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Illustrator Spotlight: Toni Yuly

Illustrator Spotlight: Toni Yuly


Happy Wednesday and welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight.

This week is a three post special!

Today, we have fantastic interview as well as another giveaway opportunity--many thanks to Candlewick Press!

This Illustrator Spotlight features an inside scoop from an author-illustrator with a unique journey that I hope will encourage and inspire as you continue on your own path.

Toni Yuly is the author and illustrator of several picture books, including her newest, The Whole Wide World and Me (It's totes adorbs and totes up for grabs!)

Let's jump right in!


What’s something you absolutely must have in the refrigerator or pantry?

Vegetables and fruit.

Name three things you can’t do your job without.

Sleep, art supplies and chocolate.

Nature, music and kind people.

I read about your background and path to publication in your interview on Seven Impossible Things to Do Before Breakfast. I think you have an inspiring story. For those who haven’t read this post, tell us a little about your journey into kid lit. Why picture books?

Well, I am 65 in October so I broke into this business in my late fifties.

Most of my life I was writing and making art, but my family growing up was not supportive or encouraging and very dysfunctional so I didn’t identify as an artist. For a long time I just thought I was really odd. In college I was lost until my boyfriend asked why I wasn’t an art major (since I drew all the time) and so I headed to the Art Department and finally started on my path as an artist.

In my mid-thirties (1995) I had my son. I fell in love with picture books when I started reading to him as a baby. Ever since then, I have in many small ways and some big ways been trying to become where I am today.

When my son was about 5, (he is 28 now) I started getting ideas for stories. I didn’t see myself as an illustrator then. I didn’t have the confidence. So I wrote and I submitted as a writer for 7 years or so. I joined SCBWI and I attended conferences and I connected with editors and I got close...but like a lot of times in my life as I was getting really close, I gave up in frustration and went back to making art.

After 7 years or so of not breaking in I needed a break, so I turned my focus back to my visual art-making and I did that until my son left for college in 2009. At that time I wanted to do something with my visual art that would be fun and so I designed greeting cards. I was still writing but I was all over the place with it. For some reason I was very focused on making cards. The one-off cards helped me develop characters and strong helped me develop a graphic style I didn’t know I had. Long story short, I kept selling my cards and writing and by complete randomness one day at work I met a local writer/illustrator named, Wendy Wahman. There is a lot more to my journey to publication but my answer is already way to long!

All of it.

What does it mean to have your sixth book out in the world?

I don’t take doing this for granted. I try to put all of my heart into every book and especially now that I have a handful of books out there I am trying to reflect even more about what I am doing as an author and illustrator. I am always trying to grow.

www&me for Anna cover

THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND ME. Copyright © 2019 by Toni Yuly. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The Whole Wide World and Me is your newest book. I really enjoyed the message and artwork in this story! Where did the idea for this book come from? Give us the story behind the story.

Thank you! The idea came from a feeling I first had as a young child. It is the feeling of being tiny and big at the same time when you are outside. As an adult I associate this feeling with being deeply connected to nature, to our world. I think everyone has had this feeling, especially at the ocean when you first step onto the beach and you can almost see the curvature of the earth on the horizon…. Anyway, I have felt this feeling for a long time but it wasn’t until the last few years that I thought I could actually make a book with words and pictures that was a reflection of that feeling.

I’m fascinated by the medium you use in The Whole Wide World and Me. What can you tell us about earlier drafts and the process in making this book?

The words were clunky for a long time. And one day after a long walk I came back to the studio and the words just came out...poetic and beautiful. I was so grateful because that so rarely happens for me!

As I played around with the images I started playing with perspective, tiny and big...and since that was at the heart of the book, tiny and big - it felt exciting and the book just grew out of that.

Everything is a part of something else and tiny parts make up bigger parts...seems like a simple concept but it is also kind of profound when you think in terms of our planet and the natural world and our place in it. I used mostly cut paper, torn tissue paper, ink, and collage.

What does this book mean to you personally?

The Whole Wide World and Me feels special...It means a lot to me that I was able to take that feeling and create a picture book from it. I love poetry and I love to boil things down to their essence. The book is simple and sparse but its message is deep and universal. It is about something we have all felt but maybe have forgotten...I want readers to have that feeling again...I am trying to affirm in readers of all ages something they already know, something that I think is important to all people, and of course I feel that our connection to nature (the planet) is so important to everything else we are as humans.

I love reading it at Indie Bookstores and libraries, and so I have been making the rounds locally in my area. My publisher, Candlewick, sent me to the Colorado Book and Arts Festival in Denver and it was exciting to share it with the huge community of book lovers there. I am available, world! Invite me to your book event!

What mediums do you typically prefer to use? Anything new that you have been experimenting with?

Since I wasn’t trained as an illustrator it has been a huge challenge to figure out what I am doing. I love to work fast and throw stuff away but I also love process and so collage is something I am always goofing around with. I love tearing tissue paper and cutting up paper. I have always loved ink and watercolor, although I haven’t used them much in my book illustrations. I have a background in fine art but have struggled to use all of my artistic interests in my illustration work and that is what I am experimenting with lately.

I'm fascinated by different authors' revision process, but really interested in what that looks like for illustrators. What can you tell us about your unique revision process?

