Illustration of "Brianna's Book Stop" by Jeffrey Duckworth / Book Cover for WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT? (on the bookmobile) by Christian Slade

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good News Day Tuesday: An Interview with Author/Illustrator Tina Kugler (in celebration of her TWO upcoming books!)

Happy Good News Day Tuesday! Today I'm so excited to be celebrating with author/illustrator Tina Kugler who has TWO upcoming picture books. Yes, two! Isn't that awesome?

Tina not only has two upcoming picture books. She also has one incredibly awesome agent, Teresa Kietlinski! (Yes, Teresa is my agent too, and Tina and I both agree that she is incredibly awesome. :o) )
written by Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Tina Kugler
(Sky Pony Press Spring/Summer 2014)

Tina was kind enough to do an interview where she shares information about her upcoming books, her illustration process, and the challenges and benefits of collaborating with her husband on a picture book! Hope you enjoy Tina's wonderfully informative and thoughtful answers!:

Could you tell us about your TWO upcoming books?
An illustration from IN MARY'S GARDEN
by Tina and Carson Kugler
(Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, Spring 2015)

My first picture book will be coming out in Spring/Summer 2014 with Sky Pony Press, THE CHANGE YOUR NAME STORE written by awesome humor blogger Leanne Shirtliffe. It's written in verse, which is fabulous to read aloud, and it's the story of a little girl who wants a new name. In the process she travels to other countries, so I'm super excited to research & illustrate the different locations. Also, the main character is Asian-American, so I'm pleased that this book contributes to diversity in children's books--  First Book just released a study that in 3,600 children's books, only 2.1% were Asian-Americans. It also has a great, universal message of being happy with who you are!

My second picture book (which was technically my first "deal") will be coming out in Spring 2015 with Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, IN MARY'S GARDEN written by myself and my husband, Carson Kugler. It is a nonfiction picture book, the story of an amazing Wisconsin artist, Mary Nohl, who grew up recognizing art in everything, and was inspired to transform her garden and home into an explosion of art and personal expression. Her huge sculptures were created from cement and found objects, and her incredible house and yard still exists in Milwaukee. We consider ourselves artists first and writers second, so we really wanted to concentrate on showing with the art instead of telling with the words. Carson & I collaborated on the art as well, so the style is very different than my own personal style. We are currently working on another nonfiction idea, that would be a great follow-up to IN MARY'S GARDEN, so fingers crossed!

How does your process differ when you are both author and illustrator versus when you are illustrating a book written by someone else?

Both are fun! When I illustrate and storyboard, I often get visuals (sometimes almost a movie) in my head as I am reading along (be it a manuscript or TV show script). With a project by a different author, I have to reread more carefully, so I catch all of the nuances in the text, versus writing it myself, where I already know every detail as a visual. Fortunately, the author contributed a few illustration notes, but not too many-- I have just enough guidance but I feel free to do it the way I want.

And with my writing, since the images come first to me and the writing is like a framework to bring it together, it's a different process: the entire thing exists in my head, I just need to get it out on paper (or my tablet, actually, even my rough sketches are digital).

How did you and your husband decide to collaborate on a picture book?  What challenges and rewards did find in your collaboration?

For IN MARY'S GARDEN, we were both completely enamored with Mary Nohl's art since we were children growing up in Milwaukee. After we married and moved back to Wisconsin with a new baby, we went to see her house again and thought, goodness, what a fantastic idea for a picture book. We did a ton of research with old newspaper articles at the Milwaukee Public Library, but the manuscript we ended up writing was completely dry & boring. It had all the facts, but it wasn't a story. Despite her amazing life, nobody would want to read this book, certainly not a kid. So we ended up shelving the whole project.

Ten years later, I go to my first SCBWI conference, the summer 2012 conference in Los Angeles. I was working on a couple of other dummies, but Mary was always in the back of my mind. I had been absorbing information like a sponge the whole time, and I was sitting in yet another amazingly informative workshop or keynote (I honestly cannot remember who was speaking) and I had this giant revelation: nonfiction is also a story, with a specific point of view. And (not out loud, thankfully) I went, "Oh my stars, Mary had DOGS. What if her story was from the DOGS' point of view?" As soon as I got home, I wrote the entire manuscript from scratch in ten minutes, like I was possessed. And I sent it to my agent, Teresa Kietlinski at Prospect Agency, and she LOVED it. She GOT it. Carson & I revised it a number of times, but that's where the bones of it came from, her dogs' story as Mary is creating these amazing things. And now it's a universal story, one that will be inspiring to kids all over, and hopefully some adults too.

