Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Lori Nichols and a Giveaway

© 2014 Lori Nichols

We are excited to introduce Lori Nichols, author-illustrator, who just debuted her picture book, MAPLE. Enter to win an autographed copy of her book! Giveaway ends at noon, Friday, May 30.

Tell us about your background and how you came to children's writing and illustrating. Were you a writer first or an illustrator first?

My journey as an artist started when I was very young. I had the luck of growing up the child of an elementary art teacher so there were always art supplies at my disposal: clay, linoleum block, basket weaving materials, scratch board, paints, pencils, charcoal. My mother always let me play with whatever she brought home, and so I was always experimenting with something new. Using my hands and getting messy was encouraged. 

I didn’t have a formal art class until I applied to art school right after high school. I knew I wanted to be an artist...I just didn’t really know what that would mean as a career. I attended art school at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I continued my education at the University of Central Arkansas while I worked as an illustrator at a daily newspaper. 


When I married, I worked as a designer and art director in the magazine industry until branching out to pursue children’s books. I quit my job to stay home with my children after my second daughter was born in 2001. Reading children’s book was a daily and beloved part of each day with my girls. As a mother I loved this quiet time but I also loved it as an artist and started studying different illustration styles. Most children’s books have a beautiful cadence to them and some work better than others. 

So, in 2001 I became a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), an international organization with several regional chapters throughout the states. I would attend conferences once or twice a year (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on our schedules) all the while staying at home raising my daughters and drawing all the time.

What was your "big break" in illustration/writing? How did that affect your career? 

Well, I had been attending regional SCBWI conferences for about 8 years and trying to create picture books on my own. I’d complete a book dummy and send it to an art director whom I met at a conference. This went on for awhile and then I decided I needed to go to a New York SCBWI conference for more exposure. It was here, in 2009, that I met my agent Joanna Volpe. She has believed in me from the very beginning and worked her tail end off to get me published. I don't think I’d be published today unless I had found her. Joanna also acted as a de facto editor in the early stages of my picture books so I received a lot of good writing advice from her as well.
© Lori Nichols

Your debut book, MAPLE, just came out this Spring. How long did it take you from 

(1) idea to finished manuscript?  June –November 2012  

(2) submission to THE CALL (that it would be published)?

Two weeks  

and (3) contract to publication? 

Two years. I revised the story for several months under the direction of Nancy Paulsen, Cecilia Yung and Marikka Tamura. The entire revision process took about 8 months but we didn't even begin revising the story until 3-4 months after I received the call that they wanted to publish. Then it takes about a year for printing and marketing.

How much time did you have to work on the illustrations for MAPLE? 

It took me about 8 months. 

Can you describe your process for developing and completing illustrations?

At first, I was drawing Maple very small with pencil on newsprint. I liked the grainy feel of the pencil when it was magnified in the scanning process. I did the whole book in pencil like this and added digital color. Once the book was acquired by Nancy Paulsen Books I worked with art directors Cecilia Yung and Marikka Tamura to figure out the best way to execute Maple. After a bunch of style studies they chose my pencil on mylar. I drew the book in this technique then executed the color with layers of scanned leaves and digital color.

© Lori Nichols
What was the inspiration for MAPLE?

I’d have to go back about 45 years. I have always loved trees. We had a beautiful maple tree in our yard growing up, and I played under it all the time. This is one of my favorite, and earliest, memories from my childhood. I remember the moss on the trunk, digging for worms, big black ants that I’d let crawl on my arms and legs, the knobby feel of the bark. I remember the tree’s canopy the most. It truly was magic for me to sit under my tree and look up at the sky between the leaves.

When I had my own daughters, my husband and I planted a tree for each one of them. We got some oak tree saplings (my husband’s favorite tree) from his childhood yard in West Virginia. We watched our children and their trees grow together. So began the story for what is now Maple. But in a strange way I didn’t set out to write this story. It came organically from a sketch here, a drawing there, and from watching my children play outside.  

© Lori Nichols

One day in 2010 my daughter Zoe was eating grapes. She came into my studio and held up the bare grape stem and said “Look mom, a tree.” The grape stem did look like a tree, so Zoe and I scanned the grape stem into the computer and scanned some Japanese Maple leaves from the tree in our yard and began doing fun things in Photoshop. I then plopped in a small pencil drawing of a little girl under our tree creations and wrote “Maple loved her name."

I showed the drawing to my agent and she encouraged me to work it into a story. This process started in July and took a few months. Then in November we were ready to pitch it, and Nancy Paulsen Books picked it up. Nancy Paulsen, Cecilia Yung and Marikka Tamura directed me over the next year on changes that would help the story. It then it took another year for the book to be printed and marketed. The rest is history!

What was the most surprising thing you learned during the publication process of MAPLE?

