Smile Politely

An interview with local creative pro Robin Luebs

Even after living in the Los Angeles area for several years, I never lost the excitement of running into someone “famous” in a restaurant, on the street, or along the beach. I feel that same kind of thrill when I have the chance to meet one of our local “stars” right here in Champaign-Urbana.

I recently had the pleasure to meet one such creative star, Robin Luebs, a local illustrator and writer of children’s books. To date, Robin has published three children’s books:

  • Please Pick Me Up, Mama! (as author/illustrator), a picture book for preschoolers released by Simon & Schuster in 2009. This book became a Scholastic Book Fair paperback, and will soon be published as a board book.
  • How Do You Say Good Night? (Luebs’ first book as illustrator), a HarperCollins bedtime picture book authored by Raina Moore, and chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club Main Selection in 2008. 
  • Who Said Coo? (as illustrator), written by Luebs’ twin sister, Deborah Ruddell. Now in its third printing, this Simon & Schuster release was chosen for the Summer 2010 Kids’ Indie Next List. It was also named to the Texas Library Association’s 2×2 Reading List for children age two through grade two. Chicago Tribune children’s book reviewer, Mary Harris Russell, picked it as her favorite kids’ book of 2010.

As a lead-up to her presentation as part of Parkland’s Meet the Pros series, Robin answered a few questions about her background and her work.

Smile Politely:  How did you get your start in book illustration?

Robin Luebs:  I have to credit my sister, Deborah Ruddell. We’d both had a long-standing love of picture books, but it was her idea that we might someday write and illustrate one together.

SP:  What jobs did you have previously?

Luebs:  I was a painter/printmaker when my children were young. When I lived in Michigan, I was lucky to be part of a group of women artists who shared studio space, organized our own shows, and had regular critique sessions. We called ourselves Red Dye #2. I also worked as a staff artist for a library system and as a display artist for a bookstore chain.

SP:  How did you end up in Urbana?

Luebs:  I received my degree in English here at the University of Illinois and I met my husband here as well. We moved away, then happily had the chance to return here for a job opportunity several years ago.

SP:  What was it like, working with your sister? Do you plan future collaborations?

Luebs:  We do hope to work together again, of course. It was a breeze working with Deborah; she is a wonderful writer and my best friend, so what could be easier?

SP:  How did you get your agent?

Luebs:  I belong to an international organization called SCBWI, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was at one of their conferences in Los Angeles that my sister met Steven Malk, who would eventually offer to represent both of us.

SP:  How would you describe your illustration style?

Luebs:  Painterly and somewhat fanciful, cozy and fun—I hope.

SP:  Where do you find your inspiration?

Luebs:  I like to be outside—in my garden or on a walk—thinking about not much of anything.

SP:  What were some of your favorite children’s books growing up?

Luebs:  Our dad used to read the Little Golden Book version of Peter Pan to us. We knew parts of it by heart. There was also a book of fairytales illustrated by Garth Williams that still kind of haunts me today.

SP:  Who are some of your favorite children’s book illustrators/authors today?

Luebs:  I am currently enthralled by Maira Kalman, Melissa Sweet, and Jon Klassen.

SP:  What recommendations do you have for anyone wanting to illustrate and/or write children’s books?

Luebs:  Try to find a community of like-minded people. For me, it was SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. They not only helped me get educated about making books, but they also helped me connect with other local and area artists and writers. The children’s book world has lots of extraordinarily nice and generous people.

Robin Luebs will be speaking at Buvon’s Wine Bar, 203 N. Vine St., Urbana, Illinois, on Wednesday, October 16, at 6 p.m. Robin’s presentation is the second event of the 2013-14 “Meet the Pros,” a creative lecture series presented by Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College, and sponsored by CUDO and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators, and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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