Julie Muszynski: Art Maven Extraordinaire

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Author and artist, Julie Muszynski, recently took some time to chat with me about her Henley series of children’s books and her creative process. As you will read, Julie’s approach to illustration is very unique! Julie is quite inspiring for all artists who have struggled over the years–artists who have a vision, but not always the means to bring it to life. Some things I have learned from Julie are…one should never give up on dreams, four-legged friends make the best companions, and just like Henley–you never know what exciting adventures life has next in store for you!

Be sure to take a moment to watch the stop-motion video highlighting Julie’s upcoming book Henley in Hollywood!

  • Did you always want to be a writer?
  • No. I have struggled with writing all of my life. I actually really loathed it, which is why I became an artist. It is not that I did not like to write; I think secretly I did, but I was just too embarrassed to let people know that I struggled with this. I see and hear things differently, which makes it hard for me to read and write. I became very good at disguising my writing with bad penmanship when necessary. Thank goodness for the computer. It has definitely changed my life!

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  • Did you always want to write for children?
  • No. I was interested in creative story telling. I was fascinated with the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World when the pictures in the entrance hall grew and changed. I also loved Mary Poppins when Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews danced with animated characters. I love when things are not as they appear and visually cross over. I like to try to make imaginary things seem real and real things seem imaginary. To me a good story is magical if only in your mind.

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  • What are your favorite children’s books or who are your favorite authors of children’s literature?
  • My favorite book as a child was Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline. I remember as a child reading that book over and over with my Mom before bed. I can still recite the lines just the same as when I was six.

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    My other cherished and very favorite book was and still is, even as an adult, Shel Silverstein’s, Where The Side Walk Ends. I just LOVE that book; it is smart, clever, creative and witty.

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    I have most of Bemelmans’ and Silverstein’s books, both for children and adults. Both of these author/illustrators are and will always be huge inspirations to me.

  • Do you write the text for your books before you create the artwork?
  • I actually work on everything at the same time. I plan out all of the colors in advance and hang it all up on my wall in my studio apartment. The colors, usually there are about 6, are based on a palate that best relates to the story. Red for Japan, green for the green market, purple for Bergdorf Goodman (like the store ribbon and the bags).

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    I then start to do the thumbnails. I try to figure out the images, story and flow. I think about how everything works together and take into consideration the entire pagination of the book.
    Then I try to think about the places where I might be able to incorporate a visual trick. For example, in Henley, A New York Tail, I selected the color purple to represent England because it is symbolic color of royalty. I then decided to use a gatefold for Sandringham Palace so the reader can go inside and see all of the Queen’s dogs.

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    I collect and study everything. I have tons of books and magazines. I reference maps, history, movies, art, postcards… You name it! Anything and everything that inspires me, I keep it.

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  • How is computer software part of your creative process?
  • I do everything by hand. I do not use the computer for my artwork. I am learning to work with the computer and find it fascinating. However, personally, I am a very tactile person and just I prefer to see and feel the materials.

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  • Who are your style icons?
  • Early Cher, when she was young and starting out. Lauren Hutton and Diane Keaton, for having the courage to have their own style. Katherine Hepburn because she was smart, sassy and wore pants beautifully. Audrey Hepburn, for everything, including her elegant way of dancing around in flats.

    Jackie O…. My Mom…

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    Really, any woman who isn’t afraid to be herself… You have to have spunk!

    There is only one you… So YOU might as well be good at being yourself. Why would you ever want to look like someone else?

  • You have said that Henley is inspired by your own Japanese Chin. Did you find him in a pet store, as Lulu Ziminski found her Henley? Did you have a fondness for Japanese Chins before owning your first or was there something about your Henley that attracted you to the breed?
  • My family loved dogs. I grew up with them, with the exception of my years in college. Once I graduated, I started to think about getting a dog of my own in New York City. I was working as a casting assistant on a movie. I worked extremely long hours, everyday for one month and was paid $300. Then one day the movie wrapped and the next one that we were to go onto folded and I was out of a job.

    The Casting Director needed to pick up dog food for her beautiful Sheltie, Frank, so we went into this horrible pet shop that was actually named, “The Sweetie Pie Pet Shop.” (Hence the name in the book.) It was truly a dreadful place–just depressing–and there sat this teeny tiny puppy all by himself in a cage, in very bad condition…

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    It was around the time of my birthday and the Casting Director, Kim, generously offered to give me the money to buy him but I said, “No. I don’t have a job. I can’t take care of myself… How will I be able to take care of him?” It was hard for me to turn down her offer, but I did. Plus as a true dog lover, I know to NEVER purchase a dog from a pet shop. One should only get a dog from a proper breeder or animal rescue.

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    For the next two weeks I walked by that poor puppy. I just couldn’t get him out of my mind… I felt so bad for him. So I went home, called my parents and they said, “Just go get him.” And that was it.

    He cost me my entire paycheck. He also turned out to be pretty sick. The vet said he had mange, a bad heart, and bad hips and knees. She said I should return him, but there was no way that I could do that. I took him home and he just laid there looking at me. I looked up the breed in a book, which said, “Japanese Chin – A royal little breed known to bring good luck to whoever owns them.”

    Right after that I got a job working for Saks Fifth Avenue. Then one day they needed a dog for a fashion shoot, so I mentioned that I have a dog. I was told, “Great bring him along and we will pay him to model.” I thought, “Pay my dog? Are they crazy? I went to college and this company is going to pay my dog?” I just couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of such a thing. So Henley went to work for Saks Fifth Avenue and in fact, was paid more than his lucky owner! He went on to work for Bergdorf’s too!

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  • What’s next for Henley after Hollywood? Will Henley have future adventures in new places?
  • Only Henley knows where he’s going. I am just his guide, but something tells me he has a lot more traveling to do!

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    Julie’s next book in the Henley series, Henley in Hollywood, will be released in 2014. For those of you who can’t wait until then, here is an exclusive “teaser” video!

    Click here to learn more about Julie Muszynski and Henley or read my related entry, Petite Sophisticate.

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