The most surprising thing I learned during the publication process of Maple was the overwhelming sense that everyone working on the project was incredibly approachable and open. My editor and art directors were really down to earth. It was a great experience and I really thrived in that team environment.

Lori's studio

What projects are you working on now?

I have a companion book to MAPLE titled MAPLE AND WILLOW TOGETHER coming out November 4, 2014. I am also working on a third companion book with a tentative publish date of September 2015.

I just finished illustrating the wonderfully hilarious book THIS ORQ. (HE CAVE BOY)  by the talented author David Elliott (Boyds Mill Press, September 2014). I am currently working on a companion titled THIS ORQ. (HE SAY "UGH!")

© Lori Nichols

I’m super excited about these. I’m working on another Boyds Mill Press book for author Shelley Moore Thomas which has a tentative publish date of May 2015 which I’m also really excited about.

Wow! How exciting.  What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators/writers?

Draw. Draw every day. Write. Write every day. Visit libraries and bookstores and find books you love and that really speak to you. Study them. Eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make them your friends. 

And, find a way to read to kids. You’ll learn so much from reading picture books to children. If you don’t have children, volunteer somewhere. Or find a niece, nephew or a friend’s child to read to. You’ll love the experience and learn so much.

Who or what inspires you? 

I’m inspired by sculptor Andrew Goldsworthy, my three girls, nature, and happy people.

What is something most people don't know about you?

I still get excited every time I see a frog.

How fun! Where can we find you on the internet?

I’m on the Web at, Instagram @lorinicholsbook, and Facebook.

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  1. I love the illustrations and found it really interesting reading the timescales in which everything happened. Congratulations Lori :)

  2. Thanks for the interview. I loved the book. Also did a quick review on my blog about MAPLE just 3 days ago, can't wait for ORQ!

  3. I like that you scan real tree leaves as part of the illustration process. I also like the idea of planting saplings from your husband's childhood home in honor of the birth of each of your daughters. So many ordinary decisions are woven into the development of "Maple." The story really feels alive. Congratulations to you!

  4. Maple looks like a great story. I love all the illustration samples here. Good luck with all the upcoming books!

  5. Interesting interview and a lovely book. I really like seeing workspaces--love the moose, Lori!

  6. I love Marcel! Nice that he sticks around to watch you at work, Lori! Thanks for sharing your process and the grape stalk bit. Best of luck with all your endeavors!

  7. Thanks for the great interview! Congrats on everything!

  8. Your approach and your illustrations themselves make a grin grow into a smile. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I usually love to hear about the genesis of people's books, but I especially love your story, Lori! I also reading about your journey from joining SCBWI to having your first book published. Instant successes are fun to read about, but it's the slow and steady wins the race stories like yours that encourage me. Thank you, and thank KidLit411 for the great interview and giveaway!

  10. Lori's art and story make my heart warm and happy! Can't wait to read more!

  11. In the words of Mr. Slinger "Wow" That's about all I can say. Thanks everyone for stopping by and taking the time to read the interview!!

  12. What a wonderful interview and bit of inspiration. I can't wait to read Maple!

  13. Love this! My daughter would love a copy!

  14. I'm at a workshop at the Highlights barn, and I just read your book last night during one of the presentations! I love it! I'll look forward to Maple and Willow.

  15. What a truly awesome interview! Couldn't stop reading and reading and reading. I love that Lori Nichols. Thanks for giving us the gift of getting to know her a little better.

  16. Loved the interview! Maple looks like a great read that my kids will love.

  17. Great interview and a great book. "Maple" is a favorite of mine, as well as my son.

  18. I loved the interview. I haven't read the book yet but will be doing so asap.

  19. Lovely interview. Love your art :)

  20. Great insight to your process. Thank you! The book looks delightful and I can't wait to read it!!

  21. Thank you for sharing comments and advice. Your illustrations pull the reader in. I look forward to reading Maple. I loved the picture and the simple line, (he cave boy). Congratulations on this wonderful start to Picture Books.

  22. This is such a cute book! I know several young children who would really love this book!
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  23. Love the peek behind the scenes and the book itself!

  24. Thank you, Lori for sharing the road to publication of Maple.
    Your illustrations are adorable! Maple is on my "Must Read This One List."

  25. I can't wait to read your books! I've seen Maple around, but haven't picked it up yet. Must add it to my list. And that pic drawing is soooo cute! Good luck with all your upcoming projects!

  26. We love trees also! Really like the soft, warm feel of the illustrations....

  27. This book is SO cute! I saw it at Barnes & Noble not too long ago...hope to be able to purchase it very soon!

  28. Maple sounds like a cute book! It takes me back to my childhood when I'd climb a maple tree, sit in the crook of a big branch and read!

  29. I love Maple! Thanks for sharing with us.


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