Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mr. Pig Visits . . . Jill McElmurry

Hello, my friends! It's been ages since I've taken a proper road trip. But today, I'm heading to Higglety Pigglety Farm (don't you just love the name?) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to visit the studio of Jill McElmurry! Squeeeeeaaaal!

Well, then. We're here! 

Welcome, Mr. Pig, so pleased to make your acquaintance. 

Likewise, Ms. McElmurry. I love Albuquerque! Although the air does dry out my skin, a little. I hear there are some lovely spas in New Mexico. Do you happen to have a mud bath I can dip into? 

Please... call me Jill. And I'm afraid there are no mud baths, here, but I have worked in many odd spots over the course of my life, including the bathroom of a magazine shop and an abandoned office above a sausage making factory in Hamburg, Germany. Now, as a (very grown up) grown-up, I have a nice studio to work in - two actually. As you can see, this one even says STUDIO next to the front door.

Nice touch. 

Thank you. That's my space, on the right, as you open the door. I share the studio building with my partner. He's very good about leaving me alone when I'm working. 

Ah, yes, knowing when to skedaddle is a quality I admire. Children's book folk are not very good at it if you ask me... they just want to gab, gab, gab all day. They prattle on and on and on endlessly...  anyway, what was I saying? Nevermind.

Yikes! This is what happens when I spend too much time working at my desk and not enough cleaning up. All those notebooks on the chair are filled with old photos and ephemera from my grandparents and parents. I have to organize, inventory, and send all that stuff to the LA history archive at USC. My family history mirrors some of the entertainment history of Los Angeles, CA from the early 1900s to the 1960s. 

Anyway...Bookshelves and drawing boards, very handy. You can see the Little Blue Truck puzzle package that HMH did with CostCo last year, and a painting I'm working on that I'm not very happy with, at this point. I may scrap it. I like to do landscape paintings on Masonite. All those yellow envelopes on the floor in the corner are filled with sketches and reference material from books I've illustrated. That framed piece on the wall is a painting from Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. 

My desk, where I spend a whole lot of time. We recently raised it so I can work standing up. I like it! After so many years of sitting on my butt, I needed to find a new way of working so my back doesn't hurt. I bought that desk for $100 from some funky store in Santa Rosa, CA about 22 years ago. It comes completely apart, which is convenient since Eric, my partner and I,  tend to move around a lot. 

A catch all table where layers and layers of sketches, reference material, and who knows what, build up. Yes, those are a roll of toilet paper and a roll of paper towel - two essential tools. I use wadded up paper to create texture on paintings, clean brushes, whatever. Environmentally unfriendly, maybe. At least they aren't plastic.

The wheely taboret - drawers stuffed with notebooks, tape, scrap paper. Right now, I'm doing some painting while I wait to hear back from an art director about sketches I sent in. I use a kitchen sponge to work on acrylic paintings, wipe paint away, create texture, etc. My mom was a fashion illustrator. She used that flowered can to hold her pencils.

This is my illustration set up - tubes of gouache, palettes, watercolor brushes in the tin vase. The brushes in the basket belonged to my grandfather. He worked for RKO pictures in the 20s and 30s as a matte painter (backgrounds and scenic painting). He and his brother were the Larrinaga Brothers. They worked on King Kong, Citizen Kane, and a bunch of other movies. That pottery donkey was given to us by Gisella Loeffler, a Taos artist. She was our neighbor for a while when we lived there in the 60s. The donkey is all black and gray because it survived my mom's house burning down in the 1977 Sycamore Canyon fire (Santa Barbara, CA).

More stuff! Pink Pearl erasers, a Little Blue Truck cookie and a blue letter opener that says "Thanks a Million!" (gifts from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). That lovely little scrap of landscape is a mural painted by the great illustrator Paul Davis. I've carried that thing around with me for years because I love it so much. The photo in the background is of my dad and his pals from 1925. 

I'm working on some paintings right now. 


Thanks, Mr. Pig. The flat files over here are stuffed with book illustrations and all kinds of things that desperately need straightening up. You don't need to see that mess. Thank you so much for paying me a visit, Mr. Pig! Next time, I promise I'll tidy up for you. I know you're a tidy pig. 

Well, that's the tour!

Thank you, Jill. You have one of the most beautiful studios I have ever seen!  Now, I'm off to find a mud bath.

Bye, Mr. Pig! And good luck with the mud!

Jill McElmurry was born in Los Angeles, CA into a family of artists and musicians and grew up in Taos, NM. She studied art at SUNY Purchase and School of Visual Arts in New York. Before fulfilling her lifelong dream of creating picture books, Jill illustrated magazines, book covers, posters and design projects in the United States and Germany. She's had several pieces shown at the NY Society of Illustrators. When she's not working on books, she'spainting the New Mexico landscape or enjoying herself with her partner and their dogs on Higglety Pigglety Farm in Albuquerque.

Visit her website at

Little Blue Truck Leads The Way
by Alice Schertle
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Chosen for the New York Society of Illustrators 2010 Original Art Show


"McElmurry's gouache scenes are spot-on. Simple compositions in calming indigo and cream in the country starkly contrast with the jam-packed city scenes where a crush of buildings barely shows the sky. The urbanites are a rich mix of ethnicity and purpose: coffee drinkers, construction workers, dog walkers, briefcase carriers, they all pound the pavement." — School Library Journal

"Big, swooshing street sweeper; the taxi with screeching brakes; the busy police car; the frowning bus. The angry traffic standoffs and the small truck's triumph will be welcome fuel for many preschoolers' imaginative play." —Booklist

"It's in the fusion of the old-fashioned with the modern-eclectic—one man in the crowd listens to an iPod—that the book's artistry shines." — Publisher's Weekly


  1. Mr. Pig, thank you for this. What a nice interview. Thanks for all of the great photos!

  2. Gorgeous - what a studio! An artist's playground for sure.

  3. I think your illustrations are gorgeous. It was so fun to get a tour of your lovely studio. Thank you!

  4. I wish I could have been a canary on Mr. Pig's shoulder for this one...