Airlie has been published as an author and illustrator by several notable houses such as Child's Play International, Little Brown & Co, Dover Publications, and Tiger Tales. She is the recipient of several book awards including the 2014 Gold Independent Publishers Book Award, the Best English Language Books for Children (Taiwan) as well as the 2008 Practical Preschool Award. Click here to see Airlie's books.
Airlie grew up in Carmel, California. The town's fairytale charm and origins as an artists' colony made a strong impression on her as a child. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration, and now lives near Princeton, New Jersey.
Here's a Q & A from a 2013 interview:
Q: Where do you work? Do you have a studio space?
A: I have a seasonal studio space. My husband and I live in an old farmhouse (it's on a historical registry) on a piece of former farmland just outside of Princeton. In a corner of our yard is a barn that I use as a studio. We think the insulation is quite old-school, probably made of horsehair or something. So in deepest darkest winter, I work in our cozy living room, in a nook filled with books. As soon as it's warm enough in the spring, I dash out to the barn with all my brushes and pencils and get to work. I heard that Roy Lichtenstein used to wake up in the early morning and run, not walk, from his house out to his studio. I love that!
Q: Have you always wanted to write and illustrate books?
A: For as long as I can remember, I've been practicing writing and drawing. I used to love to make my own illustrated story books when I was little, stapling the pages together. I had crayons in my hands most of the time, and my parents were kind enough to let me make big messes in the name of Art. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) We had tons of picture books at our house, and were frequent library-goers. I never really outgrew the picture book phase -- I've always thought of them as their own art form, and not exclusively for children. I've kept collecting them throughout my life. It's always been clear to me that I'm an illustrator, and that there are words connected to my pictures, or pictures connected to the words.
Q: What comes first, the words or the pictures?
A: In my mind, the words and pictures are always intertwined. When I try to separate them, they story tends to get dry and complicated. Even from the first little sketches, the words come with pictures.
Q: Do you keep a sketchbook / journal?
A: Always. My sketchbook is in my bag that I carry with me at all times. I have a little pen pouch that I got from a toy store with bears on it. I like to keep pencils and a variety of markers and ballpoints in there. I draw and write in it as much as possible, often just doodling. I feel that aimless scribbling is an essential part of the process.
Q: What media do you use to create your illustrations?
A: I start with pencil on printer paper to make the initial sketch. Once I'm happy with that, I transfer the image onto smooth Hot Press watercolor paper using a light box. Then I go to color, using washes of gouache, layering until opaque. I love Holbein Acryla Gouache because it's very forgiving -- you can layer and layer, and it never gets muddy.
Q: Did you go to art school?
A: Yes. I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in illustration in 2000. It was a marvelous experience, and I am one lucky duck to have been able to attend.
Q: Do you ever get writer's / artist's block? If so, how do you work through it?
A: I think all creatives go through slumps at one time or another, but it's important not to over-think those periods. I like to get out of the studio and into bookstores, the library, the movies. Taking my sketchbook to a coffee shop is a great cure-all for me. I get out and look at other people's work I admire, or get into a cozy corner, make a cup of tea, and read a book. Joss Whedon calls this absorption process "filling the tanks." I like thinking about it like that.
Q: What artists do you look to for inspiration?
A: One of my all-time favorites is Mary Blair, Disney concept artist of the 1950s. She was influencing me before I even knew who she was! Eyvind Earle had a similar job at Disney, and later a gallery of his jewel-toned paintings in my hometown. I would stare at his paintings through the glass. Painter-illustrators Yuko Shimizu and Tara McPherson are two of my contemporary role models, and in the literary world I'm inspired by Kevin Henkes, Jon Klassen, Oliver Jeffers, Sophie Blackall, Neil Gaiman…. I could go on! I just finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and it is one of my favorite books in the world.
Q: How did you get the idea for Momo and Snap Are Not Friends?
A: I knew I wanted to make a picture book about enemies who maybe want to like each other. I had been listening to the news which was full of stories of fighting and strife, so I wrote a long, drawn out and complicated plot involving a monkey and a crocodile. It was way too detailed, but I just had to get that first draft out. My amazing friends helped me edit the story into something much more simple and elegant. I really have them to thank for the story's success - Vicki and Amy, let's go to lunch! I owe you one!
Published by Child's Play International:
Momo and Snap Are Not Friends
Ten Little Ducks
Cows in the Kitchen
Published by Little, Brown & Co.:
Little Skills box set
Mini Manners box set
Published by Tiger Tales:
A Very Stripy Flap Book
A Very Spotty Flap Book
A Very Furry Flap Book
A Very Patchy Flap Book
Published by Froebel Books:
Ox and Frog
From by Dover Publications:
What to Doodle?
Published by Kumon:
Spanish Reading Workbook
From Compass Publishing:
Published by Element LLC:
Mike Helps Out
From Bookspan Publishing:
Animal Snaps: Crocodile
Animal Snaps: Flamingo
Published by Book Works:
Books for Baby box set