Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Corinna Luyken

© Corinna Luyken
May 26, 2017

Today we have the pleasure of featuring author-illustrator Corinna Luyken and her new book, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES (Dial Books), which came out last month. Be sure to enter her giveaway!



Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.

Making picture books is something I’ve wanted to do for more than seventeen years. During those years I taught art, became a mom, and waitressed (a lot). About four years ago I realized that if I didn’t focus all of my energy on this dream, it wasn’t going to come true. So I joined the SCBWI and started going to their regional and national conferences--where I met other people who loved picture books as much as I did!

I put together a portfolio, made a series of book dummies, and began to research agents/editors/art directors. Through the SCBWI, I learned how to bring my work up to a more professional level and made some dear friends. I also met my agent, Steven Malk. I wouldn’t be where I am today without both Steve and the SCBWI.

Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut, THE BOOK OF MISTAKES. Tell us about it and what inspired it. 



THE BOOK OF MISTAKES started with a series of mistakes.

I used to only draw with pens, because I liked the fluid feel of ink on paper. I liked how, with pen, a line can take on a life of it’s own.  But often that life would lead to shapes and marks I hadn’t intended and couldn’t erase. Because I loved to draw with ink - I learned to deal with those accidents. If I messed up something in a face, I’d add glasses. If I didn’t like the way I’d drawn a hand, I might add gloves. And somewhere along the way I learned to enjoy how each mistake forced me to find a new way of looking at the world.
And I began to wonder if celebrating mistakes was something that could be taught.


© Corinna Luyken

In my years working as both a teaching assistant and artist in residence in elementary schools, I started to notice a pattern. In every class there would be one or two kids who, within minutes of starting to draw, were raising their hand asking for another piece of paper. They didn’t like what they were seeing.  They wanted to start over. They wanted to make it perfect. It became my job to help them see the possibility in that mistake, to see how they could keep going and transform their drawing or painting into something that they still might love.

This all came home for me when my daughter was four years old.  At that age she loved everything she drew. She didn’t see mistakes, only pattern and line and color and texture. And she LOVED to draw. Then one day, while drawing, she burst into tears and threw her paper on the ground. She had made a mistake. She couldn’t fix it. And it broke my heart. Not yet, I remember thinking. Not her.  Not already. Not now. 

So I wrote this book. For her.  For them. For me.  For anyone who has ever made a mistake.


Which comes first, story or images? Which is harder to nail down?


Each project seems to be different, but with THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, the title came first. Then, about a year after I’d written the title down in a notebook, the first half of the story and images arrived. They showed up together, at 3am, after a bout with the stomach flu! The second half of the book took another year to sort out, with the words coming first, and the images taking a much longer time to coalesce.

(You can read even more about that process in this interview with Carter Higgins over on Design of The Picture Book.)


What projects are you working on now?

© Corinna Luyken

I’m working on a second picture book with Dial right now.  It’s about the heart— and how it can open, close, and open again.

I will also be illustrating a middle grade novel for Candlewick (WEIRD LITTLE ROBOTS by Carolyn Crimi) which is due out spring 2019.


Can you walk us through your illustration process? 

Depending on what materials I’m using, the process can vary. But for something like THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, where I am using watercolor, pencil, and ink it goes something like this:

© Corinna Luyken


I start with a loose, rough pencil sketch. After that I’ll go back in with a dark (4B-8B) pencil and thicken some of the lines, still keeping it rough. 

© Corinna Luyken


Next I’ll add watercolor and light ink washes. Sometimes, while the watercolor or ink is wet, I’ll also go back in with pencil to add texture. From there I tend to alternate between ink, watercolor, and pencil— building up layers as I go.


© Corinna Luyken

The final stage is to go back in with a very thin ink pen to bring out any delicate details— like eyes, the texture of hair, lace, buttons, and rope.


© Corinna Luyken

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same you would give to aspiring authors and illustrators?

Be yourself. In art, as in life, the world doesn’t want (or need) you to be something that you’re not.

Also, some things that are worth doing, take time. There is an Ira Glass quote that I have found to be great company:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.  For the first couple of years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

And the thing that I would say to you, with all of my heart, is this—

most everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through a phase— they went through years of this.  We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you’ve got to know it’s normal. And the most important thing you can do— is do a lot of work. It is only be going through a volume of work that you will catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.

I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s gonna take you awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. And you’ve just got to fight your way through that— okay?”

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I surf.   

Where can people find you online?

www.corinnaluyken.blogspot.com
on twitter as @CorinnaLuyken
on Instagram as corinnaluyken




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Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast.  After studying dance, creative writing, and printmaking at Middlebury College in Vermont, she settled in Washington. THE BOOK OF MISTAKES is her first book— an idea that would be nothing without her many, many mistakes.




24 comments:

  1. It was such an honor to meet this author/illustrator at Politics and Prose in DC. What a talented work!

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  2. Awesome story! Congratulations on your new book. I look forward to reading it.

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  3. This book gave me "the feels". My son can definitely benefit from its message, but so can I and I love that. Congrats, Corinna!

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  4. I love Corinna's THE BOOK OF MISTAKES. I've studied every layout. It's the first time I feel inspired to draw in years!

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  5. MaryEllen WallauerMay 26, 2017 at 8:40 AM

    We cannot wait to read this beautiful book! My class loved hearing all about your writing and illustration process as well. Thank you!

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  6. Ah, this book is so lovely. I heard it highlighted on a Webinar and was thrilled when I was able to read it in full at our local B&N. Congrats, Corinna. Looking forward to many more books from you.

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  7. Great to see your creation process! Very inspiring.

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  8. What a fabulous book...I wish I had it when I was a young kid beginning art classes!

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  9. I love this interview and cohering about how The Book of Mistakes came into being. When I first heard the title of this book, I thought, "oh, I wish I'd thought of that." I've read that ira Glass quote before and it is so true. As creative people who have made it to the point where we are doing work we like, you want to share that with people, especially those who aren't quite there yet.
    Thank you Corinna...I love your work and am glad to know you.

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  10. Such gorgeous illustrations and an important book. My daughter was the same way. Now she's back to allowing herself mistakes again. It's all part of the process.

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  11. I can't wait to read this book with my 5 year old perfectionist grandson. Thanks for the great post.

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  12. The cover is really gorgeous and fun! Congratulations!

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  13. This is a gorgeous book and a great idea! Congratulations.

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  14. The idea behind this book and the important message is wonderful. I must read this book--I am a perfectionist and so is my daughter who is an artist (and very talented too). I see her going through the same frustration with herself that I went through and maybe your book will give me insight of how to help.

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  15. What a great idea for a book! Love your illustration process and backstory to the book, Corinna. Making mistakes can mean that we're learning something new.

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  16. I love the art in this book. I can't wait to get it. Congratulations, Corinna!

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  17. Encouraging kids to transpose mistakes into new creations is what anyone who works with kids yearns to do. Can't wait to share this book with my little artists.

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  18. What a great picture book that speaks not only to kids but to adults alike. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  19. I love the illustrations and seeing your process. Can't wait to get THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.

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  20. I always love these interviews but this one speaks to my soul <3

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  21. I've been looking forward to reading this & the interview has piqued my curiosity even more. Thank you!

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  22. What w wonderful engaging title and terrific illustrations!

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