Play Time

I’m checking in from this dreamy place – Scotch Hill Farm in upstate New York. Last November, I had a magical email arrive in my inbox, informing me that I was receiving the Sendak Fellowship award, which meant a paid illustrator’s retreat for a month on Maurice Sendak’s former property. (!!!) My fellow Fellows are The Fan Brothers, and Rashin Kheiriyeh (check out their gorgeous books), and we each have our own house and studio space to work out of. So here I am, in the midst of it, pinching myself nearly every minute of each day.

We’re surrounded by all things Maurice Sendak – his books, artwork, friends, colleagues, and memories. I’m even working at the desk on which he created WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (!!!!!!!!!!!!!), and have been so inspired by the playful work of this pure and masterful picture book artist.

I’m taking advantage of a month’s break from book schedules and focusing on exploring new techniques, story ideas, and inspirations. Admittedly, after 4 years on pressing deadlines, it’s taking a lot of focus to ignore the little voice constantly asking what I’m doing and analyzing productivity. My only intention is to enhance my enjoyment of the process, and set aside the results for a little while. In short, it’s play time.

The house, and studio space (Maurice’s desk on far right)

This seems to be something we all want to do for ourselves, but rarely make time for. We have important business, we think, but in the words of Granny Wendy in the film Hook, “What’s so important about this terribly important business?” What could be more important to picture book makers than tapping into the perpetual mode and mindset of the children we make books for? And while it’s awfully nice, it doesn’t take a month-long retreat to do so. How about taking 15 minutes a day for creative play? Or 1 day a month?
I hope to make it a regular habit, too.

Rashin Kheiriyeh, Eric Fan, Terry Fan, Eliza Wheeler (me!), Lynn Caponera

This trip is kicking off a summer of exciting new changes and directions—creatively and personally—as my husband and I will be moving to Minnesota from Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family there, and hope to also find a new kidlit community, too! I’ll also be speaking at the Wisconsin SCBWI Fall 2017 Conference (with the appropriate theme ‘Experiment and Play’), so if you happen to be there, please say hello.

This is my last post on the Picture Book Builders Blog’s regular schedule, but I will be popping in to say hello from time to time as a sub when needed. In the meantime, you can keep up with me at, at WheelerStudio on Instagram and Twitter,  and my Facebook artist page.

A gazillion thanks to the PictureBook Builders and readers for having me as a part of this lovely community of book lovers, and for sharing what you do.

Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at


  1. Eliza! You’re so awesome. Congratulations on the fellowship. I’m in awe. Good luck with your Minnesota move, and I’ll see you in Wisconsin.

  2. Oh, WOW, Eliza! I can see why this is such a big deal! Sad you’re leaving PBB, at least on a regular basis, but thrilled you’re moving to the midwest. 🙂 Thanks so much for hanging out with us for three and half years!! Hugs.

  3. How wonderful and amazing! Soak it all in and savor. I have enjoyed all your PBB posts and look forward to your future guest posts.

  4. This is an incredible – and gorgeous – opportunity, Eliza! You are clearly making the most of it.

  5. What a beautiful setting for imagining. Congratulations on the fellowship. BTW, my heart was warmed by Miss Maple’s Seeds. Thank you for the gift of this story!!

  6. How neat! I never knew this existed for writers/illustrators!

  7. What a gorgeous place to recharge and play! And lots of excitement ahead, with a new home and a (very!) different setting. It’s been wonderful getting to know you a bit here, and I look forward to more of your beautiful books. Hope our paths cross in person at some point!

  8. What a wonderful experience for you! Thanks for sharing your experience and your inspiration!

  9. A perfect opportunity for you on so many fronts. I recently moved from St. Paul and can assure you that an exciting kidlit community awaits you in MN.

  10. Happy trails, Eliza. You will be MISSED.

    Thank you for sharing a glimpse of this wonderful experience and for giving us the reminder to play.

  11. Cindy Schumerth

    What a wonderful place to refortify the imagination and relax a bit too!
    Thank you for all the inspiring posts you’ve shared with us. But glad your
    head to the Midwest! I’ll see you in WI.

  12. Congrats Eliza! So happy for you and your experience sounds incredibly wonderful!

  13. LeeAnn Rizzuti

    What a wonderful opportunity, Eliza. Relax, refresh, and have a blast playing. We (both writers and Illustrators) DO need to give ourselves permission to feed our playfulness.

  14. Congratulations on receiving the Sendak Fellowship Award!! I love your pb art! I am part of the MN kid lit community – living in Minneapolis. So, feel free to contact me if you need to find doctors, dentists, or good restaurants! Also, we are home to the wonderful Loft Literary Center and have a monthly children’s pb salon at the Open Bookstore.

  15. I’m glad you’ll still pop in once in awhile to say “hello.” Have fun on your new adventures!

  16. What a wonderful opportunity! And I love that you challenged us to take time to be creative. It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness and lose sight of how important it is that we take time for exploration.

  17. Congrat’s on winning/earning the time off. I will miss your posts. You are my favorite artist. Anything you create, I know I will love it.

  18. Cassie Bentley

    Congratulations! What a great opportunity for fun. I agree about that little voice that says that you have to be productive. This place looks magical, enjoy.

  19. Thanks so much for your posts to date, Eliza. Congratulations on your wonderful new opportunity. Make the most of it and above all HAVE FUN! : )

  20. Wow! Amazing opportunity! And I love the idea of taking time to play. It’s SO important to keep the joy in your work in this field (and as a life pursuit).

  21. A gazillion thanks to everyone for these sweet comments and well-wishes!

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