Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Author/Illustrator - Cori Doerrfeld

How long have you been creating art for children?

I have been making art as far back as I can remember.  At school I was always fulfilling requests from my fellow classmates for drawings of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or their favorite Disney character.  So I guess even back then I was technically creating art for children.  ;)

I worked for several years as a preschool teacher and a nanny, and in both cases I was constantly creating art projects, drawings, and stories for the children I worked with.  I've been selling my art in one form or another for about nine years, but I have only worked full time as a professional illustrator for the past four and a half years.  I started off by selling whimsical paintings and prints.  My first published work was with a small kids' magazine called Moo Cow Fan Club.  The first book I illustrated was a collection of nursery rhymes about Time.  It was put out by a small educational publisher based in Minnesota in 2007. 

How long have you been writing for children?

Writing is also something I did a lot as a child.  I always participated in my school's young authors contest, although I never placed higher than honorable mention. I also wrote on my own.  I have notebooks where I started several stories, although I rarely completed them.  Today I have similar struggles….so many ideas, few finished manuscripts! The first children's book I ever wrote was about eight years ago.  It was based on a quirky little girl I took care of at the daycare, and I wrote and illustrated the book simply to see what it was like to do so.  I wrote two more stories based on the same little girl, as well as my own version of Little Bunny Foo Foo and sold them as little paperbacks at comic conventions. The two published self-authored titles I have now were both based on these original experimental paperbacks I did just for fun!  So I guess technically I've been writing children's books for eight years, but I've only been writing for publishers since 2009. 

Cori, can you share a bit about your publishing journey? Do you have an agent? I saw on your website that you have published several books, what did it take to get those published?

Becoming a published illustrator/author is somewhat due to luck in my case.  I did get an art degree,  but after that there was no clear path.  I started dating a man, (who is now my husband), who had an intense ambition for drawing and promoting comics.  It was because I went to comic conventions all over the country to promote him, that I got discovered.  As I mentioned above, I wrote and illustrated a few little books just for fun.  I would bring these along with my portfolio to the conventions. This is how I met the editor who hired me to illustrate the Nursery Rhyme book, landed my first big time publishing deal illustrating a book by Brooke Shields, and how I met my agent.  I have illustrated 17 books total…I think.  MOST of those books were for the local educational publisher.  They were always eager to hand out books to anyone who was willing to work for so little.  The small publisher only paid about a tenth of what I get from a major publisher per title.   I also get NO royalties for them!  But they were all learning experiences. 

Where do you do your artwork?

I unfortunately work in my basement.  We have a very small, old house and due to having kids…I had to give up my sunny upstairs studio, for a little room in the basement.  It's a little wonky, dank, and full of spiders, but it is also very detached from the rest of the house.  When I'm down there, I do feel like I'm in my own little cave of creativity! 

Please tell us about your illustrations. Can you describe your creative process for us? How would you describe your style?

All of my illustrations start off as tiny little thumbnail drawings.  I always try to sketch out an entire book in thumbnails so I can see from the beginning how the art will flow page to page.  Once I like the basic look of a thumbnail, I make a more finished sketch.  This sketch is then scanned into the computer where I can play with scale, positing of characters, and rough in a color study in Photoshop.   I feel I am still struggling to find the perfect "style" or voice for my illustrations.  Sometimes I feel like each story calls for its own style, so I have never wanted to feel connected to one look.  The style I feel the most comfortable with is a slightly retro look created with acrylic paint.  I simply adore a lot of the illustrations from the 50's and 60's. Richard Scarry, Mary Blair, Eloise Wilkins have all inspired me!  I create all my paintings using only the three primary colors, plus sometimes black and white.  I hand mix every shade and color in my books giving me a lot of flexibility.  Each painting can take up to 40 hours to complete! 

Which comes first the story of the illustrations/sculptures?

 I would say that for the most part, my stories begin with an image in my mind.  Sometimes I start sketching to release that image, other times it is better captured through writing.  With the books I've both written and illustrated, the manuscript has been a result of flip-flopping between sketching and writing.  I am currently tackling my first true manuscript.  It involves far more text than my previous books, and I've found that when I get stuck writing, sketching out the story can help reveal what the text is missing.  Creating a picture book that is truly successful in both the text and the illustrations is no easy task.  I know I personally struggle the most with the "why".  Why am I telling this story?  Why should parts of the story be told through the pictures vs the text?  Why is it so hard to create a bestseller? Why oh why!  ;)

Anything else you would like to add about your art, your writing, or your road to publication?
Another struggle I have, which I think few people consider, is that once a story is acquired by a publisher…it is no longer just your story. Many people from editors to marketing reps will have a say in what your story ultimately becomes. You have to maintain an open mind and a patient spirit. Sometimes what ends up on the store shelf is very different than your original concept. I guess I'm not sure if ALL authors experience something similar, but I just wanted to bring it up!

 Cori can be found at:
Twitter: @coridoerrfeld

Come back next Wednesday (and every Wednesday) to read the interview with the next featured Author/Illustrator!

Leave a comment for Cori below...


  1. Great interview, Alison and Cori! It was fun following your path to publication and agent and seeing your office. Your books look cute!

  2. This was a lovely interview and very insightful. Loved your cute drawings and wow you got to illustrate Brook Shields book... Thanks Alison and Cori.

  3. Thanks so much for this interview. After reading Cori's interview on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog, I immediately knew what I would get my kids for Easter! We LOVE Little Bunny Foo Foo. I love the art so much. I am not an artist but I loved how the images were so sweet and soft, including the colors, and then you have this bunny that bops the mice, turns into a monster and them picks her teeth with the fairy's wand! Ha! Great interview!

  4. Fantastic guest and post. This could be a full article, or a chapter in the series on illustrators that is a joy to read and see.
    Enjoyed meeting Cori and her work.