Our next problem was that we BOTH wanted to illustrate it. Really, really badly. But our styles are completely different, how on earth could we illustrate a book together? (And also stay married?) Carson does great watercolors, and I love them, but I work all digitally and can't paint on paper to save my life. He hates working on the computer. After a lot of discussion, I tried an experiment with digital collage- and it worked. Mary made her art with found objects, she never threw anything away. So I combined Carson's paintings and old found paper ephemera and my digital painting and linework and hatching on top, and it is just perfect.

When we drew the roughs, we would both thumbnail them separately, then decide on the stronger image. One of us would do a full-size rough in Photoshop, then the other would do a pass over it, and back & forth until we both agreed on the staging and poses and framing. We both come from doing animation storyboards, so we understand each other's visual process very well, if that makes sense--  and we use filmmaking terms with each other, like "lower the camera angle here" or "do a wide shot here."

The beauty of the entire process is that together we came up with something far better than each us could individually, both with the text and art.

How did you keep motivated through thirteen years?  (p.s. it took ten years for my first picture book, so I really get it. :o) )

It was tough! Had I known it would take this long, I would have given up, I think. But being published always seemed just over the horizon, just barely out of reach, maybe with this batch of postcards.... I had three kids along the way, and was used to drawing with a baby in my lap.

We owned a children's bookshop for a few years, and then I worked in the youth department of the public library, so I always surrounded myself with picture books, I breathed picture books and I so desperately, desperately wanted to be a part of that magical world.

In the mid-90s, I felt that way about animation (as did my then-boyfriend-now-husband), so we moved to Los Angeles and followed our dream- we were hired at Nickelodeon, eventually doing storyboards, and I later worked at Warner Bros. Television Animation and Walt Disney TV Animation. But picture books were my first love, and I worked at getting a personal illustration portfolio together while I was storyboarding, which was a challenge since I was used to working in the style of whatever show I was on-- I didn't even have my OWN style. After we had our first child, I transitioned out of animation entirely and began to pursue illustration full time. It had only taken me about six months between moving to L.A. and getting my animation job, so I thought success in illustration would be just as quick. WRONG!

What advice would you give to new and aspiring authors and illustrators?

Don't give up! (Can you deal with soul-crushing discouragement for 13 years? Haha. Keep that sense of humor!)

For illustrators: Draw all the time. Develop YOUR style. Discover new influences. (For authors, ehhh, I don't have any specifics.)

For everyone: Join SCBWI and go to a conference, even if it's a regional conference. Network with other illustrators/authors and kidlit people. Be nice to everyone. Go to the library regularly and read all the new picture books. Then find some old picture books you've never heard of. Support & encourage other illustrators/authors even if you are insanely and unreasonably jealous that they got a book deal and you haven't, yet. Seriously, be happy for them. (Read "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott.) Good agents are incredibly helpful, especially in terms of helping you focus on a direction and improve your work. Find a critique group (SCBWI is helpful), and network with your peers.

Illustrator Tina Kugler lives in Los Angeles with her artist husband, three little boys and an enormous hairy dog named Harryhausen. Tina spent ten years drawing storyboards in the animation industry for studios such as Walt Disney, Nickelodeon, and Warner Bros., and is also known for her iconic Sputnik Girl posters for Manitowoc, Wisconsin's annual Sputnikfest.

You can visit Tina's website and blog at
You can visit Author Leanne Shirtliffe's blog at

Congratulations, Tina! So excited to read both your upcoming books! (And thanks so much for being my first illustrator interview! Your illustrations look amazing!)


  1. Replies
    1. So glad you enjoyed the interview Carter! I loved learning about Tina's creative process! And seeing her amazing illustrations! Congrats again Tina! :o)