Peggy Collins: Creating Through the Clamour

Feel like there’s not enough time in your busy day to be creative? You’re not alone. How do authors or illustrators continue to create while tackling everything else in their lives? About once a month as I’ll ask a writer or illustrator these types of questions. Cause I want to know (I need all the help I can get in this department).

The Creator
name: Peggy Collins
resides in: a crooked little house beside the Salmon River in Eastern Ontario
website/blog: www.peggysillustration.com
creates: picture books, stories and illustrations

The Creations
Tooter’s Stinky Wish (coming in 2011) Fitzhenry and Whiteside
Fatou Fetch the Water, Red Robin Books, 2010
In the Snow, Cider Mill Press/Applesauce Press, 2009
In the Garden, Cider Mill Press/Applesauce Press, 2009
Shaun the Shay Shark, Red Robin Books, 2009

The Clamour
work: Loyalist College, though right now I am on maternity leave. I work in the Marketing Department as well as teaching design and hopefully illustration.

family: I am a mom to 2 kids: a boy who is 5 and a baby girl who is 7 months. I am also a wife to a contractor so life is very busy.

volunteer work: I volunteer for the PBAA doing marketing (though this last little while I’ve been terrible), I also work for the Green Party, our local OEYC (early years centre) and when I can I volunteer at my son’s school (for book fairs and stuff).

house work: Sucks, I wish I had a live-in maid. I am not a housekeeper at all. I do my best, but when I have a deadline the house suffers. Cloth diapers = much more laundry.

the internet: Wasn’t really a problem until recently. I was on dial-up so that pretty much prevented me from doing anything fun at all. Blogging takes up time, as do Twitter and Facebook — and keeping the website up to date is tricky too… I need a few clones to do that stuff.

How did you get started illustrating?
Well, I’ve always wanted to do this, that has never changed. My family are all artists in one way or another, and my dad is a great storyteller. My mom used to make books for us (similar to the Alexander books by Judith V.) I went to Sheridan College for illustration. I was lucky and had a man walk into my office and notice a picture I had hanging up — from that I got an amazing illustration job and I have not looked back since.

What’s the hardest aspect for you in terms of being creative, finding the time, the space, the focus, or something else?

Time is the issue, as is space. We are 4 people living in a tiny house. My ‘studio’ is actually the corner of our living room. I am surrounded by toys and fishing tackle — lol. I use my kids’ train table to lay out my work. I won’t/can’t work (other than checking my email) while my kids are up. There isn’t enough time when they are little to enjoy everything and I am not going to waste it by being distracted all the time. SO my workday typically will start at 8pm and during nap time on school days.

Do any of the distractions end up feeding your creativity?
Hmm, right now I have the jumparoo set up beside my desk and my 7-month-old daughter is jumping furiously beside me — happily. She makes me laugh.

My kids are a major source of distraction, but one I definitely feed off of. The two books I have authored so far stem from this — adventures with my son. And the ones I am working on right now do as well — from direct conversations with Mo and his friends. I think there is inspiration everywhere especially when you have kids. They have ways of looking at things that are so refreshing and truthful. They are also amazing critics.

What are you working on these days?
Fleshing out a few of my own projects, and I will be doing a lovely book for Fitzhenry and Whiteside and a fun book about dinosaurs.

How do you minimize your distractions while you’re working?

I cannot minimize the distractions. I guess I am lucky in that I kind of need distractions in order to focus. I tried setting my studio up in a separate room, but I HATED it. Not only did I not get to see my husband, but it seems I need something to tune out to get anything done. I think it comes from growing up in a busy house, having lots of roommates in college and just a desire to be with other people. I tend to work at night, after the kids have gone to bed, or during nap time.

For me, ideas culminate long before I ever get them onto paper so by the time I write it down it is pretty realized… the dishes and household chores are not something I take pleasure in, but I get my kids to help and we really just do the bare minimum when I have a deadline. I save the deep cleaning for when I have some time.

Are there times when you just can’t focus on your writing/illustrating and if so how do you cope with them?
In the last few months of pregnancy, and the first few months after the birth of my 2nd. When my kids are sick, when my house is an over-the-top disaster or when I am marking assignments. I trudge through the stuff that needs to be done, knowing the other will always be there. You just do what you have to do. Sometimes I have a deadline and I just can’t get into it. That is when it seems like WORK and so I pick the easy stuff, and then the rest falls into place. Taking care of a baby leaves a lot of time for thinking as you are cuddling…

Any tips on working faster or more efficiently? 
My revelation came when a fellow illustrator mentioned printing out sketches directly on WC paper. That is a lifesaver and an ENORMOUS time saver. I also now only check my email 3 times a day, which ultimately saves me a tonne of time.

As a creative person, do you have any other outlets for your talents? 
I love to felt. Needle felting is soothing and good for the hands. I like to sew, too though right now it is far too arduous a process. Felting is quick and easy and I can put it down at any point without too much fuss.
Are there any other creative genres you look to for inspiration? 
Hmm, other books. I am an avid, avid reader. I love kids books. I find it interesting to see what my kids in particular gravitate towards. I also love looking online at the work other people are doing: the picture book artists association is a great outlet as is the SCBWI. I also love to attend conferences, and have missed the last few because of circumstance only. I always come away feeling refreshed and inspired – I miss that. Next year maybe I can leave for a day at least!

Why do you keep creating when it’s such a challenge?
Because I have to. I love it. It definitely is not for the money or the fame!

You said it! Thanks for taking the time to share, Peggy. Wishing you all the best in your current and future projects. Love that you work surrounded by toys and fishing tackle!

© Lizann Flatt, www.lizannflatt.com
No part of this blog may be used without written permission from the author.
By Lizann Flatt

Author of Flatt-out Fantastic Books for Kids

Comments (3)

  1. Dale November 3, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Excellent interview Lizanne! It is always inspiring to read about someone’s creative process.

  2. Ishta Mercurio November 5, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Great interview, ladies! Thanks for the insight – and for helping me remember that every one of us has to work through the distractions. Down with housework!

  3. Lizann Flatt November 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks Dale and Ishta. And with all that going on Peggy is a wonderful person too!

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