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This is the Nest that Robin Built book cover next to a portrait of Denise Fleming

Ohio Illustrator, Author Discusses 2018 Arts Day Book

Ohio illustrator and author Denise Fleming has never been afraid to get her hands dirty. From her childhood days of presenting neighborhood plays with her sister to the discovery of papermaking and pulp painting as her signature style, Fleming’s brilliant and bold artwork leaps off the pages of her books. Winner of the 1996 Ohioana Award for Children’s Literature, Fleming has written more than 20 books. Her newest work, This Is the Nest That Robin Built, was published by Beach Lane Books in March and will be featured as the 2018 Arts Day Book at the Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio luncheon on May 16.

Learn more about Fleming and her work in this Q&A interview. For additional information about the Governor’s Awards, visit


What initially inspired your characteristic illustration style?
My early illustrations were done in colored pencil and watercolors. I call it my “ricky-ticky style”—short lines of colored pencil filled in with watercolor. It was a fine style, but it didn’t really represent me. It was soft and controlled. I was more interested in creating bolder illustrations with strong color and texture.

This Is the Nest That Robin Built book coverI’ve always taken lots of classes, as I am curious about different media. When a papermaking class was offered at the local high school, I signed up. I was blown away by the process. It was everything I was looking for, a perfect fit. It is important to explore and experience the unfamiliar.

This Is the Nest That Robin Built is your newest book and also this year’s Arts Day book. How do you feel about the book being featured at the Governor’s Awards luncheon in May?
I am thrilled that This Is the Nest That Robin Built was selected as the book for Arts Day 2018. After over 25 years of illustrating my books by papermaking, I decided it was time to reinvent myself and work in a new style. This Is the Nest That Robin Built is the first book I have done in monoprints and collage, my new technique. I am very pleased that it will be shared on this special day. 

What is the book about?
This style is much like the story of Robin. It is a building up of materials to create the finished product. Robin has the help of her friends to build her nest, as I have the help of editors and art directors and production people to create my book. We all have people in our lives who assist us with reaching our goals. 

The artwork in This Is the Nest That Robin Built showcases a style of illustration that combines collage and printmaking. What aspects of the story do you think make the accompanying imagery a perfect fit?
With monoprinting, I can create the illusion of feathers and fur. I can put in tiny details using cut paper. I print the papers to give the textural feel of leaves, bark, and whatever is needed. The layering of printed papers and the transparency of some of the papers give the art depth and the feeling of being surrounded by nature.

Arts Day and the Governor’s Awards for the Arts celebrate the talent and support for the arts that makes our state a center of creativity and artistic experimentation. As an artist and author from Ohio, what has been your experience creating your work in our state? Author Denise Fleming
I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. I went to Michigan for art school but came back to Ohio to be near family. I am a true Midwesterner. I like the trees, farmlands, and seasons of Ohio and its great parks and museums.  

As a child in grade school, I attended Saturday classes at the Toledo Museum of Art. I also took art lessons from various local artists at the Toledo Artists’ Club and participated in art exhibits. There was much to do that was art-related—not just visual art, but also music and dance. And as an author and artist, I can’t overlook the affordable cost of living in Ohio. It allows me to live the life I love.

What do you hope readers take away from This Is the Nest That Robin Built?
I hope children and adults take a closer look at the natural world and develop a sense of stewardship, and that they appreciate that every creature has a place in the world. Beyond that, we need to help one another to achieve our goals. Various skills and knowledge are needed to build a working planet. 

The 2018 Arts Day book is sponsored by Spectrum. Special thanks to Mazza Museum and the University of Findlay.

Since its beginning in 1971, the Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio has recognized individuals and organizations who have been vital to the growth and development of Ohio’s cultural resources. Each year, the public is invited to nominate individuals and organizations in eight award categories. The program is presented by the Ohio Arts Council and the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization. 

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Photos and video courtesy of Denise Fleming

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