Author Interview

Today, I’d like to introduce you to an amazing woman. She is not only an illustrator, she is an author and creates apps for kids! Meet Joyce Hesselberth




Tell me something about yourself. (Where did you grow up, significant relationships, what do you do for fun besides writing, as little or as much as you want).

I’m a Baltimore-based illustrator and now author. I was born in Ohio, but never really lived there. My family moved around quite a bit and I grew up in Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. After I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, I moved to Maryland and it has been home for the past 25+ years. My husband David Plunkert and I co-founded our studio, Spur Design in 1995. We make posters, books, art prints, logos, apps, animations, and more. A lot of our work is editorial illustration for newspapers and magazines. I also teach illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Tell me about you as a professional. What do you do to make a living, if it’s something outside of writing.

We’ve been fortunate to support ourselves primarily as illustrators/designers for most of our careers. I’ve recently added teaching to my list of professions too. In my case, the writing part of my job is not separate from the illustrating part, at least not yet.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I remember thinking in college that it would be amazing to make a children’s picture book. I was studying to be a graphic designer though and I quickly realized that I didn’t have the skill set I needed. I wasn’t confident as an illustrator or writer. Over the years I started pushing myself in both those areas. My design training is still really helpful too!

What have you written? Tell me about them.

My debut, authored picture book is called Shape Shift. It’s an early concept book that teaches kids to recognize shapes, but then takes it a step further and encourages them to make art with their shapes. It’s published by Henry Holt and came out in 2016. I have some more books that I’m pitching, but those are secret for now!



You make apps too. Can you tell me about them?

I have two apps, PrestoBingo Shapes ( and PrestoBingo Colors ( They are both available in the Apple App Store. The shapes app was the inspiration for my book Shape Shift. I was having a lot of fun creating the illustrations for this app and hiding as many shapes in a scene as I could. It became a game for me, and I was thinking that there are many ways for kids to play games with shapes. In the app, I’m really just teaching shape recognition. In the book, I try and encourage kids to make their own art with shapes.

The process for making the apps was a lot of fun. We were able to figure out how to produce both apps in our small studio. We recorded voices (some of them are my kids and husband), made animations, and even learned to code.

You can probably guess that one of my next book pitches is about color, and is loosely based on the color app.

What is your favorite genre to write?

Right now I’m enjoying narrative picture books and early concept picture books.

Tell me about your writing process.

I start with sketches and then work back and forth with sketches and words. The best part of being and author/illustrator is that you have permission to change either part of the story. My first sketches are tiny thumbnails, and then as I rework and refine them, I sketch closer to actual size.

Where do you get the inspiration for your picture books?

I pull from things around me, which I’m guessing is what many people would say. I try to use those things as starting points and then let the stories become a little more fantastic or magical as I go.

How do you market your book?
Even though my publisher has given me a lot of support, it is still important for me to market my book. I’ve set up book-signings with local book and toy stores. I’m planning on exhibiting at the Baltimore Book Festival with SCBWI. We put together a book trailer ( and I made a video that shows the process behind my book ( I’m scheduling school visits and speaking at a conference as well. I’ve even walked my book around to local stores to make sure I get it in everyone’s hands.

Do you design your own book covers?

Yes. I showed a few cover options to the publisher. They have a design team and I worked with them to do the fine-tuning.

Do you have a special place where you write?

Our studio is in a renovated factory building in Baltimore. It’s my favorite place to write/draw/paint. But since I divide my time between home and work (we have 3 kids) I make a point of being able to work wherever I go. I usually have a sketchbook with me, and maybe even some gouache or watercolor paint.

Do you have any type of music you listen to while you write?

I like it quiet while I’m working, but that doesn’t usually happen. I tend to tune out whatever is going on around me.

How long does it usually take you to complete a book?

It’s hard to say, since I don’t work straight through on one idea. Between my editorial and teaching schedules, I start and stop a lot. I could probably finish a book in 3 or 4 months if I weren’t interrupted.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?

I was at a point in my career where I need to shake things up. I decided that each day I would take one hour to work on my picture book idea. After a couple of months, I had the whole dummy sketched and written. It felt like it took forever. I sent it to editors, and got some very nice responses, but no offers (in hindsight I understand why). I eventually abandoned that story, but some of the contacts I made from that first book were very helpful. In fact, one of the editors I showed it to eventually published Shape Shift!

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I think my work has become more playful as I’ve gotten older. I’m a little more willing to take risks. I hope that’s a trend that I can continue.

What are you passionate about?

Creative freedom. Sushi (when I get to choose the restaurant it’s usually sushi). Playing in the dirt. My family. Cats. Chickens. Praying mantises (they have such nice triangle heads). Sustainable living (I want solar panels on my house). Making messes.

Do you find yourself returning to any recurring themes within your writing and, if so, are you any closer to finding an answer?

Recurring themes, yes. Although I don’t think those themes have answers. One recurring theme I’m exploring is creative play. In my early concept books, I’m hoping to inspire kids to be creative and to look at the world in their own unique way. Another theme that I would say is recurring is nature.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Right now I’m working on a couple of picture books that are more narrative – just pure story with no underlying lesson.

If you could jump ahead in time, what would be happening for you?

I’d like Shape Shift to become the first in a series of concept books that teach art to kids. Then I’m hoping to work on some longer narrative pieces. Who knows, maybe a chapter book will be in my future someday!

You can follow Joyce on Twitter here

or purchase her apps here

PrestoBingo Shapes (

PrestoBingo Colors (




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