Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Courtney Pippin-Marthur

Posted on: May 28, 2013

CourtneyCourtney Pippin-Marthur discovered her love for drawing by re-creating characters from her favorite animated movies, but it wasn’t until college that she realized she could draw for a career. Thankfully for readers everywhere, she switched to a Studio Art degree, combined them with some writing classes and lots of reading of books, and never looked back. Learn more about the author and illustrator of Maya was Grumpy in my interview below.

ALLISON: Let’s start the interview by learning about you as a child. Describe it in five sentences or less If you were to draw a picture of it, what would that picture include?

COURTNEY: I split my time between my mom and my grandmother. You would find me running around my grandmother’s farm, climbing trees, laying in fields, staring up at the sky through leaves or in a corner with my nose stuck in a book. When I wasn’t on the farm, I was leading a crew of kids around an apartment complex, exploring and going on grand adventures and bossing around my little sister.

If I drew a picture, it would have to be of my grandmother’s farm with rolling fields and trees dotting the landscape.

ALLISON: As a teen, were you an introvert or an extrovert? If we were to see your yearbook, what would we likely see written in it about you?

COURTNEY: I had a few close friends and I was often described as a chatterbox but my social life constituted of hanging out with friends and being the mascot for the Brain Club and shooting photos for the yearbook.

ALLISON: You started out studying government in college. What prompted you to enter that field? You switched to studio art. Are you now a full-time artist or do you work other jobs too?

COURTNEY: I’ve always been interested in public works and helping others, especially helping kids realize their potential when they don’t grow up with money or encouragement. I do consider creating picture books and raising kids to be my full-time job but I also teach summer camps and the occasional after-school program.

ALLISON: Have you taken any writing classes? If not, how did you teach yourself to write?

COURTNEY: I took a few writing classes in college. My writing was encouraged, beginning in elementary school (more so than my art, I was never the best artist in my class) and reading books in your genre is one of the best teachers.

ALLISON: What did you learn about drawing by initially teaching yourself? And what did you learn by taking courses?

COURTNEY: I drew from cartoons and comics growing up. I learned to look at things. It sounds silly, but I could always tell when something was slightly “off” on a cartoon in or in a strip. Taking courses taught me everything. I highly recommend taking any art courses that you can. I still remember the “aha” moment of getting of being able to draw a human figure. It was a great moment that took a lot of struggle and tears and patience from some great teachers.

ALLISON: Watercolor is your favorite medium. Why? What was your least favorite? Why?

COURTNEY: I love watercolor because of the flow. The method of letting the medium dictate (in some way) what it is you are producing and the art of finding and accepting mistakes. Least favorite was oil. The smell in those dark student studios probably had a lot to do with that. But just the “gloppiness” of the medium has never appealed to me. However, I LOVE seeing what other people produce in oil.

ALLISON: What are a couple of your most memorable experiences from teaching art to elementary school students? What advice would you give students who aspire to become artists?

COURTNEY: It’s always the best to see a student really embrace the project. Sometimes they come in with a contagious excitement and sometimes they are just sitting there. But when they find a way to connect and really enjoy the creative process, it is a joy to watch.

My only advice would be to keep doing it. Keep drawing, writing, photographing, filming. Whatever it is that you enjoy, don’t stop, find a way to create your art.

ALLISON: You’re a mom of twins. How has this changed your life? How do you balance the creative life with being a mom?

COURTNEY: I have an older daughter too, so three kids in total. It makes life crazy. Everyday is different and exciting and challenging in some new way. It is a very difficult balance, and I have certainly not perfected it. It really helps to have a spouse who is behind me 100 % and family close. I tend to work in short bursts or after the kids are asleep.

ALLISON: How did you come up with the idea for Maya the Grumpy? Did your children inspire you?

COURTNEY: It is completely based on my daughter. She stomped into the living room at three years of age, announcing her bad mood. I had a sketchpad and laptop in front of me at the time, so I wrote down the first line and sketched a very grumpy little girl with curls sticking out from her head.

COURTNEY: They do inspire me. Sometimes it’s with a question or a life changing event (the arrival of twin siblings) but I try to keep my antennae constantly up.

ALLISON: You indicated that your first book was a huge learning curve. What were the most surprising lessons?

COURTNEY: The digital aspect. I always admired digital artists but I was reluctant to go down that path until the publishing process shoved me there. Also, the amount of revisions that your art goes through is a bit staggering but completely worth it.

ALLISON: If you couldn’t draw or write for a day, what would you do instead?

COURTNEY: READ or go for a hike in the woods.

ALLISON: What’s your next creative project?

COURTNEY: A book about a small girl who wants to be the biggest, fiercest viking in her village even though she’s only as tall as a med cup, smells of lavender and can’t grow a proper beard.

On her blog and in guest posts, Courtney Pippin-Marthur shares more about the start to end finish process of creating Maya was Grumpy. Check out these links for all the details!

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