Q&A: Mari Dieumegard

Author photo by Kevin Bennett

Mari Dieumegard is an artist and illustrator who was born and raised in Alaska. She now lives near a lake in Maine in a house that she shares with her husband and two children. The Old Mainer and the Sea, written by Jean Flahive, is her first picture book.

What is your favorite part of the illustration process?

That is actually a hard question to answer! I like different aspects of each stage of illustrating. I enjoy the loose flow of ideas, playing around with shape and composition, all while working on the initial sketches. I also love mixing paint colors. It’s fun to watch the interaction of the acrylic paint when I add a top layer of oil pastel. The second layer of oil pastel adds detail and texture to the image and I enjoy that as well.

Cover art for the Old Mainer and the Sea

Who is the illustrator you admire most, and why?

As an elementary school librarian, I get to spend my days surrounded by gorgeously illustrated children’s books. Some are books that I remember fondly from my childhood like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats or any Chris Van Allsburg book. I met Maine illustrators Jamie Hogan, Melissa Sweet, and Kevin Hawkes at workshops and conferences, and they helped me persevere when I had doubts about becoming a published illustrator. When she critiqued my portfolio, Jamie Hogan treated me like a peer and gave me very personal feedback. She considered my work to be just as professional as hers.

What kind of art do you do for fun?

I enjoy painting narrative portraits, which are paintings that are based on personal memories or shared family experiences. Many of my paintings feature my children and other family members and friends. In the winter, I enjoy knitting socks and needle-felting with my children. I also love playing with clay—ceramics is an art form that is truly just for fun!

What do you listen to while you work?

I love this question! I have always been impressed by people with musical talents, especially singer/songwriters. Music can tap directly into another person’s soul. I feel like that’s harder to do with visual art (but I still like to try). Spotify is my favorite invention because I can listen to anything that strikes my fancy. While working on the illustrations for The Old Mainer and the Sea, I listened to everything from “Every Kingdom” by Ben Howard to Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.”

What is your studio like?

I’ve had a studio in the ell of our New Englander-style home near Sebago Lake for fifteen years. When my daughter was born, I worked from home for a year and a half. I’d plop her in a high chair in the studio and she would draw or fingerpaint alongside me while I painted. When her brother was born, I set up a double easel with all kinds of supplies for them to enjoy. Making art was very much a family affair. Now that my children are older, my studio has become my own space again, but I still have some of their artwork around for decoration and inspiration.

Recently we put our house on the market and my studio space will be changing. The great thing is that I’m going from a studio near the lake to one on Pettingill Pond in Windham. I love being close to the water. Whether it is a lake or a pond, it has a calming effect on me.