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Research is My Friend by Lauren Castillo

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This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors’/illustrators’ texts with your students.

Research. I could not make a book without it. No matter what type of a book I am working on—fiction or nonfiction—it helps to do as much research as possible before sitting down to illustrate a story. Whether it’s the onesie pjs on my little character, a bustling beach town setting, or the childhood barn of a famous author, I try to collect as much information on the subject as I can. The time and energy spent on this stage of the bookmaking process helps me to build a personal connection with the text, and I am therefore better prepared for that long art-making road ahead. Research leads to inspiration, and inspiration leads to my best, most authentic illustration work.

I might collect photographs online, check out books from the library, take photo reference of my subject matter, conduct interviews and draw on location. . . all forms of research that I use to begin my art. For my newest book, Twenty Yawns, written by Jane Smiley, I took my research to the next level—I picked up and MOVED to the town where the story would take place. I relocated to Southern California for eight months.

In the past, I’ve traveled to cities to collect visual inspiration for books (ex: CITY CAT), but I never moved to a new location for the sake of a project. Reading the manuscript for Twenty Yawns, I immediately imagined a beach town on the west coast, and something told me I needed to spend time out there. It’s no secret that travel builds visual vocabulary, and whenever I go somewhere new it helps me grow as an artist. Immersing myself in the beach town community would help me to connect with the story better, and that would hopefully be reflected in my visual storytelling.

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I made all the illustrations for Twenty Yawns while living in a tiny beach house rental in North County San Diego. I sketched at the beach, in coffee shops, and on the floor of my little bungalow. Working in a foreign location was a challenge, but a great one, which helped me realize just how important it is to take risks and get outside of my creative comfort zone.

I now live back on the east coast, in Harrisburg PA (yes, a very different atmosphere than SoCal!), and am in the process of illustrating a picture book biography about the incredible and legendary author, E. B. White, written by Barbara Herkert.  I have been happily living in ‘E. B. White World’ for the past few months; reading everything he ever wrote, and everything written about him. I have researched his family, homes and workplaces, as well as the historical timeline and era in which he lived. My heart is so connected to this beautiful story, and I cannot wait to put pen and paint to paper.

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Research can be a tedious and stressful part of bookmaking, but it is also one of the most rewarding. I am grateful for all that I learn with each illustration and every book that I make.

LCASTILLO_headshotLauren Castillo studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has written & illustrated over 15 books for children, including the critically acclaimed Melvin and the Boy, The Reader by Amy Hest, Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts and What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins. One of her most recent books, Nana in the City, was awarded a 2015 Caldecott Honor. She currently draws and dreams in Harrisburg, PA.

Twitter: @studiocastillo 

Instagram: studiocastillo 

Website: http://www.laurencastillo.com/

Giveaway Information (from Stacey):

  • This giveaway is for five copies of Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo.  Many thanks to Two Lions for donating a copy for five different readers.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Twenty Yawns, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Two Lions will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – LAUREN CASTILLO. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. A special thank-you to Lauren for taking the time to respond to some of our readers’ comments!

I used a random number generator and the following people’s commenter numbers came up: Abigail, debkrygeris, Anne Lenox, mbhmaine, & Karen Sproul. Therefore, each of them will win a copy of Twenty Yawns.

69 thoughts on “Research is My Friend by Lauren Castillo Leave a comment

  1. Your description of drawing on the beach, in coffee shops and in your tiny bungalow made me feel feel like I was there- even though there wasn’t a ton of detail, I have schema for those locations, so it was easy for me to visualize!

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  2. Teaching research skills and then helping our students value that process is such an important aspect of becoming a good writer. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  3. Thanks for your wise words — I’ve that, although I love to let the words flow, so many times I must leave dashes for places I need to research: could be plants, behaviors, descriptions of places, history. But something is missing to make the story believable. I appreciate your sharing of your process.

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  4. I look forward to sharing this post with students next school year when we discuss research. I don’t think kids realize how much time authors & illustrators spend researching for a book. I think it’s an important component of teaching kids to love books and literature. Our district does a reading program with K-2 and at the end of the year students vote for their favorite book. I always give a speech how it might be a simple voting process for us, but to think about the amount of time went into the making of the books that were on the list.

    This post is very inspirational! Thank you for sharing!

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  5. I am smitten by your work, Lauren. It’s sort of hard to pick favorites, but some that come to mind right away are Yard Sale, Nana in the City, and City Cat. I think it’s amazing that you’ve collaborated with Jane Smiley and Eve Bunting. And I am over the moon thinking about all the work you are doing for another one of my favorite authors: E. B. White. I’ve seen a couple of sneak peeks you’ve posted on Facebook and Twitter, and I just think your art work complements a story like Charlotte’s Web so perfectly.
    I never realized how much research was necessary for illustrating books, so I enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at your process very much. Thank you for sharing it with us. Really looking forward to the E.B. White book.

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  6. Awesome post about research! We talked about this post at a team meeting today. It will be perfect to share with the students. Thanks!

