Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

Meet our 2019 SCBWI Europolitan Mentee Kirsten Carlson

Taking part in a mentor program is a wonderful opportunity to “up your game” by working intensively with a publishing professional. Today we’re going to introduce Kirsten Carlson, an author/illustrator from Germany and get to know a bit about her work and why she chose to apply for a mentorship with Pat Cummings.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you start taking your art seriously and thinking that you wanted to illustrate for children? Do you have a preferred theme or topic you love to illustrate?


When I was in college, about to graduate with a science degree, my best friend, who was pursuing an art degree, told me about this thing called children’s book illustration.


She took me into a bookstore in Westport, Missouri and I found The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg. It made me sit up and take notice of children’s books as an adult. I was floored by the humor, sophistication and cleverness of the story and ended up buying the book for my nephew, who is now 30 years old. I eventually got the book back from him.


I was officially bit by the children’s book bug in 1997, when I was very nearly selected to illustrate a board book called Pup’s Supper. Even though I didn’t get the project, I did discover SCBWI through that experience. I attended my first SCBWI conference in 2003, which led to my first picture book illustration project in 2005, The Giraffe Who Was Afraid of Heights(Sylvan Dell/Arbordale).


All my stories are focused on telling stories about animals with curiosity, imagination, adventure and the universal theme that we are all connected. My stories are definitely guided by my own inner child and I love writing and illustrating for kids because of that connection. The little kid in me lights up whenever I feel connected to the beauty and wonder of nature.


And it shows through your artwork! What is your preferred method of creating your illustrations? And how long does it take you to go from a first draft to a “finalized” piece?


I love pencil, watercolor and digital. With middle-grade projects I lean toward scratchboard. I don’t track my time in a very detailed manner but I can say there is no linear relationship between the amount of time and the steps it takes to complete an individual illustration, or a book project for that matter. Some art flows smoothly from brainstorm to final art in a matter of days or weeks, some take months to years to mature. One of the stories for this mentorship started as a page in my sketchbook in 2001.




You had to submit either portfolio pieces or up to two illustrated picture books for this mentorship program. How difficult was it for you to choose the pieces you ended up sending? What was it about them you felt gave you the best chance?

I have over a dozen stories in progress, but I chose these two stories because I’ve been working on the last 20% of each story for 90% of the time and I felt that a mentorship with Pat Cummings could catapult me over the finish line for both. I really had no idea if I had a chance at it, however, I knew 99% of the battle for me was submitting something.


How exciting to be almost finished with two projects already. What attracted you to try out for the mentorship program?


In the last six months my life was uprooted with a move back to Germany. I decided this mentorship would be an opportunity to get these two stories submitted to publishers. I’ve wanted the opportunity to work with Pat Cummings since I first met her at an SCBWI event in Paris back in 2010. I’m thrilled to be her mentee for the next six months!


And finally, what do you expect to achieve by the end of this mentorship? 


My goal during this mentorship is: submit these three stories to publishers—one about a not-so-sleepy seal, another about make-believe shark and a third about a diving adventure with giant sea creatures. My focus as a mentee is to ask for guidance from Pat as a sounding board and to steer clear of the perfection-procrastination trap. I’ve waffled on decisions for eons because I’ve been afraid of getting it wrong. This mentorship is about focusing my energy on what I can do to help strengthen the story until it lights my inner child up like a roman candle. Rejections will always be part of the submission process, all I need to do is focus my attention on getting the story submitted and persist until I find that yes.


Sounds like you have your work cut out for you for the next six months! Thank you for joining us, Kirsten! We wish you lots of luck on your new adventure and are looking forward to checking in with you next Spring.


Interviewed by Patti Buff 

A native Minnesotan, she moved to Germany in 2001 where she currently lives in disgustingly beautiful Bavaria with her husband and two teenagers.

Patti is a former Regional Advisor for SCBWI Germany & Austria and currently volunteers for SCBWI Europolitan as the Mentor Program Coordinator.

She is represented by Hannah Sheppard of DHH Literary and is currently writing an adult crime series.