Monday, March 4, 2013

In Conversation with Robin P. Glasser

Robin P. Glasser

by Catherine Lee

From one exquisite life as a professional ballet dancer, Robin turns the page in her career to become an illustrious illustrator. She is best known for illustrating the Fancy Nancy series of children's books. I hope you enjoy our conversation together!
1. How long did it take for you to decide to dive into illustrating for children's books?
I had a whole other career in the arts before I went back to school to study to become a children's book illustrator.  I was a professional ballet dancer until I hurt my back just before turning 30; I had to find another direction for my life.  I'd always loved to draw, and I was always drawn to children's books, so when I applied to Parsons The New School for Design as a (very old) first-time college student, it was with a very specific course of study in mind.  That, then, was the decision to dive into illustrating for children's books.  Actually being hired to draw my first children's book (Judith Viorst's Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move) took another five years from when I graduated.  Five years and two babies.

2. It seems like you're doing some wonderful amazing things. Was it fun to do Sarah Ferguson book?
So much fun!  She's got a wonderful sense of humor and we've kept in touch over the years.  I've been very lucky to work with many amazing authors, from children's book icon Judith Viorst, to radio host and consummate story-teller Garrison Keillor, to the penetratingly sharp Lynne Cheney...and my wonderful and very clever baby sister Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman.

3. Fancy Nancy is such an adorable series, and will the series be an endless call? Can you give us a hint on the theme of the next one coming out?
We plan way ahead, so the cover of the next big illustrated book, Fancy Nancy and the Fanciest Doll in the Universe (which is coming out April 23rd), has been featured on websites for many months already, but I literally just finished the illustrations two weeks ago!  Now I am working on the cover of the third chapter book, Nancy Clancy Sees the Future...but Jane (O'Connor) hasn't even written the story yet.  Jane is amazing -- I'll keep illustrating Fancy Nancy stories as long as she keeps coming up with good ideas, and believe me, I don't think she will ever run dry.

4. How long does it take for you to do a complete book? And do you see the copy before print to make sure everything is good? But I bet the printed finished product is best!
Jane and I have a brilliant editor -- Margaret Anastas -- and a hugely talented art director, Jeanne Hogle.  We all work together, along with dozens of creative people at HarperCollins, to make each book as good as we can.  I recently had some health problems, so the Fanciest Doll had to wait for me to get better, and thus I completed it in four months, from start to finish.  That's crazy fast, but the circumstances were unusual and I had a deadline to meet.  The illustrations for A is for Abigail, by Lynne Cheney, took me two years to complete.  And with all the history I learned while drawing that book, I felt like I had completed a master's degree in American history!  The first time the book is in my hands is magical -- and it's even more fun to see it featured on a shelf in a book store!

5. Must be nice to do this while having a family too! How do you like that?
I work odd hours of the day or night, depending on my deadlines and who is actually at home (my children are now ages 21 and 18).  But I worked throughout my children's lives -- in fact, I was offered an audition for that first Judith Viorst book while I was literally in labor with my son Ben -- so I can't imagine my career any other way. I'm so lucky to have awesome kids, a sensational partner in my husband, and a career doing something I really love.  Sure it's all a balancing act, but isn't everyone's life?

6. It's been a over a decade of doing illustrations. Is there any other areas that you would like to branch out into?
While I was waiting to land my first book -- a very long five years -- I did other things in illustration, like greeting cards and theater programs and posters.  But I love to tell stories, and children's book illustration offers that opportunity.  I'm pretty happy in the niche I have found.

7. What would you tell someone that aspires to be a children's illustrator?
Know what's out there -- browse the shelves at books stores and libraries and figure out the trends.  Objectively compare your work to what you are seeing.  Try to attend panel discussions at book festivals or professional organizations to learn from other illustrators. Look into joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to garner ideas about the field from editors, agents, and published illustrators and authors. Take classes and keep honing your craft. And keep positive and keep going -- it takes a long time to become an "overnight" success!

8. What was your best time, the beginning, middle or where you are now?
Oh, definitely where I am now.  My children are in very good places, and they have grown up understanding that finding one's passion is a big key to happiness.  I have a great life partner in my husband Bob, who lets me do my own thing at all the crazy hours I choose to do it.  It wasn't always like this -- for a long time I was a single mom always strapped for time and cash, and I am very proud that my illustration work has brought security and comfort to us all.

9. What do you enjoy your life the most about being an illustrator?
The projects I work on tend to be humorous; I crack myself up all the time as I sit at my drafting table.  It is very happy work.  I also love that HarperCollins has given me the opportunity to continue to "perform" -- a joy I have had since I was a young ballet dancer.  When I go out on book tours, I love to meet my Fancy Nancy fans who are, more often than not, dressed to the nines and totally adorable.  I get to share my love of books with them.

10. Must have been exciting being a professional ballerina. Could you tell us what that was like?
I was fortunate to be in a dance company -- Pennsylvania Ballet -- that had a tremendous touring schedule, so we did a lot of performing all over the country.  Ballet is hard work, often painful, with the drudgery of daily classes, sewing ballet shoes, and lots of laundry.  But you get out onto that stage, under the lights, with an audience before you, and you become truly alive.  Your body moves, the music moves you, and the experience is exhilarating. I was also fortunate to be in a company of people who were remarkable and fun as well as being talented dancers, so I was lucky in my friendships as well.  And, by the way, I was never a "ballerina" -- like a general in the army, the title "ballerina" is reserved for a specific level of attainment.  I was a "soloist"...and, as you might imagine, given my second career as Fancy Nancy's illustrator, I specialized in dramatic or humorous roles.

11. This is a silly question, but I like to always ask one. What is your favorite color? And what is your favorite time of hour and why?
My favorite color used to be blue, but Fancy Nancy has been good to me, so perhaps my new favorite color, like hers, is Fuchsia! My favorite hour of the day is when my husband brings me my coffee in the morning and we chat for a few minutes before starting our days.

We thank Robin P. Glasser for this lovely interview.  May her artistic success continue. For more about Robin Glasser, visit her website.

Catherine Lee is a contributing editor at Pen & Ink Blogspot.


  1. What a lovely interview, Robin, and Catherine.
    You changed the devastation of losing a career you loved into a triumph. Your illustrations crack me up to. I love your work!

  2. Great interview, Robin and Catherine. That's so awesome that Robin was able to find another creative career when she couldn't do ballet anymore.

  3. Wonderful interview! It is great to read of a second career in the arts for such a talented person. An amazing story. Happy illustrating. You've made so many kids happy!

  4. I am INSPIRED--what a lovely woman and interview. I love how she didn't let a back injury or motherhood STOP her from pursuing her goal and how her children learned about passion from her. I can only hope the same for my children as I type between coloring and building castles. :) The old-balancing act and weird hours--I know it well. For a while I was going to bed when my daughter did (she's 2) because I was so exhausted and then getting up at 2:00 am to finish a deadline because I had a few hours of sleep then. :) Thanks for this. I plan to share! (PS: LOVE FANCY NANCY! Can't wait until my daughter loves her, too--she's still into choo-choos and Dora right now. ;)

  5. I LOVE it that you crack yourself up. The joy you find comes through in every illustration.

  6. Lovely interview - I adore your illustrations, Robin!

  7. What an interesting interview Catherine & Robin. You both have envious jobs I think. I loved reading this, almost as much as a Fancy Nancy story. Thanks a bunch!

  8. Beautiful illustrations. Thanks for sharing a wonderful inspirational story. It sounds like Robin has found her niche in the artistic world after all.


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