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Author-illustrator Denise Fleming gave the keynote at the NJ-SCBWI conference a few years ago and she said something that has stuck with me: “My internal age is five. So I make books for five-year-olds like me.”

I had an ah-ha moment, complete with a hovering lightbulb. I’m eight, I thought. No wonder I write what I do.

Denise’s newest book was recently released, and if you’re familiar with her work, it looks a little different. I learned that Denise has changed up her style. So, of course, I wanted to chat about it.

Denise, you are well known for your innovative illustrations created with paper pulp. THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT looks a little different—still gorgeous and unique—but I understand you decided to reinvent your style with this book. Why did you feel the need to change up your technique?

I have been illustrating my books with pulp painting for over 25 years. While I love paper making, I felt it was time for a change for several reasons. The small company where I bought my pulp had changed hands and the new pulp was causing me problems. The board I used for stencils was no longer available. I had tried substitutes but none worked as well for detail and some were difficult to cut. Then, there were the hours of standing bent over the paper vat which was affecting my health. These were all a part of my decision to experiment with new techniques.

Gelatin printing and foam printing along with collage were the techniques that really interested me. These provided more freedom and the ability to create more detail, which is difficult with paper making. I also felt I needed a bit of reinvention. I have been around for a long time, I wanted readers to take a second look at my art. I am fascinated with printmaking. Before I created books I studied printmaking, mostly etching, lithos and mono-prints. I am excited to try new styles and techniques in upcoming books.

How does this new style contribute to and enhance this story?

With the new style I am able to create more detail in the illustrations. Printing the background and collaging the foreground gives the feeling of more depth. I also am able to make papers with the textures of feathers and grasses which enhances the art and adds a feel of realism.


Has your new style given rise to ideas for books you would have never thought of before?

Actually, I will be experimenting with several new styles in upcoming books. And yes, these new styles will allow me to more ably illustrate several manuscripts I had put in the back of my file due to the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to illustrate them in my pulp painting technique. People are difficult to do in pulp painting. Up until this point I have illustrated people as large graphic shapes. Hands and fingers were stressful as the pulp would fill in spaces between figures. Ugh. So maybe more figures and details in upcoming books. And maybe even white space.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

As to future books, I have been on a sort of sabbatical. Working out how I want books to look. Manuscripts have not been submitted, so I would rather not reveal any of the books until they are under contract. But, I will let you know about them as soon as I send them out and am offered contracts. I agent myself, so I have to give myself a push. Unfortunately, I love experimenting, so I am slow to get back to the business of books.

If I were to edit your reply, I would delete “unfortunately”. Readers are lucky that you keep innovating and creating even more beautiful art!

THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT is available now from Beach Lane Books.

You can win a copy here by leaving a comment below. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

Denise Flemingby Denise Fleming

Everyday life is what inspires most of my work. The problem is choosing what interests me enough to spend 6 months to a year working it out. For every good idea there are 50 stinkers.

For that reason, I have boxes full of 4×6 index cards with ideas, phrases, titles, and character descriptions written on them along with scribbled sketches. I keep every idea, because some of the stinkers eventually redeem themselves or lead to a new idea. Every now and then I read through the cards to see if I can find a workable idea. My next book is from the stinker box, inspired by an idea that is at least ten years old.

Sometimes, an idea crawls under my porch. A stray cat gave birth to four kittens under our front porch. We adopted all of them. Three of the kittens did everything mama cat did, but that fourth kitten just napped. This became the basis of the book Mama Cat Has Three Kittens.

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens

In reality there were four kittens, but three kittens made for a better story. Be assured that the fourth kitten was not harmed in the making of the story. The kittens in the book look nothing like the real kittens and, except for the napping kitten, their personalities are different. But the book was inspired by a real situation.

At the time we adopted the kittens we had a dog, Warfy, who had grown up with older cats. Poor Warfy was terrified of the tiny kittens. She wanted nothing to do with them. Warfy morphed into Buster, an only dog who had a perfect life until a small kitten came to share his home. Buster is my canine version of Niles Crane from the TV show Frasier. I always had Niles in mind when writing and drawing Buster.


My sister, Rochelle, needed to find a kennel for her pup, Hershey. She and her husband doted on their dog and she searched high and low to find just the right place for her baby’s first time away from home. She chose a doggy camp which gave me the idea for Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp. Of course I enlarged upon what happened, changed things, added things, and exaggerated. You do not have to stick to the actual facts of the incident that inspires you.

Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp

The physical look of Buster was inspired by dogs in a sculptural paper piece I created, titled Green Dogs at Night. That paper piece also led me to to the idea for Pumpkin Eye, which went through a complete transformation before I arrived at the finished story. Ideas evolve—this becomes that, a dog becomes a cat.

When my daughter was very young we would take snacks and a blanket over to the field behind where we live. We would watch the creatures in the tall grasses go about their lives. In the Tall, Tall Grass was the outcome these outings.

In the Tall, Tall Grass

Along with the field was a creek and a wood. I spent many hours walking this land. Sadly the land was eventually bought and developed. Where Once There Was a Wood was the story of this loss of open space. I did not want readers to feel hopeless after reading the book so I added back matter that shares how to create habitats with the land you have.

Sometimes a phrase will float through my mind “Cows in the pasture, moo, moo, moo. Roosters in the barnyard, cock a doodle do” and on and on, and before I know it I have a book. Barnyard Banter, Beetle Bop, and underGround all started this way.


The most important thing is to stay open to ideas. Write ALL your ideas down. Review them now and again. You never know when a new idea may pop up that helps you reimagine an old idea.

Even the stinkers may surprise you.

Denise Fleming is the author/illustrator of 25 picture books. Her books are illustrated by pulp painting, a paper making technique. See more of her work at

PrizeDetails (2)

Denise is giving away one of her books.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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