Well, like I said I am not a trained illustrator and my background as a fine artist is all about trial and error and feeling things as I go. I never get things right the first 100 times! Seriously, it takes me a long time to get what I want in an image but I am grateful that I find what I am trying to do by doing...I don’t really plan, I just dive in!

I love the advice you shared from Jacob Lawrence about working anywhere. Now that you are a full time artist and author, what does your studio or work space look like?Walk us through an average day.

I worked in the corner of tiny apartment bedrooms for most of my life but 10 years ago my husband and I bought our first small house. Then about 3 years ago I decided to build a dedicated place for writing and making art. I was lucky and it cost less than a car to have a small studio built on our property. I bought my first house at age 55 and now I have a house, a yard and an art studio! Proof you have to keep circling around who you are and what you like to do in order to make your dreams come true. Small steps forward is the best way to travel.

My average day is like this:

Get up at 5:30 and (sometimes) do a 15 minute exercise/stretching/qigong/weights routine. Make coffee (decaf.) Eat oatmeal with raisins and finish more coffee with a piece of chocolate on the side. Make a big pot of tea and walk through the backyard to my studio. On the 30 second walk I listen to the birds, look at the sky, breathe the air. There are 4 large stones in front of my studio stairs that are placed just far enough apart as to make stepping on them a bit difficult. As I slow down to step on each stone I remind myself to slow down as I enter my creative space deliberately, not rushing.

Inside my studio, I used to try to meditate, burn incense, ring bells and stuff but I can never stick to it so most days I just turn on the heater and look at email. Then I try to hide my phone and focus on creative work. If I am working on a book I focus on that, if I am not working on a book I just space out for awhile and play. At about 1, I go for a 30 minute walk and then eat something. Then I am back in the studio doing whatever until 4 or so. Dinner. Reading time. Bath. Bed.

I am not sure what you mean as my concept of picture books. Maybe you mean, how did it change how I see them? It certainly gave me great access to piles and piles of new picture books! I wasn’t a Children’s Librarian but I haunted the Children’s area. I loved working in libraries (especially before the Internet) because of the obvious, joyful sanctuary of books that I was surrounded by every day. But I also love helping people and listening to people and I think librarians are good at both of these things. In answer to your question, I would say that being a librarian helped me realize how important libraries and books are to life.

What challenges are you currently working through as an artist?

I am currently trying to bring in more of my fine art skills that I used for decades before becoming an author. Such as painting and ink work.

I LOVE the blue giraffe and turtle on the homepage of your website. What is this from?

Thanks! That is from when I was just getting into tearing up tissue paper and used to post my creations every Tuesday on Facebook. I didn’t plan anything, I just got up on Tuesday and started tearing tissue paper to see what I could see...I am not on Facebook hardly at all these days so sadly I am not posting any more torn tissue creations.

Any teasers for what you are working on currently?

Well, I just finished the artwork for my 7th book and am starting on my eighth which coincidentally happens to be about an octopus!

With six books under your belt, what advice do you have for illustrators just starting out on their kid lit journey?

Work as much as you can, that goes without every day if you can. And mentally, try to be measured, thoughtful and patient. Try to create a vision of what you are doing this for...Go deep.

I am still celebrating, The Whole Wide World and Me and I hope your readers will take a look at it and fall in love.

Complete the following sentence: “the world needs picture books because…”

Duh, books with pictures are the best!

Thank you, Toni! I am so excited to see whatever you create next and wish you well with your octopus book! And yes, books with pictures ARE the best! : )

And thank YOU for reading, kid lit fam! To thank you for stopping by Toni's interview, Candlewick Press has generously provided a giveaway of The Whole Wide World and Me! See details below to enter the contest.

To enter this giveaway contest for your chance to win a copy of:

www&me for Anna cover

Do one of two things:

1. Retweet this post with a comment.


2. Share a comment below AND subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight.

The deadline for this contest is Friday, April 26th at 9AM CST

The winner will be contacted on Friday, April 26th and announced on Twitter

About Toni Yuly

Toni Yuly has been an early bird her whole life and loves to start the day in her studio listening to other early birds sing outside her window. She lives in a small house by the water in Bremerton, Washington, a short ferry boat ride from Seattle, where she was born.

Toni fell in love with Eastern sensibilities during a year spent in Sendai, Japan when she was just 17 years old. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BFA in painting where she studied with the great American painter Jacob Lawrence. Now, after many years as a librarian in the King County Library System, Toni dedicates herself to designing, painting, and writing full time.

Other interviews featuring Toni Yuly


Brian Gehrlein is an educator and youth services librarian living in Kansas City with his wife, Katherine, and son, Peter. He is represented by Melissa Richeson of Apokedak Literary Agency. He thanks you for reading this post. He thanks you for reading this sentence. And this one too. He thanks you for brushing your teeth and supporting the arts. That's it. I got nothing. Zero creativity left. I should just give up. Give up and never write another funny thing. Or any thing for that matter. No more words for Brian. Certainly no nonsense words like glorb. Glorb. Such a silly word. Glorb. Alright...maybe I'm not done being silly yet. Stay tuned for more...Glorb. If you Retweet this post with a comment and mention the word might just increase your chances. Might. You might win. And if you don''ll still win my heart.

October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
October 19, 2021 (34)_edited.jpg
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