Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How to Get Work Done While Raising Kids: Interview with a Freelancing Mommy - Lorian Tu-Dean

Introducing the second of four freelance mommies, the wonderfully talented Lorian Tu-Dean.

Lorian has illustrated for Highlights magazine and quite a few picture books. She is currently working on illustrations for six (6!!!) picture books including the recently commissioned Dress Like a Girl by Patricia Toht from HarperCollins (released in Fall 2019). You can find more of Lorain's work at www.paperpencilplaystudio.comWhen she's not illustrating, she is taking care of her 4 and 8 year olds. 

Me: Hi there Lorian! Super congratulations on your recent slew of commissions!

Lorian: Hiiiiii!!!!

Thanks for letting me interview you! I've always wondered how in the worldy world you are able to get so much done!

Lorian: Thank YOU for wanting to feature me on the blog! How exciting!

Wahoo!! I agree! But really... How do you manage your time? 

Lorian: I have three tools I use to organize my tasks: a monthly calendar, which hangs above my desk and includes personal things like dentist appointments and stuff with family and friends; a project notebook, which is portable and more specific to the art stuff I'm working on, and I also have everything in Asana, which is an app on my phone that sends me reminders and tracks progress. I also write out a list every morning that takes me through each day, hour by hour. (I realize that seems like SO much, but I need it all, I really do!)

What do you do to keep track of all your goals?

Lorian: Mostly I write everything down in my project notebook, on the front page or something, so I can just have things in writing--- my big hopes and dreams list. Short-term stuff is mostly made up of deadlines, appointments, and stuff like that, that are more like things I need to do along the way... 

Wow! I love that you are a list person. Even with how organized you are, how do you to balance your life between the demands of a freelancer and the needs of your spouse, kids, and your personal needs?

Lorian: I structure my days as much as possible, and allow for as much flexibility as possible too. I'm a pretty adaptable, easy-going person, so if something doesn't get done, or needs to be re-scheduled, or fit-in last minute, it's not much of a problem for me to make a change like that. My problem is more keeping track of all the little things that need to get done, so nothing slips through the cracks. Like, often, folding the laundry will fall through the cracks, but I try to prioritize things as much as I can. I cook when I can, but sometimes we'll order out. Sometimes the sink is full of dirty dishes the whole day, or the kids watch an extra episode of their favorite TV show.... some days, I have less work to do and I can make homemade bread, and do arts and crafts projects with the kids. Some things are just fixtures though. We read together every night, no matter what. And I need to draw SOMETHING everyday, even if it's in the car on the way somewhere or on a napkin at the cafe. My husband is incredibly supportive of me and my work, and picks up wherever needed whenever needed, and I honestly could not do what I do without him.

Structure... and support! I love that! But, what do you do about the mommy guilt?

Lorian: My mommy guilt used to be crippling, but it's gotten easier to cope with over the years, I think in part because I just love illustrating for children so much that it's almost like I just have another child, and I kind of just find the balance the way I'd have to if I really did have another child. A good friend of mine, who is also a writer, told me once that Quality is more important than Quantity when it comes to spending time with the kids, and I took that to heart. When I am with my kids, I try to be fully present in the moment with them, when I'm working I'm fully present with my work. At this point, it's just become a very natural balance, and my kids respect and understand what I do for work, so I don't think they feel any kind of envy. I also try to share what I do with them as much as possible, and encourage them to make art with me when possible, too. Often my older son will draw comics in my bedroom/studio while I'm working on roughs for a book. It's really very nice.

That is so sweet! I love it!! Any tips on keeping a clean house? (My house elves are on strike.)

Lorian: Clutter stresses me out SO much, and what I've been trying to do lately is minimize my home. That way, there's just less STUFF to have to clean. Every morning, while the kids are having breakfast, I tidy up the kitchen, and laundry happens on the weekends, and general cleaning stuff happens as needed during the week, when ever there's an opportunity. And as I said before, my husband is incredibly helpful too.

What have you given up to make more time to accomplish your goals?

Lorian: A few years ago, I left my teaching job in order to care for my son, who has Autism. He attends school now, but at the time he was in Preschool and really struggling, and it just made more sense for me to be able to work from home and be more available to him. We had to sell our home and move to a small apartment, then we had to move to another state to find more educational support for him at school. So really I guess these "sacrifices" were made more so for my son's sake, but they enabled me to focus more on my illustration work as well. Sometimes I wish we didn't have to sell our home and live in a small apartment with no yard, little space, etc.... but it makes it so both my son and I can be more successful and happy, so in that way it's more than worth it.

I'm glad things have worked out for you and your son! (Hugs!) How long has it taken before you felt like you had your major breakthrough?

Lorian: I'd say the first three years was me just trying to figure everything out (it was a messy messy time-- figuratively and literally). After that, I had a better handle on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I started to get involved in my local chapter of SCBWI, I attended more conferences and other events, I connected with people in the industry... once I got there, and made the commitment to the long game, I signed with an agency, and things kind of just started happening from there. I suppose that my most recent contract with Harper Collins made me feel like I was finally a "real illustrator" because it was my first book deal with one of the "Big 5" houses, and my agent made me feel like it was a really really good step in my career. 

That is so exciting!! (And well deserved!) Yay, hooray! Are there any resources that have helped you?

Lorian: I'd be remiss if I didn't plug my favorite podcast, All the Wonders, with Matthew Winner. Endlessly inspiring. I also enjoy watching Frannerd's videos on youtube, which are always helpful with the Illustrator Life.

Ooooh! Yes! Those are great resources! Do you have any more advice to all of us freelance mommies?

Lorian: Do what you can, when you can, however you can. Just do something. Even if it feels like nothing, it's not. Enjoy the time you can with your kids while they are still little and want to be with you. Illustration will always be there waiting for you... don't overload yourself with more than you can handle or unreasonably high expectations. Don't compare yourself to others. Take it a day at a time. You can do this. 

Thanks friend! I feel revved up and ready to go. It was so nice to chat with you!

All art posted above is (c) Lorian Tu-Dean.


Interview by Meridth McKean Gimbel, a kidlit writer, artist, & champion taco cruncher who is currently building a time machine. They are also represented by Linda Pratt at Wernick & Pratt. You can follow their work at:


  1. I loved this post! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    1. Yay! That's lovely! Lorian did have some good insights didn't she?!