I first saw Lisa Nowlain’s comics featured on the ALSC Blog, and fell in love with her art about kid lit issues! I was so excited to ask her for an interview on the site, and today I’m thrilled to share her work with you! Take a look at her website, and read some more about the artist behind the comics! ~Holly

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LAIP: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. 

Lisa: I am a Children’s Librarian/the Harold W. McGraw, Jr Fellow (my term’s up in June! Apply!) at Darien Library, and got my MLIS from San Jose State. I am also an artist, and have done all kinds of different arts things out in the world. I got my BA in Studio Art from Scripps College, with some time spent at the Glasgow School of Art (love seeing them featured here!). I love participatory art projects such as murals, as well as the illustrator-y world of comics and picture books – which is a great Venn diagram of being a Children’s Librarian. My most glorious art moment so far was my time spent in Laos as a Fulbright scholar – I got to spend 9 months facilitating art and mural workshops, making brochures about meditation and the Mekong, and making zines about the Laos.butterflycollector-15-sm

Right now I’m doing lots of smaller sized paintings, using watercolors, colored pencils, ink, and watercolor pencils; I’m working on a children’s book called “Listen, Sister”. I blog for the Association of Library Services to Children, and create a comic for them every month about different library issues. At my library, I do lots of prettifying and content creating – comics about reading styles and awards, summer reading brochures, etc. ALA also hired me to do comics about Annual, which is fun. Look out for some ones with that Orlando orange on them soon!

LAIP: Tell us about a recent project- how it came together, what the process was like, etc.

Lisa: I’m always trying to moosh together the arts world and library world as best I can – and it’s very easy. One of my recent projects was a town alphabet, where I put out sheets with letters on them and asked kids to draw their favorite local things and places. Pretty basic idea, but I was trying to bring in content creation in the library (we’re printing a little photo book of it to add to the collection) and creating connections between people and ideas, with an early literacy twist! Some of the letters had to be nudged a little bit, and the Kids Advisory Board at our library had to help out (Z is for Zipcode! So brilliant!), but we got it done. I’m ordering up a photobook for our collection with the alphabet in it, as I’ve always wanted to see how to have the library’s visitors create books.L is for Library-sm

For my comics, they come up in different ways. The straight “commercial ones” – for ALA or School Library Journal – I’m making a product for them, so I send over some ideas, we go back and forth, etc. For the ones I get to just do from start to finish, I often begin with something that’s bothering or inspiring me – ie parents’ anxiety that graphic novels aren’t books, or bogus studies that get thrown around – and let that take me somewhere. A lot of times those comics just are done quickly: sketch it, draw it in pencil, trace it in pen, scan it in, and color digitally. The “slower” ones I like to do in watercolor.

LAIP: How have libraries informed your creative work?

I came back from Laos in 2011 a strange lull – I had just been given a grant to go make whatever art I wanted, and came back not sure how to make money off of those kinds of art works. I was also kind of ready to have a salary after years of patching together part time work. So, I tried to think of a job that I believed in, where I could be creative, where there were social justice connections, where I could support community building and information sharing.fisherman2

And somehow, being a children’s librarian floated to the top of that. I think my mom suggested it and reminded me of how much I always loved the library. I’ve always been a reader, and spent tons of time at the library as a kid, and love the idea of a public space and community center where information and community are celebrated. And, it’s the best to be able to have voluntary and informal art learning programs for kids at the library!  Informal learning + voluntary participation + community = open-ended art projects magic. I have found that making little blank books out of scratch paper and putting them out after storytime is always a hit and teaches hand-eye coordination and pre-writing skills just as well as coloring pages, and encourages creativity and agency too!

LAIP: As an artist, what would your ideal library be like?  What kinds of stuff would you be able to check out, and what could you do there?

Lisa: As a children’s librarian/artist, I am so excited about participatory, open-ended, creativity-inducing projects. I love hearing about ways that libraries are opening their doors to artists and community members to facilitate projects, including residencies, exhibitions, etc. I have seen the Boston Public Library’s residency for children/YA book authors, and I think these types of things would be an amazing thing to have set up around the country. Hosting someone who is writing/illustrating a children’s book who can then also do some arts programming makes a lot of sense. I think artists and libraries are looking for each others’ skills already and both need another push. I was reading about new ways of getting volunteers at your library, where instead of assigning them tasks you ask volunteers what they’re good at and want to teach. Makes so much sense!

Lisa Nowlain is a Californian Children’s Librarian and artist who currently is working at Darien Library in Connecticut. She loves her cat (cliche) and ultimate frisbee (less cliche?).
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