The national shutdown has been a challenge for millions of Americans, and children’s authors and illustrators are no exception. We asked several of them to tell us their noteworthy quarantine stories, and we’re continuing a summer series with their responses. Here, Carson Ellis, author-illustrator of Home and Du Iz Tak?, shares her experience balancing work, family responsibilities, and personal time during the pandemic.
The state of Oregon instructed us to shelter in place in mid-March. For a month I didn’t even try to work. I felt too overwhelmed and constantly on the move. I was trying to create some semblance of structure to our days for the sake of my kids. I was trying to stay connected with people and check in. I was glued to my phone. Every day the battery would be dead by lunch. Those days felt very busy and very disorienting. I had—in the weeks before—begun working on the final illustrations for a picture book: What Is Love, by Mac Barnett. But I couldn’t muster the focus for it.
What I did instead that first month was design and post daily art assignments on Instagram. Some were elaborately conceived and included video tutorials and examples. Some were dashed off. I did what I felt like I had the time and energy for each day. It was good to feel connected to other people in the same boat, and good to have a creative place to focus so much nervous energy and dread. I really loved doing it.
But after a month I quit posting art assignments and got back to work on Mac’s book. I love making books for kids and I had a deadline. (June!) It was time. My husband Colin [Meloy] is a writer too—he’s finishing up a middle grade novel with a looming deadline. (May! He’s already missed it.) We have two kids—a seven-year-old and a teenager—and we experimented with various schedules. For a while we split the day down the middle: one of us worked in the morning and the other one did the homeschooling, then we all had lunch together and switched. But those three hours were never enough. I found it hard to just punch in and start working. I felt addled. I wanted time in my garden first. Time to answer my emails. Time to warm up with sketches and color studies. Time to stare into space. More often than not, at the end of those three hours, I hadn’t managed to do anything really. So after a couple of weeks I wrote my art director at Chronicle, Jennifer Tolo Pierce, and requested an extension, which I was kindly granted (September!) and things got a little easier. Colin and I adjusted our schedule so that every other day one of us gets to work for five straight hours, which is much better. I also stopped feeling so duty-bound to educate my kids. I still can’t get more than one spread done a week but I can work with that.