator of 14 other books!

Cori has so many interesting things to share, that I am going to divide her interview between today and tomorrow.  At the end, there will be a contest, and the prize will be a free signed copy of PENNY LOVES PINK.  Woo-hoo!

Welcome, Cori, and thanks so much for joining us!  I am especially interested in talking to you because you do both writing and illustrating, so your approach to creating picture books comes from a whole different angle than mine does!

Cori Doerrfeld and devoted fan :)

SLH:  When did you first become interested in writing and illustrating?

CD:   As I child I was always creating something.  I would cut out paper animals and leaves and turn our family room into a jungle.  I would terrify my little sister with ghostly stories about the old mirror under her bed.  In school I was always recognized as the "kid who could draw" and fulfilled many requests for Ninja Turtles, Roger Rabbit, and Aladdin.  I was always eager to participate in the yearly "Young  Authors" competition, although I never won.  Many of my teachers, however, encouraged me to focus on my writing skills.  In high school I participated in a few competitions and I did win a full college scholarship based on a fantasy story I wrote.  Unfortunately, I did not attend that college…but instead went on to receive my BA from St. Olaf College.  I focused solely on my art while I was there, and really didn't come back to the idea of writing and illustrating until about 8 years ago.  The short answer: writing and illustrating have always been a part of my life in some form or another.
One of Cori's early drawings!

SLH:  Which came first for you - writing or illustrating?  Does one help you with the other?

CD:  Drawing has always been the number one way I spend my free time.  I drew everything as a child, from unicorns to portraits of Jack Nicholson.  As mentioned above, I wrote for school, and enjoyed doing it, but art has always been my main passion.  Professionally, I also find myself more in the realm of illustrator than author.  I was first hired to work on books as an illustrator, and I am just now getting the chance to prove if I can juggle both roles.  When I write, I often think in imagery, almost like a storyboard reel for a film.  Most of my stories emerge from random sketches and doodles.  I often thumbnail an entire book, and then go back to create text for each page.

Another early drawing
SLH:  What is your typical work day like?  How do you find time to write while being a mom?  Any particular rituals that help you get into work, or do you have a favorite time of day to work?

CD:  My typical work day is anything but typical.  I am for now, a mom first.  My husband also takes on freelance work…so I have to factor that into my work time as well.  The best solution we have come up with is simply trading off evenings and weekend days.  When it is my night to work, I try to get down to my studio as quickly as I can after dinner.  I usually pick a podcast or playlist of music to listen to, and get right to work.  When you have limited time, there are few seconds to spend on ritual or sometimes even making sure your work space is clean!  I literally take a seat, and get to work!  My favorite time to work is late morning, which I only get once a week for now.  Luckily, I do not have any other jobs to compete with my time, but I would love to find something part time at some point for a more stable source of income. 

Cori's studio

SLH:  What was your first published children's book?

CD:  The first children's book I ever worked on was called, "Ticktock: Time Nursery Rhymes".  It was published through a local educational publisher called Picture Window Books.  I believe it came out in 2007.  Since that first book I have illustrated nine more titles with Picture Window Books, two with Harper Collins, three with Little Brown, and one with Dial Books for Young Readers to make a grand total of fifteen books!

SLH:  Do you work for one publisher or multiple publishers?  If multiple, do you find the different houses different to work for?

CD:  As I mentioned above, I have worked with several different publishers…and they are all their own unique experience.  Picture Window Books is a smaller, local publisher so they really gave me total freedom with my art and layouts.  The bigger publishers, however get far more involved….which has been both good and bad.  Some of my most challenging experiences were while working on the Brooke Shields books.  I had to not only please my editors, but Brooke also got to personally approve each drawing…even though I never directly heard from her!  It has been interesting working with different publishers.  Some have been very laid back and fun to work with, while others are more passive aggressive and controlling.  The biggest issues I have ever run into, have been over time.  It is so frustrating when you work so hard to stay on schedule, only for things to get tied up and dragged out on the publishers end.  Overall, I have truly enjoyed working with the editors and staff at each publisher…every book is it's own adventure!  

SLH:  What is your process when you receive a manuscript?  How do you evaluate whether you think it's a manuscript you can illustrate?  Have you ever turned a manuscript down?

CD:  First,  I have never turned down a manuscript…although if a story didn't seem like a good fit, I would consider passing.  Usually a publisher will email me a manuscript roughly broken up according to spreads.  I always start with thumbnails, quick rough little drawings that try to capture the basic shapes and layout of each page.  From there I move on to rough sketches.  I always scan all of my sketches, clean them up and play around with them in Photoshop, and then I actually layout the book myself with text in Indesign.  This truly gives me an instant feel for how the book will look.  I also do color roughs in Photoshop, so all my colors are planned out before I paint.  I send PDF's of the book all laid out to the editors, and if they approve the sketch, I go ahead and paint the final! 

SLH:  What is your medium of choice?  Do you always illustrate in watercolor, for example, or do you use different approaches for different books?

CD:  Most of my books have been created with acrylic paint.  I have done a few books digitally, but my medium of choice is acrylic.  I paint on Bristol paper, with no prep layer.  I have dabbled in pastels as well…but the dust drives me crazy!  I would love to explore other ways of using paint, or perhaps some pencil or ink…but I find that the more work I do, the more anal I become.  And there is nothing more satisfying, then just instantly painting over a mistake when you're using acrylic paint! 

SLH:  You have illustrated books for a celebrity (Brooke Shields).  Was that process different in any way from your other projects?  Were there special requirements because you were working on a celeb book?  Did you ever actually communicate with Brooke in any way?

CD:  I briefly touched on the celebrity book experience above.  The two books I illustrated for Brooke Shields did involve several unique factors and challenges.  Brooke was very involved, taking the time to go over all my artwork.  She communicated with me through my editors.  I never received one email, note, autograph, or personal thank you from Brooke.  Although when I was struggling to complete the work on the second book after the birth of my first child, they did send me a copy of her book on postpartum depression.  The biggest challenge on the celebrity books was the time crunch.  These books were done very quickly, with barely seconds of wiggle room.  I pulled my first all nighters since college!  

Well, I don't know about you all, but I find Cori's process and experience fascinating!  I hope you'll all join me tomorrow for the second half of Cori's interview and the contest to win her book!  And if any of you have questions for Cori, post them in the comments and we may be able to include answers in tomorrow's post!


  1. Hello fellow crusader. Thanks for dropping by my blog. I've added myself to yours as a follower.

    Interesting interview. It's nice to hear about a different aspect of the process from an expert.

  2. Hello fellow crusader! Thanks for dropping by - it'll be great getting to know you. Thanks for this interesting interview.

  3. Hi Tony, thanks for stopping by!

    I find this interesting, too. I always see things so much from the writer's point of view, and there's so much more!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it, Margo. There will be more tomorrow - I couldn't fit it all in one go :) Get ready to join the contest if you're interested in winning a picture book!

  5. Hi Crusader. I'm following you too now. Great interview and I'm impressed with Cori. I'd feel upset not getting a thank you either. :O)

  6. Hi Madeleine, thanks so much for coming by! And yes, hard to believe not even a thank you, isn't it? Especially when her work is so beautiful.

  7. Looking back, I suppose I should have sent Brooke a personal thank you. Her book really did launch my career. Although I still wish she would have at least sent me an autographed copy of either book.

  8. What a great interview! I'm glad Blogger is finally allowing me to follow and comment again. :D

  9. Wonderful interview! It was really interesting to hear about the illustrating side of PBs. Love your studio and LOVE the early drawings :)

    Thanks Cori and Susanna!

  10. Hi Susanna ... hi Cori

    I enjoyed reading about your work Cori. I note that you generally work for publishers. Do you ever work with authors directly?

    Thanks for leaving a comment in my Crusader guest book Susanna. Did you follow as well? Don't worry if you didn't want to, but if you did, it seems you have got lost in the ether! lol


  11. Oh, I just love hearing all this! I'm so interested in how illustrators work (since I'm completely jealous of their talent). Great interview! Can't wait to read tomorrow!

  12. Dominic, yes I did follow! Did it not go through? I will try again...!

  13. Yes, Megan, definitely stay tuned - more very interesting stuff to come :) And I know how you feel - I WISH I could draw, but I totally can't - just have to content myself with what I can picture in my head!

  14. Thanks for all the great feedback!! It is an awesome bonus to be able to illustrate my own stories, but I truly love working with authors. The ideas and topics others create, give me the chance to work on stories I never would have thought of on my own.

    Dominic, I have worked directly with authors in the past. It would depend on what you are interested in...and what my agent will allow me to do. Please feel free to contact me via email.

  15. Hi from another Crusader, Susanna.

    And Cori - I'm always very impressed by those who both write and illustrate! And I love your studio.


  16. Cori ..didn't mean to get your hopes up, I was just curious about how this side of the publishing industry works!

    Susanna ... I think I have solved the mystery - your picture hadn't appeared on the follow list, I think because I hadn't refreshed the page since you followed! lol

  17. Thanks for finding our blog! I wish I could illustrate my own books! Amazing! Christy

  18. Cori is living my dream, but I'm way to chicken to put my drawing (of all things) out there, much less combining it with my writing. Maybe someday, after I've conquered the writing thing.

    Great interview, thanks for sharing!


  19. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the interview, E.J. And I wouldn't think you'd have much trouble conquering the writing thing - your blog is great!

  20. Like you said, fascinating! Thanks for the eye-opening interview!

  21. Like you said, fascinating! Thanks for the eye-opening interview. And those early drawings of hers are precious!

  22. Thanks for sharing; this is both interesting and inspiring for readers of all ages.


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