Arts & Culture

Messing up is all part of the process for Olympia picture book author Corinna Luyken

Picture book author Corinna Luyken of Olympia at work in her studio.
Picture book author Corinna Luyken of Olympia at work in her studio. Courtesy of Corinna Luyken

Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken doesn’t just accept that life is messy: She celebrates it.

Luyken of Olympia (whose name is pronounced ka-REE-na LOU-ken) is getting nationwide attention for her picture books, including the just-released “My Heart,” which gets a launch party Saturday at Browsers Bookshop.

Her first book, 2017’s “The Book of Mistakes,” racked up raves with its surprise ending and illustrations that evolve from a face with one eye that’s too big into an increasingly intricate world where mistakes are welcomed and often transformed.

“This picture book lifts to the level of the sublime the idea of putting one’s slip-ups in perspective,” Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

A Booklist piece about “Mistakes” was titled “To Err Is Divine,” a headline that perfectly captures not just the book but also Luyken’s creative process.

She doesn’t merely put slip-ups in perspective; she embraces them wholeheartedly. She invites them. She turns them into art.

“If you make something you don’t like and you treat it as an experiment and you say, ‘What else could I do with this?’ there are going to be times when you make something that is so much cooler and more interesting than what you thought you would do,” she told The Olympian. “The process is thrilling and maybe a little bit addictive.”

It’s a way of working she learned from her childhood passion for drawing in ink rather than pencil and from studying dance improvisation at Vermont’s Middlebury College. It was a discipline that taught her new ways to think about art and about life.

“The only rule really is that you cannot say no,” said the artist, who moved to Olympia three years ago. “You can’t cut something off. You cannot say no, and so you have to say, ‘Yes, and. ...’ You’re not stuck with something that you don’t like, but you have to take it for what it is and move forward from there.”

Indeed, she likes to be on her edge, working in ways that increase the chances of messing up.

MyHeart_CVR_hires.jpg
The illustration on the cover of “My Heart.” Courtesy photo

She created the illustrations for “My Heart” — a book that embraces the many, and often-messy, states of that mysterious organ — with monotype printmaking, in which ink meets paper with unpredictable results, and with thick, dark pencils that leave marks behind when erased. There’s watercolor, too, but in just one color, a brilliant yellow that peeks through a window or colors a tree’s heart-shaped leaves.

“It was a very improvisational process,” said the artist, who grew up in Corvallis, Oregon. “The text has a rhyme and a rhythm, and there’s a sweetness to it, so I was really interested in pushing the art in a different direction where it was a little rougher and a little smudgier.”

The textural ink gives the book a different feel than “Mistakes” and 2018’s “Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse,” illustrated by Luyken and written by Marcy Campbell.

For future books, Luyken envisions exploring other media. “That keeps me a little on the edge of the seat, makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said, “and interesting things happen there.”

It seems clear that she’s at home in the unknown, at least as much as a human being can be.

“One of the things I love about drawing and writing is the process of discovery and not always knowing where I’m going and being a little bit surprised along the way,” she said.

Browsers Bookshop owner Andrea Griffith has a guess about where Luyken — who already has contracts for four more books — is going.

“She’s going to win a Caldecott Medal someday,” Griffith told The Olympian.

‘My Heart’

At once simple and complex, this new picture book by Corinna Luyken of Olympia celebrates the many moods of the heart.

  • Book launch party, including reading, Q&A, art activities and food: 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia. 360-357-7462, browsersolympia.com

  • Story time and make your own Valentine: 4-6 p.m. Feb. 8, Captain Little, 121 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia. 360-352-5441

  • Story time and art activities: 11 a.m. Feb. 16, Olympia Timberland Library, 313 Eighth Ave. SE, Olympia. 360-352-0595, trl.org

  • Art show of images made for but not included in “My Heart”: Through Feb. 3, Browsers Bookshop, 107 Capitol Way N., Olympia. 360-357-7462, browsersolympia.com

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