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  7. So thrilled to know that my friend Barb’s book about the amazing EB White will be illustrated by the amazing Lauren Castillo — can’t wait to see this one come out!

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  8. I don’t think many people realize how much time and research go into the illustrations for a picture book. Accuracy in illustrations is just as important as the precision of the words.

    Thank you for sharing your research process with us, Lauren. I know this post will be valuable so as to help many teachers and kids understand the important work illustrators do!

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  9. I love this “insider view” of the behind the scenes work that goes into a book. It is so powerful for both teachers and students to see how essential it is to view your work from multiple perspectives and to take the time to research. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. ‘Visual storytelling’ – love this explanation of how you connect to the stories that you illustrate! Great information to share with students and with teachers!

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  11. Thank you for sharing your process of completing research in order to do your job. From reading your writing, I’m going to research your book Nana goes to the City. Congratulations on your award!

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  12. The phrase “travel builds visual vocabulary” really spoke to me. I’ve never really thought about it before, but of course it does. I’ve always thought about how a new experience, including travel, builds language, but it impacts all the senses. Thank you for making me think a little differently.

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  13. This is such a terrific post and window into your world as an illustrator. I’m fascinated to know about your research and how that translates to work that brings stories alive through images. Lucky you to be immersing yourself in the world of E.B. White right now.

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  14. Thanks for sharing how you make connections to the text to inspire your illustrations. I can’t wait to read Twenty Yawns and am excited for the Global Read Aloud in the Fall. So far I’ve read Nana in the City, The Troublemaker, Happy Like Soccer, and Buffalo Music. It’s impossible to pick a favorite!
    We live near the setting for Buffalo Music. I’d love to hear your research process for that book!

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your work! I think my fourth graders will like this article and the pieces of advice you include!

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  16. Thank you for sharing your journey of research to connect with the author’s words and work. Your words are encouraging to teachers and students alike. It is to see and hear what others do to help them in their work. We all learn differently and each time we read about another’s journey, we get inspired. In turn, I as a teacher can inspire my students. My students are only five and six years old, but I believe they can do amazing work. Thanks for your inspiration!

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  17. Love this! This line really stood out: “It’s no secret that travel builds visual vocabulary, and whenever I go somewhere new it helps me grow as an artist.”

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    • That is a great question. I think when my head is overflowing with visuals and I feel like I can’t wait any longer to dive in to the illustrations, it means I have done enough research. : )

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  18. As a person who can get so immersed in research that she wonders if she is avoiding the work, I love your description of the process and your total commitment to understanding your subject. I think this is important to share with my students who often think that all writing has to come from their head. Thank you for sharing your process. I am wondering, how do you know when it is time to stop researching?

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  19. How interesting to move to a place to get the authenticity in the illustrations! It would be interesting to take a picture book and discuss what research the illustrator did.

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  20. Thank you for sharing the behind the scenes of your process and your work. Not only do I love learning more about you, your process, and your work but, I love sharing this all with my students. Sharing in this manner really inspires kids (and teachers) to write. You open our minds to the possibility of real people being illustrators and writers.
    Your work matters!

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  21. I love the idea of meaningful, purposeful, self-driven research to write or create artwork. That’s so hard to replicate in the classroom; I’d love to see how others make that happen!

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  22. As a retired librarian always love to hear how authors and illustrators work. A retired librarian will remain a librarian until death do us part. Thanks for sharing.

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  23. Lauren’s description of her process for research prior to working on her illustrations for a book will surprise many of my students I’m sure. I’ll be sharing this post with them and I’m sure it will prompt lots of great discussion. Thanks!

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  24. Definitely want to share this post with my students. Lauren Castillo seems like such a fun person; wouldn’t it be awesome to accompany her on some of her research trips. Living in southern California for 8 months would be so cool. Thanks for sharing this post. And thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of Twenty Yawns. Would love to have a copy for my classroom library!

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  25. It’s so great to hear this straight from Lauren. I love . . . “Research leads to inspiration, and inspiration leads to my best, most authentic illustration work.” It gets at the heart of WHY research is important.

    LOVE this series!

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  26. How awesome to be able to move to a town and do research in order to create your illustrations! Students enjoy doing research as well! It’s such a crucial part of any type of writing!

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  27. I absolutely love reading the thoughts of authors/illustrators. Every time the words are shared with my students, inspiration happens. Thank you.

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  28. It was fascinating to read about this creative process. I hadn’t thought much about research for illustrations but now understand how important that is! The Troublemaker is one of my first grader’s favorite books — in large part due to the wonderful illustrations. Thanks for this peek into your world, Lauren!

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    • Is is wonderful to follow @studiocastillo and see where she is doing her research. She certainly captured the So. California coastal living with her beautiful beach bungalow!
      And her New York scenes remind me of my husband’s grandfather’s mid-century artwork for magazines like RedBook and BlueBook. My students did great pieces based on her work during our 3rd grade study of Urban, Suburban, and Rural areas.

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