Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Deborah Freedman Picture Book Architect

Deborah Freedman lives in a house that one would imagine most picture book creators reside. Deborah's house is colorful, imaginative -- and yes, I am very jealous! Her work ranges from being very structured (probably from her background in architecture) to very loose and imaginative work. It is very difficult to work well in two extremes, but Deborah does a remarkable job with both!


Where do the ideas for your stories come from?

Oh I don't know… I read, look at art, take long walks, lie in bed… and then write every random thought down on a scrap of paper. I have an enormous collection of random thoughts on scraps of paper. But they are just sparks. I rarely get anywhere until I actually sit down and start writing—then one idea may lead to another, which leads to another… and if I put in enough time, eventually, hopefully, I have a story! Which I can then revise, and revise, and revise…

What's your favorite kind of coffee?

Peet's Decaf, super strong.
Early storyboard for Blue Chicken.
The "Dummy Drawer", where old dummies go to die.

How does your background in Architecture influence your books?
To me a book is a complex design problem, like architecture. When I design a house, I don't do a bunch of rooms in isolation from each other and then jam them together — I think about how rooms relate to each other, and about the experience of moving from one to another. I think of pages the same way. How all the spreads in a book fit together is always on my mind when I'm writing with words and pictures — keeping sight of the whole while working on lots of different parts — it's a lot like architecture.

Dummy (submitted as a pdf) for Scribble. This
dummy was created in 2005, and the
book was published by Knopf in 2007.
How much sketching do you do?

Tons! Doodling, sketching… it's an integral part of my writing and revision process, and I can safely say that I spend way more time sketching than doing final art. Staying as loose as possible for as long as possible is crucial for me — I don't want my drawings to get so precious that I get all uptight about experimenting or making changes.

What's the hardest thing about creating dummies?

Physical, paper dummies always feel like such a commitment to me. I never feel like I'm "done" enough to actually stop working and fold and gather all those pages, so I don't make them as often as I should. I'm constantly making pdf "dummies", with thumbnails, for myself and to send works-in-progress to my editor and art director. But a pdf isn't the same at all. Paper dummies are really important! I need to stop being so lazy about making them.

 Dummy (submitted as pdf) for Blue Chicken. Dummy
created in 2009, and book published by Viking in 2011.

Deborah Freedman was an architect once-upon-a-time, but now she loves to build worlds in children's picture books. She is the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken, The Story of Fish & Snail, Scribble, and By Mouse & Frog. Deborah lives in a colorful house in Connecticut, where she is busy at work on her next books, including Shy, to be published by Viking, Fall 2016.


Sample for Blue Chicken, 2009, submitted with dummy. 


  1. Thanks for the great interview and for sharing your work - love it! :)

  2. Oh, I love your dummy. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Great post. I've always enjoyed your artwork, Deborah, and was glad to learn more about your process too.

  4. I lové that splash or Blue! Thanks for sharing your storyboard.

  5. I so love your work Deborah. You just have a way with color and style. I think your storyboard is what really made this post for me. It's so nice to see what other people are doing, and to know my work is not far off. Thank you so much for your interview.

    PS. One of these days I'm going to have to steal your house.

  6. So nice chatting with you, Dani — thanks! And come on over...

  7. Love the idea of comparing the pages of a dummy to the rooms of a house re: how they relate to each other and flow. Thank you!