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Andy J Pizza Sophie Miller
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In The Studio With Andy J. Pizza and Sophie Miller

Andy J Pizza Sophie Miller

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Lily Glass

The husband-and-wife team behind the brilliant, brand-new book Invisible Things invites us into their vibrant Ohio studio.

Tell us about Invisible Things! How long has this concept been brewing, and when did you know it would eventually become a book?

ANDY: "A long time! The first Invisible Thing I ever came up with was the Whisper back in 2012. I wrote a poem about it called 'What the Whisper Was' and thought it would possibly work as a picture book. I instantly thought, 'Ooh it would be good to have a world of characters personifying even more abstract things!' and when I shared the poem with Sophie, she instantly thought the exact same thing and immediately came up with the second character, Echo."

"Many of the character designs, however, date back further than this. Many come from a daily character drawing project I did in 2011 called 'NOD' and some even earlier. In 2014, I released a dream journal with Chronicle Books called Strange Dreams and the Dream character was featured throughout."

"I pitched picture book ideas featuring the Whisper and then versions of a story focusing on the Dream character with no real luck, and by 2018 I was feeling frustrated. I was sitting on an idea I loved so much! I decided to publish the idea online with a single post on Twitter and Instagram. I was thinking maybe this would get it out of my system and then I could move on, but the post was very well received and finally created some real opportunities to bring it into the real world!"

"I had forgotten about this, but a friend pointed out that in the comment thread of that original tweet, I had mentioned that it was a dream of mine to make Invisible Things into a picture book! And 5 years later here we are!"

What excites you about getting this book out in the world?

ANDY: "What’s most exciting is that this book feels like getting the right start on a new journey. It was a challenge to do a book introducing readers to a whole world they have never heard of, while also making it feel like a satisfying narrative arc in its own right. Sophie and I took this challenge really, really seriously and it took us years to figure out how to approach it."

"I think what’s more satisfying and exciting is that this book holds to our emotional vision for this world, without any compromise. For example, when I first started doodling these characters, one of the most important aspects from the start was to try to cultivate moments of sadness, melancholy, and reflection within kid’s media. My absolute favorite and most meaningful story experiences did this in a way I don’t see much in kid’s media these days. Charlie Brown had space for depression. Fraggle Rock made space for death and longing. The Little Prince spoke to these things, nonsense, and poetry, and so much more."

"We have aspirations to do much more to address these difficult feelings and complex topics with future stories using Invisible Things. This book feels like it really sets the stage for a deeper dive into individual ideas while still introducing these concepts."

“I wanted to create a space that had the feel of a boutique art/design bookshop—a place that instantly floods me with inspiration.”

How would you describe the collaborative process between the two of you?

SOPHIE: "For this book we chatted through many ideas and approaches. We then took away individual sections or pages and worked independently before passing sketches and written drafts back and forth. We edited each other’s ideas and moved things around until the book led you naturally and mindfully through all the Invisible Things. After many edits and tweaks, in the finished book there are very few elements that we haven’t both contributed to."

Andy, tell us about your workspace and the vibe you're going for.

ANDY: "My studio space is shared with my agent Ryan Appleton of Co-Loop, and it’s just a few miles from my house, in a home that’s been renovated into office space. Originally back in 2018, we were downstairs in a room that was a little more basic, but since the end of 2019 we’ve had the entire upstairs, with higher ceilings and pretty good light!"

"I aimed for a studio space that felt both inspiring and versatile. I’ve always wanted to create a space that had the feel of a boutique art / design bookshop (a place that instantly floods me with inspiration). Most of my work is in print, and since my college days in the U.K., I have refueled myself by visiting shops like these. I remember taking a train to Manchester and visiting the shop Magma in the Northern Quarter and going home so creatively high that I felt like I was floating. I always longed to recreate that feeling in my everyday workspace and this studio feels like it gives me a piece of that every time I walk in."

"On the other hand, versatility is a major requirement for me. My creative practice has a lot of different working parts. Illustration, painting, products, video content, and podcast recording. The entire space is intended to be flexible. Our podcast recording setup is on a workbench with wheels. I designed a mural wall to act as a backdrop for videos such as my Skillshare classes and YouTube series."

What are some of your favorite aspects of the space?

ANDY: "I have a big mobile-style ‘Astro Light’ hanging in the center of the space from my friend Andrew Neyer’s product design practice, Stuff. I always loved this lighting but never thought I would have a space to actually own one. So that’s a dream come true."

