We had the good fortune of connecting with Molly Ruttan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Molly, why did you pursue a creative career?
The idea of pursuing a creative career didn’t seem like a choice for me; the real choice was what kind of creative career to pursue! From the moment I could hold a crayon, my parents made sure that art supplies were always available, as well as art classes. But it was their attitude that having an artistic career was valid which influenced me the most. My dad had grown up watching his father make a living as an artist, and I grew up watching him do the same. It seemed like a given. I also had a partner in crime — I have an identical twin sister. We spent most of our childhood drawing, painting and creating all kinds of things like stuffed animals, props, board games and of course, lots of books, and this gave me a solid creative identity from the start. My sister and I wove our own world around ourselves — we even created our own words in a kind-of twin language — which was a wonderful experience, until we had to exist in the real one. Consequently, I was a desperately shy kid, and developmentally behind my peers in speaking skills. Children’s books and stories were my refuge — my anxiety would disappear as I allowed myself to become lost in the details of a book’s illustration, or in the words of a well-told story. The experience of navigating through those wondrous worlds helped me navigate my own, and as I got older and became aware of this, I realized it was something I wanted to give back. However, for a while I got busy doing a lot of other things, like going to art school, getting married and having a career as graphic designer, all while participating in many musical projects and raising three kids. Let me just say at this point, to any of you who worry about this — don’t ever think it’s too late to follow your dream!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I have two picture books out in the world, and I’m currently working on three more. My debut as an author/illustrator is “The Stray”, with Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Random House. My illustration debut is “I am a Thief” by Abigail Rayner, with NorthSouth Books. One of the many things I love about creating picture books is that they require a distillation and simplification of thought, emotion, image, and story (told in as few words as you can manage), and I absolutely love the challenge. As I mentioned earlier, I am also a musician, and when I’m starting a new picture book, I often become aware of its relationship to music. Both picture books and songs are meant to be read or listened to many times; they both have a voice, rhythm, crescendos and diminuendos. They can embody the entire range of emotions, and like many things, are the result of life experience and collaboration. I find this close connection inspiring and instructive. Also, kids are masters at reading pictures, and I keep this in mind as I create the art. I love creating a narrative in the pictures — an interaction, an expression, or a posture, (to name a few) — that adds to the story. I love figuring out parallel narratives that can be told in the pictures that aren’t being told in the text, and adding details into the art that I know kids will notice way before the adults do is also a lot of fun. Illustrating a picture book requires creating a lot of art, so to commit to a book is a decision to take a very deep dive into the world of that book. I love giving form and getting enveloped into that world, and whether I have written the words or not, I always fall in love with the characters, who become alive to me as I breathe energy into them. I feel like my career as an Author/Illustrator is an amazing integration of everything I have done in my life so far, and it continues onward! I look forward to a long career making picture books; as I go on I hope to include chapter books and other genres in my body of work as well. I feel truly grateful that I am doing what I love.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Due to the pandemic, there aren’t many — if any! places I would feel comfortable taking anyone to right now. But pre- pandemic — we would start with a walk around Echo Park Lake, (walking distance from where I live), stopping for a Swan boat ride and a bite to eat at The Beacon. Or take a hike in Griffith park, Elysian Park or along the LA River, (and maybe bring dog or two.) The Griffith Observatory is a fascinating place to visit – the view of Los Angeles is stunning. My other favorite place to bring people is to Olvera Street (El Pueblo Historical Monument) which is full of history and a great place to pick up fun souvenirs. For friends who don’t often get to have traditional Mexican food, we might also end up at El Compadre for dinner. El Compadre is located on Sunset Boulevard near Dodger Stadium, famous for its flaming margaritas, festive atmosphere and live mariachi music!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shoutout to Marla Frazee, for her mentorship and guidance; my critique group The Mulberries, for their continuing support; my agent Rachel Orr, for believing in me; my editors Nancy Paulsen at Nancy Paulsen/Penguin Random House and Beth Terrill at NorthSouth Books for their amazing expertise; and last but definitely not least my husband Gabe and my wonderful family, for supporting me through it all. And to everyone else—you know who you are! And one last shoutout goes to SCBWI, (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I would not be where I am in my career if it had not been for this organization. If you are interested in pursuing writing and/or illustrating for children, I highly recommend joining it.
Other: For information on where to buy my books, please go to https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/564175/the-stray-by-molly-ruttan/9780525514466 (The Stray)
https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/I-Am-a-Thief!/Abigail-Rayner/9780735842892 (I am a Thief)
Feature Photo by Linda Moldawsky