Photography by Slate Fall Press
When our team was brainstorming ideas for upcoming issues of Make & Hue, the theme of Collaboration was one that resonated with me deeply. Our whole making-community is built around collaboration: we work together sharing our knowledge and skills, favourite materials, patterns, techniques, and a love of the craft. Behind the scenes, collaboration abounds, too, between yarn producers and designers, other makers, podcasters and bloggers, just to name a few.
As solitary as we can sometimes be with our creativity, the opportunity to collaborate can be right in front of us. For this issue of Make & Hue, it is a delight to interview designer and author Joanna Johnson who, along with her husband Eric, make up Slate Falls Press. Slate Falls Press are the publishers of the cutest children’s books that include an element of knitting in them.
SGY: For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with you and Eric and Slate Falls Press, can you tell us a little bit about your business and how it fits into the yarn and textile world?
JJ: Eric and I are a husband and wife team and own and operate Slate Falls Press, an independent publishing company. We fell “down the rabbit hole” into the yarn and textile arts world back when we got started creating and publishing children’s storybooks with a knitting theme. At the time, there was a fairly established genre of “knit lit” fiction for adults, but nothing quite like that for children’s literature. We felt the visual impact of Eric’s illustrations alongside my knitting patterns for children would mesh beautifully and that there was a place out there somewhere for our work.
SGY: Our theme for this issue is “Collaboration” – can you tell us about your working relationship as author/illustrator? How long have you been working together? How did you start working together?
JJ: Back when we met (in the 1900s, as our daughter likes to point out), I said something lightheartedly about how he liked to draw and I liked to write and that we should write a book together someday. Fast forward to us as a married couple with young children, and we found ourselves constantly surrounded by inspiration and ideas for stories based on the adventures of our children. So although we have been a “team” since 1999, we didn’t start creating books together until about ten years later. Our first book, Phoebe’s Sweater, was a little idea I put together to give Eric a framework for something to illustrate for practice. As we worked on that little idea, it took on a life of its own; we added the knitting pattern for the sweater, then the doll, then full-colour illustrations… it kept growing until it was a complete project we felt was ready to meet the world.
SGY: You guys are a couple in your personal lives first. How did you end up coming together in your professional lives and what benefits or challenges do you encounter on a day-to-day basis?
JJ: Initially, I was looking for a way to get Eric’s beautiful illustrations out there for others to enjoy. Having worked briefly in publishing, and as a full-time stay-at-home mom who spent many hours reading children’s books, I knew his work was worth sharing. We reached out to two publishers (one was a knitting book publisher, the other being a children’s book publisher) and both rejected our book. We talked about publishing it ourselves, and the doors kept opening for us. Just like our first book took on a life of its own, so did our company, and Slate Falls Press was born in 2009. We have the benefit of always having a creative partner and built-in support staff by working together. And our children have always been our biggest fans and helpers to this day. The challenge of “being able to work anytime” is always there, so finding time to step away, take a break, and have fun is really important.
SGY: What motivates you both to collaborate with each other?
JJ: Our family is the number one most important thing to both of us, and our creative work really captures that spirit. When we started out I was a young mom, and now that we have teenagers, I realize how amazing it is that we could capture some tender moments with our children right as they were happening. We are inspired by our kids, their experiences, each other’s creativity, and by the experiences our readers have when they enjoy our books with their children, grandchildren, and friends, so it is like a perpetual motion machine. It would be hard NOT to do what we do, seeing how it all dovetails together.
SGY: What are some of your top tips for being productive together?
JJ: One of the best things we have is two separate studios! I have a studio in our house that is like a home library, office, fibre studio, and craft room all in one. Eric’s art studio is next to our house, and houses his drafting table, art supplies, and reference books. We take turns pulling late nights and try to give each other an equal balance of support and breathing room. Another tip is knowing when and how to communicate about business. We used to talk about the business at the dinner table, which isn’t ideal, so taking time to grab a cup of coffee together and work on details is much better. Also, being “professional” even though we are married helps a lot. For simple tasks (like orders, graphics, inventory) communicating over email, although it isn’t very cozy, helps us keep track of tasks that don’t require a lot of creative input or decision-making.
SGY: Do you ever get stuck in the same routine working together? How do you snap out of it?
JJ: Of course, like anyone, sometimes we get stuck! We have two things we like to do to clear our heads and get inspired. One thing is to take a walk or hike and just step away from what is happening. We have a Great Pyrenees dog and taking him out for a walk or a hike is a great way to clear the cobwebs and refresh ourselves. A road trip is another way we break up the routine. Most of our creative “breakthroughs” have happened while we are away from our studios and out on the road or out in nature. It’s tempting to get stuck and start looking at other people’s work for inspiration, but for me, that usually leads to frustration. A good old fashioned “time-out” has been our best remedy to shake up the routine.
SGY: When collaborating, how do you share the workload? Is there a balance? What are the different strengths you each bring to the table? How do you juggle?
JJ: We do a lot of juggling. I compare it to a ball we pass back and forth. If I am in a season of business with pattern writing or doing shows, Eric takes on a heavier workload on the home front. The same thing happens when he is focused on illustrating; he might be in his studio a lot more than usual, so I try to do more with running the household and family. We also both do freelance work (he does logos and graphics, I write and design for yarn companies and magazines) so we both get to do creative work separate from what we do together, which lends a lot of balance.
SGY: Can either of you imagine working with anyone else now?
JJ: I can, and I can’t. There are times it would be really helpful to have someone else help us with overseeing the whole project, keeping us on schedule, and supporting the books. But I also love all the questions I get from Eric: “What kind of shoes is the mouse wearing?” and “What are the chipmunks eating for breakfast?” and “What is Aunt Violet knitting?” I know that it is a rare gift to collaborate the way we do and am so grateful for what we have together.
Many thanks to Joanna for taking the time to answer our questions! If you’d like to know more about Slate Falls Press or where you can find their adorable children’s books you can visit their website here: slatefallspressbooks.com &