Interview with Molly Idle

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Molly Idle was awarded a Caldecott Honor for Flora and the Flamingo. She is the creator of Flora and the Penguin, Flora and the Peacocks, and the Rex series—which includes Tea Rex, Camp Rex and Sea Rex. She is also the illustrator of Rodeo Red, and the Zombelina series. Molly lives in Tempe, Arizona with her fabulous family. And when she’s not watching old Technicolor musicals, Molly can be found in her workshop with a cup of espresso in one hand, and a pencil in the other, scribbling away, and working on her next picture book.

Visit Molly at IdleIllustration.com.


Cheyenne Lopex: How long have you been drawing and when did you know you wanted to make it a career?

Molly Idle: Oh gosh. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing! But it wasn’t until Disney’s The Little Mermaid came out, when I was 13, that I knew I wanted to draw for a living. I remember watching it and thinking… PEOPLE DREW ALL OF THIS?! I’ve got to be a part of this! And from that moment on, I was determined to work as an artist.

CL: Why illustration?

MI: Well, I had been working in animation for a few years when the industry shifted from traditional (hand drawn) animation to CGI (computer generated imagery). And while so many folks took to the change, like fish to water, I didn’t. I really missed the feel of drawing, of making art with my hands, with pencils on paper. So, I decided to try my hand at another medium of visual storytelling that would allow me to do just that: picture book illustration. I had no idea when I made that switch that I would find one of the creative loves of my life. It sounds hokey to say that, but I did.        

CL: Is your artwork completed traditionally or digitally? Do you prefer one over the other?

MI: Traditionally. But that’s just my preferred method for creating my own art. I don’t think one medium is inherently better than another.

CL: Who inspires you?

MI: Whether it’s in the field of art, or another discipline entirely, hardworking, skillful people inspire me. People who hone their craft and are constantly striving to become better.

CL: Which artists have influenced you over the years?

MI: Daumier, Degas, Gibson, Disney’s Nine Old Men, Glen Keane, Andrew Kopp, Jerry and Anne Schutte, Holly Hobbie…

CL: Are you the type of artist that carries a sketchbook everywhere just in case, or do you have a specific place you prefer to work in? If so, where?

MI: Yes, and yes. I do carry a sketchbook with me everywhere—just in case. But I much prefer to draw at home, at the desk in my studio, or on a comfy couch.

CL: What was it like winning the Caldecott Medal?

MI: Awesome! And unreal! And then awesome again!

CL: Do you ever look back on an art project, and see changes you would like to make, or do you prefer to look ahead to the next one?

MI: Yes, and yes again. I can ALWAYS look back and think of things I could have done differently. But I try to focus the majority of my time and energy on improving what’s on my desk in the here-and-now.

CL: Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on? Or do you have one that you are most proud of?

MI: There are some of my projects that I feel turned out pretty darn good. But I always think (or hope) that I can do better. So, my favorite project will always be the next one because it has the potential to be better than anything I’ve done before.

CL: You’ve written some books yourself; what is the difference between illustrating your own stories versus illustrating stories for other authors?

MI: Each way of working has its upside. Writing is the most challenging part of the book making process, for me. So when I collaborate with an author, they’ve already done so much of the heavy lifting involved in making the book. They’ve created an entire world, and my job is to find a way to represent that world, and everything in it, visually. But when I write AND illustrate, I have to do all the heavy lifting; but I also get to enjoy a different sort of creative freedom in creating that world within the book.

CL: How often do you interact with the authors you illustrate for?

MI: Very occasionally. Unless I’m working with an author to develop an idea from the beginning, there’s not usually that much interaction between us. And I know that may seem weird, or counterintuitive but it actually works surprisingly well. Like a crazy kind of trust fall exercise—that takes place over a couple of years.

CL: Where did the inspiration for your Flora books come from?

MI: It was the culmination of a few ideas. The first idea was the title, which was originally Flamingo Dancing. At the time I thought of it, my sons were learning to talk, often with giggle-inducing results, and it got me thinking about words or phrases that baffled me as a kid. One such was “flamenco dancing”—which I long believed was pronounced “flamingo dancing.” I remember being puzzled that there were no flamingos involved. So I drew a dancing flamingo, but he needed a partner. That was the next idea. A little girl, Flora, drawn as an homage to my sweet nieces (whom my sister made wear matching suits and swim-caps every summer when they were little). I had my characters and I knew that I wanted to tell their story through dance; but I didn’t know what their story was. A few years went by then, my oldest son started kindergarten, and was trying to figure out the whole process of making friends. It’s a tough business to figure out when you’re five. Heck, it can be tough to figure out when you’re 35! And it occurred to me how much the give-and-take in a friendship is like the back and forth of a dance. That’s when everything came together.

Author, Cheyenne Lopex

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