"And probably nothing makes me happier than having tons of books in the space that just make me feel inspired to be surrounded by. I think a lot of creators feel conflicted about whether or not to make their studio decor mostly their own work or work from others that inspire them. I think this space has a good mix and it feels like stepping into a unique inspiring universe that’s both my creation and my happy place."

Do you both have regular hours that you work?

SOPHIE: "I am in a season of mostly working from home. I will catch up around the house, get the kids to school, and find some quiet time to stitch. Sometimes I will go create for a few hours with friends—it’s always great to get comments and feedback in real life! Other days I’ll go to Andy’s studio to help with book edits, shipping prints and posters, etc. Once school is out for the day, I'm busy juggling the house, kids, and dogs again."

ANDY: "When the kids are in school, I typically work pretty regular hours. My workday actually starts in a kind of bizarre way. From about 5:30 to 7:30 a.m., I’m working / writing / idea'ing from the bathtub. That’s where I write almost all my material for books and podcasts. I don’t know why, but I have a very hard time writing anywhere else. I blame my ADHD and have to imagine the dopamine from the hot water and the sensory deprivation help me stay on track and think straight."

"Then I take my oldest to school and go to the studio. I prefer to wrap up around 3 p.m. and go for a run. I am a lot more regulated when I can do that, but sometimes in busy seasons I have to stay in the studio a bit later than I’d like."

"What I do at the studio is always different. Some days are podcast days. Sometimes when I’m working on picture book art, I’m hammering away day after day on that. Sometimes we are recording little video pieces for clients or I’m working on a client illustration. It may sound like fun, and I think my ADHD brain requires this kind of novel juggling of lots of different things, but it’s also really difficult for me to constantly manage and make so many quick transitions. I haven’t figured it out yet, but I am grateful for it all none the less!"

What are your favorite "tools of the trade" and where do you shop for your art supplies?

ANDY: "I typically get my art supplies from Blick. I’m in heaven going there, which is funny because for the longest time, I never saw myself as the kind of artist who gets excited about materials. But over time, the book artwork has increasingly been created using traditional materials. This is a product of two things: One, I just want to spend less time in front of a computer because it doesn’t make me feel very good. Two, most of the print art I love is created with traditional mediums. When I illustrated A Pizza with Everything On It, I’d say it was about 50% traditional and 50% digital. Invisible Things was probably 75% to 85% traditional, and the next picture book I am wrapping up now is about 90% t0 95% traditional. All my traditional style artwork is mixed media. Holbein Gouache paint with a little bit of Posca paint marker. I have recently become OBSESSED with mixing in the Luminance range of Caran D’Ache colored pencils. They are highly saturated and creamy buttery goodness."

SOPHIE: "For my fiber artwork, I love to thrift for old clothing/table linens, old buttons, trim, etc. I like to mostly work by hand with embroidery or machine threads and I love the Jacquard range of textile paints and dyes. If I do want to do some machine stitching, I still love to use my trusty Bernina sewing machine from my college days. Dharma Trading is another excellent online store for fiber art supplies."

Do you have a routine to get yourself into a creative frame of mind?

SOPHIE: "I love to make a big flask of Earl Gray tea, look through my old sketchbooks for inspiration, put on some vibe'y music or an old favorite movie. (Sometimes I will binge watch reality TV while sewing too. Haha!) Walking or running also seem to switch my creative brain on and get the ideas flowing!"

ANDY: "In my bath routine, before I write anything, I always start with reading a bit. I’m kind of a slow reader, but this routine helps me get through 5 to 10 books a year and they ground and guide my practice. Because I don’t get through many books and because they are so vital to my inspiration, I am super picky and really intentional about choosing the next book I read."

“My workday actually starts in a kind of bizarre way. From about 5:30 to 7:30 a.m., I’m working / writing / idea’ing from the bathtub. That’s where I write almost all my material for books and podcasts.”

Andy, did you always know you wanted to be a dad?

ANDY: "Yeah! I never considered not having kids, I think I just always knew it was what I wanted. But looking back, I can see that I was also always extremely frightened of the weight of it. I think it’s good that we started having kids when we were young because once you’ve been around on this planet awhile it can start to seem more and more daunting to say yes to a responsibility like that. There are pros and cons, but I think for me it worked out the way it needed to happen because there’s nothing in my life more important and meaningful than my kids. I’m just absolutely crazy about them. I’d like to note here that that doesn’t mean I’m a perfect dad or that I know how to consistently be present or anything. But I try to make it a regular practice to remember that there’s nothing that matters more to me than my family, Sophie included."

