News and Interviews

Artist and Children's Author Lori Joy Smith on Her Cross-Canada Workspace Evolution

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"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Ever since Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote those lines, starry eyed lovers everywhere have had a verse to describe their feelings. Riffing on the same idea of love being so big and joyous that it needs to be named as many ways as possible, Lori Joy Smith created I Love You Like... (Owl Kids Books), an utterly charming children's book that follows a sprite who falls hard for a gnome in her garden.

As they journey through hills, forests, and beaches together, the sprite describes her newfound love: she love like forests love a seed, like balloons love the sky, and more. It's a sweet but fresh tale full of joy and adventure, and accompanied by whimsical, print-like artwork (also by Smith) of the sprite cradling her comparatively tiny gnome. It's a great read aloud and kids who have a favourite toy will relate to the sprite and her attachment to the beloved gnome.

We're excited to get a glimpse behind the scenes of I Love You Like... as Lori Joy Smith joins us as part of our At the Desk series. She tells us about her workspaces over the years (from a bachelor apartment to a dentist's office and more), remembers her first paycheque for her artwork, and tells us about juggling art, writing, homeschooling, raising kids and animals, and more. 

And throughout, she shares images of her space and her artwork that will make you want to grab a copy of I Love You Like... as soon as possible. 

At the Desk with Lori Joy Smith

I’ve had many different work spaces throughout my life. I’ve worked in a corner of a cozy bachelor’s apartment in Vancouver, listening to CBC talk radio and dreaming of making a living as an artist. I taught myself to use Adobe Illustrator and painted weird paintings no one ever wanted.

In our next apartment I moved our bedroom to a large closet, and converted the bedroom into my studio. I had a long homemade desk and a window looking out onto Kitsilano Beach. I painted tiny watercolour paintings and sold them to greeting card companies. I received my first paycheque for my artwork.

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We moved across town and bought our first apartment. It was tiny, and I rented an old dentist office to work in with another artist. It had a long corridor with many rooms and it felt haunted. I sat in a small room painting tiny paintings of cute monsters and weirdos that I would sell in shops and group art shows around Vancouver. I dreamed of being a children’s book illustrator.

We had a baby. I moved to a small studio in that same building that I rented on my own. I needed and craved solitude. We lived in a small 1-bedroom upstairs with a new baby. I was able to walk down 4 flights of stairs and work in my little studio. It was dreamy. I screen printed t- shirts, I experimented with fabric art and embroidery. I feel like I really found myself artistically in that tiny studio. I got my first job illustrating for a children’s magazine.

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We moved to PEI. We had another baby. I had no studio. I worked in the living room. I got a monthly job illustrating in a children’s magazine and I got offered my first children’s book to illustrate.

I found a friend and somehow convinced her to share her studio with me. It had three big rooms right in the heart of Charlottetown on one of the prettiest streets. I made paintings of friendly PEI barns. I designed and illustrated a map of PEI, and then a walking map of Charlottetown. I illustrated seven more children’s books.

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I loved that studio. I swear there was magic in those walls. It had two big windows looking out onto St. Dunsten’s cathedral. I could hear the church bells, and birds chirping in the tree outside my window. I covered the walls with found vintage paintings and embroideries. I grew very close with my studio mate. We had an art show together and also collaborated on an outdoor interactive art piece for PEI’s Art in The Open. We became like a family.

About four years ago I started homeschooling my two girls. I couldn’t go into the studio every day anymore. I got an iPad and iPencil so I could be more free to work from anywhere. I could sit on the couch at home or be in my bedroom and working on illustrations for a book. Life is always changing and I’ve learned you just have to change right along with it if you want to be happy.

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We recently moved to the country and there was an extra room in the house for a studio. I quickly called dibs and now I have a space to work at home. It has three giant windows that look out of the yard full of apples trees. I’m working on some big paintings and day dreaming about my next project.

Having a space at home has greatly simplified my life. You can find me in there every day painting while listening to an audiobook or a podcast. My youngest is often by my side working on her own paintings (she works much faster than me). I carve out time throughout the day to work, in between being outside, taking care of animals (like our new baby lamb), reading and so many other things.

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An ideal workspace fits in with your life. It has to make working easy, not difficult or complicated. Life is already complicated enough, it should be your happy oasis… and that is exactly what mine is right now."

Lori Joy Smith, April 2018

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Lori Joy Smith is a PEI artist and the illustrator of My Canada. Lori has several picture books to her credit and illustrates regularly for Chirp Magazine. She has also illustrated for American Girl Magazine and for TV (Sing, Dance and Play with Bobs and Lolo).

Buy the Book

I Love You Like...

A garden sprite comes across a garden gnome, and falls in love. She takes the gnome on a playful journey through the forest, across the hills, to the beach, and further still. All the while, she expresses how she loves him: like flowers love the sun, like forests love a seed, like balloons love the sky. These inventive similes play on concepts drawn from nature and are paired with quirky, whimsical art full of details to discover—like the troubling moment when the gnome becomes cracked, but is mended with some ingenuity and the help of cheerful forest friends.

Moving progressively through the seasons, from spring to winter, the book is a sweet, bright bedtime story, paced to read aloud. I Love You Like... can help inspire readers to invent their own creative expressions of love as part of a nighttime ritual and will also be relatable to any child who adores a favourite toy.