Renée Schwarz - Author/Illustrator
Renée Schwarz has been making toys and other things for as long as she can remember. For the last ten years, she has written and illustrated children's craft books. Using different techniques and odds and ends to make her strange creations is what she most enjoys. Books are her way to share the different ways she knows about how to make things, but she likes it best when her designs evolve into other things.
After studying Fine Arts and Art Education at Concordia University in Montreal, she made toys to sell at craft fairs. Soon after, Renée started creating one-of-a-kind pieces for magazines and teaching adults and children how to make their own crafts. Writing and illustrating a series of craft books was just another step in sharing the fun of making things by hand.
After growing up in Montreal, she moved to the country a few years ago. Now she lives at the far end of a country road in the middle of the forest. Her world is populated with odd little creatures spying on visitors. She goes in to the big city every few months to look for inspiration and to pick up odd things to make into new creatures. If you see someone trying on empty boxes at the grocery store, it just might be her --- they make great masks! Renée loves making things and most of her crafts are functional but with a funky twist. In fact, she finds it really hard not to add eyes and noses to random things.
Perhaps it's because she's a tad nearsighted (but never really got used to wearing glasses) that she sees the world a little bit differently. Faces peek out here and there, door handles between metro trains suddenly look like Pinnochio: a long nose, screw eyes and a surprised O mouth!
Who is watching you now?
Where do you live now?
La Patrie, Quebec. In the far eastern townships, 9 km from a tiny village, at the dead end of a country road, just north of the New Hampshire border to the south and the Maine border to the east. My kids would say it's at the end of the world, but my husband and I simply adore it. The isolation and especially the quiet are just wonderful (the closest neighbor is more than a kilometer away).
When did you start writing?
I started writing professionally in my mid-twenties when a magazine editor asked me to design some toys and write up the instructions. Since then, I've designed a lot of toys and written tons of instructions and even some stories that went with the toys. I hadn't really thought much about writing before that, because at school I was a terrible speller and since spelling was a big part of English class, I really wasn't encouraged to write. Now with spell check and computers, life is easier.
Where do you get your ideas?
My ideas for crafts just happen. I'll be holding something and all of a sudden I'll imagine it as something else --- like a paper towel roll that becomes an alligator. I also get lots of ideas at night. Because I have trouble falling asleep, I'll start thinking about things and imagining different weird creatures. Then, of course, I have even more trouble falling asleep, but that's okay as long as I remember that great idea I had the night before.
Do you have any pets?
No pets in the house, but lots of wild animals outside: moose, deer, black bears, foxes, coyotes (they sing a lot), marmots (they chew up the garden a lot), martens, lynx and, of course, mice (in and out of the house). There are, naturally, plenty of birds, and we feed them all winter. This summer a couple of young foxes adopted us. They seem to be vixen. We named them Fearless and Fearful, and we see them around on a regular basis. They even come running when we take out the compost pail, and when we play ball they charge and pounce on it when it comes their way.
What is your favorite hobby?
What was your training or schooling?
I did a Fine Arts degree at Concordia University.
How did you get involved with children's books?
One happy day, one of the magazine editors I'd worked for told me that she'd heard Kids Can Press was looking for a writer who might be interested in designing children's crafts ... and she thought of me.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
Just do it! Think and dream, but mostly do, and fun things will happen.
What is your favorite animal?
Definitely a bird, but I couldn't say which type. Flying must be wonderful!
What is the thing you like the most about creating kids' books?
When I'm fiddling with stuff and coming up with ideas for crafts, I really like the idea that kids will make some of these things, and some things might be a lot like mine and most will be totally different because as you're working, things just transform themselves. The fun part is just making things and taking the time.
Where do you work?
I work at home, sometimes in my studio upstairs, sometimes in the basement, sometimes on the kitchen counter (where I'm obliged to clean up). On warm, sunny days, I sometimes even work outside, but then if I'm doing papier-mâché, the paper scraps flutter away and the bugs fly around and annoy me, so I usually end up either back inside or gardening.
You both write and illustrate your books. How does that work?
For craft books I think it makes it easier, since I know exactly what I need to illustrate, what angle to show and what to focus in on. It also makes the writing easier, since I know I'll be able to illustrate a certain step in a specific way.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I remember always wanting to draw and to make things, but I wasn't quite sure what. I thought the big Christmas craft fair in Montreal was wonderful. I finally decided to be a toymaker and that led to other things, like books, but I'll always be a toymaker.