“Visual Inspiration”, or “My Life as a Potential Hoarder”

IMG_0311The first step when beginning a picture book project is to go shopping.


I have only recently acknowledged this because I seem to be amassing quite a collection of, “stuff”, all in the name of my “craft”. I don’t recall learning this step in art school, so I began paying attention, noticing, contemplating this mandatory stage and wondering if others felt this compulsion as well?




It usually happens very innocently… my Google image search for “children’s nightgowns 1880” leads me to a mesmerizing tintype, “1930’s cookbook fonts” to some super cool vintage menus, “turn of the century feather hats”, to a pink ostrich plume on etsy, and before I know it… I’m a hoarder.



I’m sure there are degrees of this? Of course research must be done. But it’s not a matter of fact checking or referencing. It’s the need to recreate that feeling from when there was no tv, cellphones, technologic distractions. Old… antique… vintage… to touch and smell that authentic age. Educate myself as I stumble through beautiful swirly borders and slicked back hair dos of strangers who have long since passed away. Perhaps it’s the lettering from old English enamelware, or the floppiness of a worn, stuffed animal? I set these things up around me like a shrine on my board and begin to sketch. Switching out a lacey hankie for a fortune cookie fortune for the next project.


I felt a slight sense of relief when I learned that my good friend and talented writer/illustrator Claudia McGehee does this too. She searched high and low to find a little steiff squirrel (squirrelie) who was mentioned in her beautiful picture book biography about Rockwell Kent (My Wilderness). Squirlie helped her at her board and went to multiple signings and events. She also recently posted a picture of a vintage matchbox cement mixer that she was using as inspiration for her next project. (Yay, maybe I’m not alone?)


Our own Picture Book Builder contributor, Eliza Wheeler posted the other week about studying Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations to draw color and composition inspiration. I remember reading an article about a doll that Eliza made for her Miss Maple character in her lovely book, “Miss Maple’s Seeds”.


I believe there are probably many similarities about how this process pertains to writing as well? Did wearing a certain hat help create a character’s voice? As an illustrator, I believe that creating a sense and a feeling about how the book will look requires finding both physical and visible inspiration to use as a muse.


We have access to instantaneous pictures, photos, information on the internet, and yet I seem to need to actually have a disintegrating piece of old paper next to me to really know what hues the years have brought to it.


Above is a picture of a corner of my drawing board when I was working on the upcoming picture book, THE INVENTOR’S SECRET, WHAT THOMAS EDISON TOLD HENRY FORD, by Suzanne Slade.


I’d love to hear your experiences with finding and needing this kind of inspiration, but even more importantly, any ideas for storage solutions?

Thanks so much!

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Jennifer is the illustrator and author of several acclaimed picture books. Most recently is Always by My Side, 'A Stuffie Story', which she wrote and illustrated. She also is both the author and illustrator of Playing Possum, and Blue Ethel. Jennifer illustrated Gondra’s Treasure, written by Newbery award winner Linda Sue Park. As well as, Sometimes You Fly, by Newbery medalist, Katherine Applegate. She illustrated Yaks Yak, Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, The Inventor's Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, Rabbi Benjamin's Buttons, by Alice B. McGinty, and The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz.


  1. Don’t fret! You are doing research, loving it, and living it. Remind family and friends that it’s like going back in time without a time machine. Think how much money people are willing to pay for travel in space. Time travel trips should certainly cost more if they were available. Thanks for sharing your beautiful world and space. Maybe you could place cork on one wall and pin the samples in plastic sleeves that you need for an inspiration. I have a bulletin board with some favorite things in an office space I share with my husband. I have to admit that I’m currently working elsewhere. He watches too many movies on his computer screen. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on my writing 😉

  2. I have really been struggling with this issue! For me, it’s not just research. Random items have so much character and possible stories that I can imagine being attached to them. Not to mention that I just simply love so many things! I love colors and textures! Everything is art to me!

  3. Thanks for the morning post on inspiration. I’m headed to the junk shop for some old photos!

  4. I LOVE this, Jennifer! There’s magic in all these things–they’re full of soul and inspiration. And this is going to be one amazing book–congrats to you and Suzanne!

  5. So happy to read your post! The pictures alone give buoyancy to my day. Let’s just agree that you are a great researcher!!!

  6. I struggle both with the getting of the stuff before and after a project. I completed a book on the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and now I scour second hand and antique shops for related trinkets. If this is a sickness, I’m glad to be afflicted.


  7. Wow, I love hearing what goes on inside your illustrator head, Jennifer, and I love the idea of surrounding yourself with bits of authentic period inspirations. These things are treasures! This also makes me really, really want to see the World that is your studio space.

  8. I feel the scraps,of paper, little gears, pictures, etc. are real treasures. It’s nice to be able to find the beauty and wonder in them. You’re not a hoarder, you’re a treasure hunter on the hunt for inspirational treasures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *