How to Record a Great Interview with Your Kid (At Any Age)

 
Art by Claire Astrow

Art by Claire Astrow

We are so thrilled to have trailblazer Hillary Frank—of the absolutely laugh-out-loud, pee-in-your-pants, heartfelt, insightful, cutting-edge, quirky, and thought-provoking parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time—here with a guest post that is sure to inspire you to capture some archival-worthy recordings of your wee ones at their most confessional/talkative/silly/sweet/________ (fill in the blank with your child’s mood of the moment). If you haven’t heard Hillary’s podcast yet, do it! Also check out her powerful op-ed in The New York Times, “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers,” and her recent interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Without further ado, here’s Hillary on How to Record a Great Interview with Your Kid (at Any Age).
Thank you, Hillary!!!


On the eve of my little brother’s second birthday, he refused to go to sleep. He had THINGS to say—about our aunts and uncles and cousins and what color shoes they all wore. I was seven at the time, passed out in my bedroom, but I know this happened because instead of scolding my brother for being a chatterbox way past his bedtime, my parents grabbed a tape recorder and captured it all on cassette. After naming every relative he knew, my brother went on to proclaim that our Florida-based grandmother lived in “her ammie.” (Replace “her” with “my.”) He spoke enthusiastically about the alligator toothbrush he’d just gotten from the dentist. And he fervently tried to get my mom to remember something he called the “wekka fwabeewing.” For around twenty minutes, my mom took guesses at what he was saying; he’d yell No!; she’d try to change the subject; he’d bring it back to the wekka fwabeewing. Finally, after a lot of exasperation on both sides, my mom figured it out. My brother was talking about the Levitt Pavillion, a local outdoor performance venue where he’d seen a kids’ show.

The next morning, my parents played me the recording and challenged me to guess what a wekka fwabeewing was. I got in on the first mention. After all, I was the one who had taught him to say it. My parents and I laughed over how cute my brother was, attempting such big words and kinda, sorta pulling it off. Then the tape went in a drawer.

When I was a teenager, I went through my old cassettes, listening to them one by one. And I came across the wekka fwabeewing tape. I’d forgotten about it, and decided I’d play it for my mom on Mother’s Day. I knew she’d enjoy it, but I did not expect the nonstop weeping-nose-blowing-laughter that followed soon after I hit play.

wekka fwabeewing_square.jpg

I think the reason my mom had such a big, emotional reaction to the recording is about more than the fact that it captured a funny moment; it’s a moment that reveals a lot about both my brother and my mom. You can hear his determinated persistence even at the tender age of two, his unwillingness to let anyone off the hook. You can hear her patience through exhaustion and frustration… and eventually you can hear that patience wearing thin. In the end, you can hear her relief—”Mommy’s a little dumb, but she finally got it”—followed by his relief—”Mmhmm”—that they finally understand one another and can shut off the recorder and go to bed.

Recording your kid can be a great way of capturing the realness, the rawness, the connection, and the disconnect, that marks every fleeting stage of your relationship with them. These moments can make for great keepsakes to be listened to for a rolicking good time with the entire family—or when you’re an empty-nester and need a good cry.

Kids can be resistant to being recorded, especially if you frame it formally as a sit-down interview. And given the ease of voice memo recording on phones and tablets, there’s no reason not to be spontaneous about recording conversations with them. But not every conversation is going to yield archive-worthy material. After working as a radio journalist for nearly two decades, mostly interviewing parents, teens, and young children, I’ve developed tricks for getting kids of all ages to talk. Here are some of them:

Technical setup. First things first: let’s make this audio listenable. Get yourself in a quiet room, preferably one with a rug. Steer clear of refrigerators, air conditioners, and noisy vents. If you’re recording on a phone, remember that your microphone is at the bottom of your device, so you’ll want to turn it upside down and aim that mic at your kid’s face—ideally a few inches below their chin. But if they’re loud, you can pull back a bit to prevent the sound from distorting. If your kid finds this closeness intimidating, it’s fine to keep the mic farther away; just don’t cover it up.

Littles. Catch your toddler or preschooler when they’re already in a chatty mood. Are they telling you their crazy theory on how babies are made? Making up a story about a giant bunny who eats teachers? It’s time to press record! Ask them follow-up questions, with the goal of getting a fuller picture of their interpretation of the world. “Oh, babies float down to Earth from bubbles in the sky. What color are the bubbles? How big are they? Who made the bubbles in the first place? What happens if they pop?”

Or, turn the mic around and encourage them to ask *you* questions. They’re more likely to ask you whether a dinosaur goes to heaven or hell than what made them go extinct. And whether or not you believe in heaven and hell, that question will get a more interesting reaction out of you than the extinction one.

The Longest Shortest Time  is an award-winning podcast about parenthood in all of its forms. But you don’t need to be a parent to listen.

The Longest Shortest Time is an award-winning podcast about parenthood in all of its forms. But you don’t need to be a parent to listen.

We made a whole series based on this idea at The Longest Shortest Time called Kids Ask Unanswerable Questions. This episode with comedian Chris Gethard includes the dino question, and many more mind-blowing  examples.

Middles. Would-you-rather questions are a hit with adults and kids alike, but I’ve found that kids are way better at them. If your grade-schooler is resistant to spilling their guts to you, ask them if you can record yourselves playing a few rounds of Would You Rather. My daughter’s best one: Would you rather eat a skunk or poop in front of a thousand people? Just imagine where the conversation could go from there!

Sometimes talking in an unusual place or engaging in another activity can help get a kid to open up: huddled under the blankets in bed, sitting on the floor doing a jigsaw puzzle, in the basement folding laundry. Anything to make this “interview” not feel like a formal Interview.

Here’s Hillary with a panel of teens for the episode, “The, Like, Show. Deadass Edition,” where teens give advice to parents. (YES, please!!)

Here’s Hillary with a panel of teens for the episode, “The, Like, Show. Deadass Edition,” where teens give advice to parents. (YES, please!!)

Teens. Teenagers are my very favorite people to talk to. They are passing from childhood into adulthood, and you can hear that tension in almost everything they say. With teens, you can ask big, open-ended questions: How does the world work? What do all children need to know? What is love? Most of them will be more than happy to philosophize. Here’s an example of a story I did, asking high school seniors if they thought the robot babies in health class were preventing them from having underage sex. It surprised me how profound these kids’ thoughts could be over a hunk of plastic.

And here’s one in which teens give advice to parents—on dating, school lockdowns, and what to name a pet. I’ve found that lots of teens enjoy dishing out advice. In their answers, you can hear them sorting out what they make of relationships and the world around them. Watch out, though, for correcting your teen or judging their answers; “parenting” them during a recording session will likely make them shut down. Make them feel heard and let them go on a rant if that’s what they want to do.

Remember, the goal here, no matter the kid’s age, is not to get them to “open up”; it’s to capture something real. Maybe that means you let *them* ask the questions. Maybe that means you’re both lying on the floor talking about how tired you are. Maybe that means letting them whisper the entire time (one of my favorite stories to report was all about quiet kids). And if they really don’t want to be recorded, don’t push it; a forced recording is not going to be a good recording. Put the control in their hands. Tell them that sometime in the next week, you want them to pick a time to hit record. To capture what you both sound like at the ages that you are. Because neither of you will ever be this age again. And wouldn’t it be cool to listen back in ten years to what you sounded like together and hear how you’ve changed?

The night my mom spontaneously decided it would be fun to record my brother back in the 80s, she had no idea how emotional it would make her to hear it years later. But she also had no idea what an impact that recording would have on me. There was a time in my twenties when I listened to the “wekka fwabeewing” tape obsessively. I memorized certain passages—the exact intonation in my brother’s tiny voice as he passed in an instant from curious to outraged. It’s that kind of vulnerability that I chase every time I press record at my job. 

Hillary Frank is the creator of The Longest Shortest Time podcast. Her most recent book is Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches.

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A fave mus-try weird parenting win from her book: 

 What’s your #weirdparentingwin ? Head to our insta or The Longest Shortest Time and let us know.

Now go dust off that tape recorder or download a voice memo app and get recording!

 

Creator Crush: Lindsay Stripling

 
art by Lindsay Stripling 

art by Lindsay Stripling 

 

It's clear that we love Lindsay Stripling here at ILLUSTORIA. Not only did she do the breathtaking cover for Issue 4: Grow, but she does regular features with Alexis Joseph (hi, Case for Making!) on the brief history of all of the coolest colors. A master of watercolors, she creates amazing fantastical worlds and nature-infused portraits that make you contemplate what your inner animal would be. From creating a booklet series to teaching classes, Lindsay puts her expertise to spread the good word of watercolor. We were able to pick her brain on all things creative, so be prepared to get inspired by her rad art! 

 
photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

 

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am working on the second booklet in my watercolor booklets series, this one will be for people looking for expanded information on how to paint with watercolor. I planned a mural for Point Reyes Bookstore which is nautical themed, I just hung a tiny show in June at Fayes Video in the Mission District here in SF, and I am always working on commissioned paintings. 

How did you transition from your day job to being a full time artist?

Well, honestly its still a work in progress. I currently work full time as a restaurant manager for my friends at Outerlands here in the Sunset, I teach watercolor classes at Case for Making regularly and I try and have a regular painting schedule when I am not doing those things. It is hard to balance and I think I will be taking the plunge soon into working freelance full-time, but that is a scary and exciting step, and one that I don’t take lightly. I believe in checking in with myself regularly, assessing where i am at mentally as well as financially- being an artist requires a lot of administrative work that isn’t as fun as the painting part, but over the years I have come up with my own systems that work for me.

 
photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

 

Can you talk about your process of creating a work/project/book/zine/product from start to finish, and share some process pics with us?

When i am working on a painting or an illustration, I first start with really loose sketches. It is hard for me to allow myself to make quick doodles and concept sketches, so I do them as really small thumbnails. Then I choose my favorite layout from there and do a more detailed sketch- or sometimes I move straight into my under drawing. I typically draw out my painting first in a 3H or 4H pencil on watercolor paper and then before painting I erase the majority of it. I like to erase it because it gives me the freedom to adjust small things, and also removes most of the pencil lines from the final. THEN i get to move into the fun part. I typically start with light washes to cover larger areas and then move into the detail colors and pieces. There is usually a part in the beginning as I am laying down washes where I hate the painting, or I can’t see it coming together. It is hard to push past that sometimes, but when I do and I trust in the process I am usually really happy with the result. And if I am not, I do it over again...

 
art by Lindsay Stripling; lettering for A Brief History of Ultramarine Blue, from  Illustoria  Issue 4: Grow

art by Lindsay Stripling; lettering for A Brief History of Ultramarine Blue, from Illustoria Issue 4: Grow

 

What makes watercolor your medium of choice?

Watercolor is so vibrant, accessible and easy to take with me on trips- and I LOVE watercolor paper. In the last few years I have gotten to work with Alexis at Case for Making to make watercolors from scratch and experiment with color in a different way than I ever have before.

We love the Brief Histories of Color series in the mag! What is your favorite color?

I don’t really have a favorite color, I love all of them too much. But I do have favorite color combos- a tried and true combo is dirty pink and burgundy with a splash of neon orange but recently I’ve been really into lemon yellow and brown (think old banana). 

 
photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

photo courtesy of Lindsay Stripling

 

Much of your work involves half-human, half-animal characters. What would the animal-half of your body be?

Probably a coyote!

What were you like as a kid?

I was always swimming and playing different sports, and when I wasn’t doing that or going to school I was reading and drawing. I would make maps of stories that didn't exist yet because that was my favorite part of the books I would read. So many maps. I also would practice my handwriting all the time, my friends and I would spend hours drawing, making maps and copying our favorite handwriting.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist and writer?

I think I have always wanted to do that, I just didn’t know I actually could until I was much older. I had no actual examples of people around me who were artists or writers so it didn’t feel like something that was attainable. When I got older I realized that the best thing about this world we live in is that if you want to achieve something, you just gotta hustle. The best part of that is maybe you don’t achieve that thing that you were initially hustling for but you’ll figure out what it is that you want along the way, through many failures and mistakes and realizing who it is that you are and where it is that you actually want to go.

 
art by Lindsay Stripling; for A Brief History of Yellow Ochre from   Illustoria  Issue 6: Symbols

art by Lindsay Stripling; for A Brief History of Yellow Ochre from Illustoria Issue 6: Symbols

 

Who or what inspires you?

Reading and being outside.

 

Now get lost in Lindsay's dreamy paintings and make some of your own! You can also check out Lindsay's latest features in Issue 7: Black and White!

Creator Crush: Willie Real

 
artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Encapsulating the eclectic spirit, rich diversity and historical gravitas of San Francisco is no easy task. But the ultra nostalgic and mischievously charming illustrations by local Bay Area artist Willie Real make capturing the uniqueness of the 510 area code look effortless. With street scenes of anonymous pedestrians waiting for the bus and gorgeously detailed drawings of the Victorian structures distinct to California, Real's illustrations pull on the heart strings of anyone who aches for the foggy hilltops of SF. However, you don't have to know anything about the Bay to dig Real's illustrations. The satisfying geometric simplicity and bold sensibility in his work recalls the style of Mid-Century Modern children's book illustrations (think Miroslav Sasek and Bernice Myers) that are universally heart warming. Real's style veers from the trendiness of this mold with a distinctly urban coolness seen through his earthy color palette and edgy characters that are reminiscent of Bay Area street art legend Barry McGee

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

We were lucky enough for Willie to grace the pages of Illustoria in our Issue #3: Outside-In, which featured his imaginative 263 Josephine, a story of a Victorian apartment complex with a heart of its own. Since then, we had the chance to pick Real's brain for a bit and get an inside scoop on his process, inspiration and fond memories as a kid growing up in SF. Check out more of Real's work on his website and Instagram

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Hi Willie, tell us a little about yourself! 
Hi, my name is Willie Real and I'm a freelance character designer and illustrator from San Francisco. When I'm not working or dabbling on my own projects I go outside and play in Golden Gate Park or along the Pacific Ocean.

What are you currently working on?
I just finished designing characters for an animated movie with a friend! It's a good time when you get to work with people you're close to. I'm doing visual development sketches for another animated project so it's been busy for me which is great. I still manage to get out for some personal sketching though. 

Can you talk about your process of creating a work/project/book/zine/product from start to finish, and share some process pics with us?
This is an illustration or a portrait if you will, of a victorian home. 

1. This is my favorite part... I go sketch homes outside, all day! I pick the sketch I like and it's ok if it's not perfect, I'll tweak it to my liking later.

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2. I scan it in and twek away... finalizing my sketch. I print it out at the final size I want and tape the pieces together. 

wr_process_02.jpg

3. I trace/transfer the sketch onto bristol board using a light box. 

wr_process_03.jpg

4. Once the drawing is complete I'm ready to paint with acrylics and gouache. I establish my colors and values on my palette and paint away. I kept this one simple... yellow for the building, grey for the roof and a few accent colors for the door and the chimney. I start with lighter colors first, filling in all the shapes and colors and build up to the darks. Once the paint dries I add the drawing and details with prismacolor pencils. 

wr_process_04.jpg

5. I scan it back in, make any final adjustments I want and that's it!

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Where did you grow up? Where do you live now? 
I gre up in SF till I was 12 and moved to a small town in Sonoma County where I went to high school and later a Junior College. I live in SF now... the Lower Haight! 

What were you like as a kid?
Active. I loved playing outside with friends from the block in the Excelsior, playing tag, baseball and going to the deli on the corner. They gave us salami ends! When I wasn't outside I was conducting these elaborate scenarios in my imagination with my toys... that or always drawing away. 

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

What were your favorite childhood books?
I remember the Highlights magazines from the doctor's office! Those were fun. 

Did you have a favorite subject in school? A least favorite subject?
From 1st grade all the way into High School I loved art classes. All of them! Painting, Drawing, Cursive Writing, Woodshop, Computer Graphics, Pottery... they all scratched the creative itch. Math was always tough for me... too many numbers! 

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Can you describe your first childhood memory?
Can't say this is the first but one of my earliest memories is when our parents would take us to La Taqueria in the Mission. I remember the smell, the mural and there were these wooden stools with leather weaving that looked like they were hand made a hundred years ago. They're still there today! The blue and red tiles along the sidewalks in the Mission are also a fond, early memory. 

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

When did you know you wanted to be an artist and writer?
In high school my English teacher (Mrs. Wolf) pointed me in the right direction and told me that I had a passion I should pursue...and that illustration was an actual profession! I'm eternally grateful to her. 

Who or what inspires you?
Oh man, so many things...family, food, walking around the city, art museums, nature...I get so much out of 'the little things' in life. 

What is the most challenging part about being an artist/writer/maker?
I get nervous when showing personal work I've created. I think making art is a very personal, honest and intimate practice... an extension of yourself. You're putting yourself out there with your work which can be very scary and empowering as well. 

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Do you have a favorite project that you worked on?
Earlier this year I made a poster for the women's day march that took me a couple of hours.. short but very sweet. My sign was a portrait of my mom and it said 'Marching for my Momma'. She approved :)

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

When do you feel your most creative?
Right after I've seen a great movie or an art show. It's very inspiring to see other makers and creatives succeed at their craft. It's a contagious feeling! I want to rush home and get my ideas down. 

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

Do you have a favorite tool (type of pen, or brush, or paper, etc. --- related to your work)? 
Grey Tombo markers and black prismacolor pencils. I keep it simple. It's a quick an easy way to get line variation, you can fill in shapes super quick and you get all three values with black (the pencil), grey (the marker) and white (the paper). 

What advice would you share with young aspiring artists?
Dedicate time to your work and your craft. Don't be afraid of getting lost or not knowing what to do. Getting lost is an adventure, go on it, explore, experiment, and most of all have fun with it. Soon you'll find what you're looking for and it'll show in your art. And don't forget to go outside!

artwork by © Willie Real

artwork by © Willie Real

To see more of Real's work check out his website http://www.williereal.org/. Thanks Willie, and Happy Holidays from ILLUSTORIA to all you readers out there!

 

ILLUSTORIA interview on APEX - KPFA 94.1

 
 

Thanks to Melissa Hung for the recent interview with me about Illustoria, which ran on APEX Express on KPFA 94.1. If you missed it, you can still listen to the archived show here (37:00). Melissa, co-founder of Hyphen and a writer, journalist, curator and educator, asks insightful questions about why I chose to launch a print magazine and how we at Illustoria are approaching the need for more diverse representation in storytelling for kids. Tune in to learn about my inspiration behind the magazine, our editorial approach to the stories, art, interviews, and activities in each issue, and how Illustoria hopes to stand out in today's challenging but exciting landscape of print publishing. 

 
Founder/Publisher Joanne Chan talks to APEX about her inspiration to start a print magazine for kids and grownups. Photo by  Melissa Kaseman

Founder/Publisher Joanne Chan talks to APEX about her inspiration to start a print magazine for kids and grownups. Photo by Melissa Kaseman