Sophie, what about you—did you always know you wanted to be a mother?

SOPHIE: "Yes, always. I knew I wanted a family before I knew much else about myself. Being their mother gives me purpose and joy every day, even when it's difficult."

How has it been balancing a creative life and parenthood?

ANDY: "I think a lot about this, and obviously it’s a lot. But when the kids are off school I realize that taking care of them really motivates me and keeps me on track. Sure, if we didn’t have kids we would theoretically have more time to create, but I think the fire to create has always been fueled by feeling the responsibility to make my way in life so that I can take care of my kids. In a weird way, I think being a parent has been the ultimate fuel to be productive for me."

Do you have a philosophy or way of parenting that fosters creativity?

SOPHIE: "We are just always creating things. We try to embrace and support what our kids are into. From LEGO builds to jewelry making to journaling, we go all-in on what currently inspires them to create. We spend a lot of time on creative projects for school, holidays, and gifts. We also have no-screen days and limitless library visits and I love to see them excited and inspired."

ANDY: "I think the only parenting tip I can really share is that I am a big believer in the idea that the only way your kids are going to take any cues from you is if you have the kind of life that looks attractive to them. So I try to take my own creative / mental health / spiritual journey really seriously, knowing that if I’m living a full and satisfying life, my kids are likely to model some of their own choices after the best of that."

What are your kids currently into?

SOPHIE: "Our teenage daughter loves YA novels, journaling, music, TV, and musicals. Our son loves video games, fantasy novels, and Pokémon. Our youngest loves dolls, graphic novels, fashion, comedy, and drama."

When you were kids, were you both “artists” early on?

SOPHIE: "I used to write my own books and make my own magazines. I also loved cross stitch kits and doing paint by numbers. I began finding some identity and self expression in high school Art Textiles and developed a love of the process."

ANDY: "Yeah! I grew up drawing from a young age. I also made tons of silly videos with my friends and radio shows on my Talkboy. I’ve just always been making stuff. If I wasn’t making stuff, I was still improv'ing—either pretending to be superheroes with sticks as swords in the woods or even just in character as goofy personas I fall into in my everyday life."

What children’s books did you love as children yourselves?

SOPHIE: "I loved Tintin comic books, Nancy Drew mysteries, Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, and Jacqueline Wilson."

ANDY: "Dr. Seuss Wocket in my Pocket. Shel Silverstein books. When I was in high school, I read The Little Prince and I remember feeling like my whole world had changed. Still probably my favorite book."

What about children’s books you have enjoyed with your own children?

SOPHIE: "We read the illustrated Harry Potter together. Our youngest just read and loved Matilda by Roald Dahl and the Cucumber Quest graphic novels. Our son is currently reading Wings of Fire and Keeper of the Lost Cities. Our teenage daughter is reading the Heartstopper series and the Throne of Glass series."

ANDY: "My son and I both read Thisby Thestoop by Zac Gorman and really loved it. When they were a bit younger we used to love pouring over Mouk by Marc Boutavant and its endless characters and sea of magical moments and jokes."

What’s exciting you most lately—in both work and parenthood?

SOPHIE: "I am currently inspired by themes of ‘home’ as we try to settle after moving house. I have grieved all the work put into our old house and garden, but also embraced all the joy and hope in a new ‘blank canvas.' I am currently recording a year of putting down roots, stitching on one big piece of fabric, everything from the house itself to the ducks that visited us one day, the hummingbird, the rainstorm, the new vegetable garden I planted, etc."

ANDY: "In parenthood: playing video games with my son and our new house. We have a lot of styling to do and room for creating a home we love. In work: My interest and obsession with dreams has recently been reinvigorated by falling into the world of Jungian psychology and the psychoanalytic reading and interpretation of story and myth. The throughline of image as symbol has brought new passion for my illustration practice and brought new understanding to the work, as writing with pictures and the power images hold as analogies and metaphors."

What advice would you give to an aspiring kids' book author or illustrator?

ANDY: "Don’t start the traditional route. There’s such a weird mind game of pitching yourself and your stories to agents and editors. It’s this type of power you’re giving to them when you are essentially asking for permission to make stuff. I got caught in this trap for years and years and the thing that always helped me was a determination to create stories I was so passionate about that I was willing to bring them to life without anyone else’s permission via zines, self-published booklets, and online comics. If you keep on creating stories, you’ll continue to get better and better and eventually you may get someone’s attention in the publishing world."

You can purchase Andy and Sophie's latest collaboration, Invisible Things, everywhere books are sold!

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