Denise, Ducks, and Getting Dressed: An Interview with Denise Fleming

Apr 25, 2016 | Community Good News, Illustration, Picture Books, The Highlights Foundation Experience

Dylan Teut ( was a 2016 attendee at Denise Fleming and Ashley Wolff’s Color, Light, Line and Texture workshop. He recently took a moment to tell us what folks can expect if they attend.

I am not an illustrator, but I teach Children’s Literature and took advantage of the opportunity to participate in Denise and Ashley’s workshop last year to see things from “the illustrator side.” Though I have very limited artistic talent, Denise and Ashley (and everyone at Highlights!) made me feel right at home. The intimidation I had quickly faded. Ashley and Denise teach very unique and brilliant techniques that you can easily take and replicate- in your own work or with your students. They made the effort to work with each participant one on one and provided very helpful feedback and support. I would gladly recommend this workshop to anyone- whether you’re an advanced illustrator or even if you have limited skills like me. A worthy investment!

Note: This post first appeared on Dylan Teut’s Mile High Reading blog on April 11, 2016. Thanks, Dylan, for letting us reprint it here!

Dylan: Hello, Denise, thank you for joining me for an interview today, and for a look at your 2016 titles, Michael and Maggie Get Dressed, and 5 Little Ducks.

Denise: Pleased to talk with you Dylan.
Michael and Maggie Get Dressed
Dylan: Tell us a little bit about Michael and Maggie.

Denise: Maggie and Michael get Dressed was inspired by my kitten, Abigail, and our friend’s dog, Maggie.

Abigail was given to me on my fourth birthday by my paternal grandparents. She was was a patient, sweet, adorable chocolate point Siamese kitten. I would dress her up in my baby doll’s clothes and wheel her around the neighborhood in my baby doll buggy. She was my constant companion and best friend. She slept curled up with me every night. She kept me safe. Children have special relationships with animals.

Our friends adopted a Jack Russell terrier. They dressed her up for Halloween. This brought to mind Abigail and the baby clothes. From that came Maggie and Michael get Dressed.

First it was just about the silliness of Michael dressing up Maggie to avoid getting dressed himself. Then I decided to add the color concept. Children have ongoing conversations with animals, as do many adults, so the text is in dialogue.
Michael and Maggie Get Dressed,
Michael and Maggie Get Dressed,
MaggieHere is a picture of the real Maggie dressed as Glinda the good witch. And yes, her dress and headdress are covered with Swarovski crystals – only the best for Miss Margaret.

View the trailer for Maggie and Michael Get Dressed.

5 Little DucksDylan: Tell us a little bit more about 5 Little Ducks.

Denise: I always liked the 5 Little Ducks rhyme. One day I thought – what if I expand it to include the days of the week and take the ducks new places and they stay with family friends?

Dylan: How is your version of 5 Little Ducks different than traditional versions we may know?

Denise: In my version I include the days of the week, new places, sleepovers, and Papa who is overseeing the ducks. Papa is a bit of a worrier, you can see him hiding and watching over the ducks as they experience their first bit of freedom.

Also, the little ducks model themselves on their friends. Basically, it is about experiencing new things and family.
5 Little Ducks
5 Little Ducks
Dylan: Which book have you written has been the most difficult to illustrate? Why?

Denise: I had a difficult time designing and deciding how I wanted Where Once There Was A Wood to look. I think it was difficult because it was a true story about a piece of land behind where I live and I felt very strongly about the loss of this wild space. Some of my favorite art is in this book.

Dylan: You’re experimenting with new illustration styles. Tell me about that.

Denise: I have been pulp painting (paper making process) for over 25 years. I still enjoy the process, but it is quite physical and recently I have had a difficult time finding stencil material. I felt it was time for a change. Time to reinvent myself.

All along I have been working in different media – tin, wire, fiber and clay. Right now I am experimenting with printing and collage to use in book illustration. I am enjoying myself immensely.
Art from Denise Fleming
Art from Denise Fleming
Dylan: What is one thing that readers don’t know about you, that only you could tell us?

Denise: Gosh, I am pretty much an open book. Don’t know if I have any secrets. Hmmmmmm.

Dylan: If you weren’t writing and illustrating books, what do you think you’d be doing?

Denise: Well, it would have to be art related as I don’t know how to do anything else.But, if I had an unlimited supply of cash I would like to buy a huge piece of land with woods and a creek and create the most fabulous preschool with art, books, music, cooking, dancing, animals, staffed with amazing teachers I have met on my travels. It would be free of charge to children who have had little or no exposure to the wonderful things in life and the beauty of nature. A place where children could embrace learning and living.

Dylan: What can readers expect from you in the future?

Denise: Books, books and more books. Picture books, concept books, and storybooks. Also experimenting with some young, simple graphic novel type books. And hopefully some original board books.

Dylan: Anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

Denise: This is always the most difficult question. I guess, share the books you love over and over. Always be on the lookout for new books you love. Don’t worry if they didn’t win an award. Experiment with different ways to present a book. Involve the children.

Act out the story. Dance to the story. Draw the story.

Dylan: Thank you, Denise, for joining me today!

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