Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Interview with author/illustrator YUKO KATAKAWA

Nothing is greater for a children's book author and illustrator than that debut book finally being published! Congratulations to Yuko for her perseverance: her book has arrived! 

One big bear gets bullied by four small animals but he is more clever and imaginative than they realize and all turns out well in the end!

How did LET'S SCARE BEAR get started? What was the inspiration, and some of the stages?

I learned in your class that I could make a dummy book based on an old folk tale or fairytale instead of creating an original story.
So I started to work on a project based on a Japanese Rakugo story (Rakugo is the traditional art of comical storytelling in Japan.)  
My original idea was not to propose it as a book but as proof to editors and art-directors that I could create 32 consecutive pages with consistent art and characters.
In the original Rakugo story all the characters were human adults. I changed them to children. After I showed it to the art director, it was handed to the editor at Holiday House. She suggested changing the children to animals because she thought it would be easier for American children to relate to the story.

This is the original dummy book I created at your class

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  

Using my imagination to illustrate scenes that were not described in the story. (For example, making words with the spider web.)
I also enjoyed depicting their emotions using their movements instead of relying on their facial expressions.

And the most difficult part?  

These animals are very different in size, and it was difficult to put them together in the action scenes. Also difficult was drawing them in human movements when I don’t even know how they really move in nature! I had difficulty illustrating the second scene, where different sized animals gather in small mouse’s room. I worked endlessly trying to use different perspectives, ending up having an enormous amount of discarded drawings!

 I struggled: I drew a lot of different angles for the same scenes.


Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?  

I live in a one bedroom apartment in Queens. I partitioned the living room and use half of the room as my studio.
Since I mostly do digital works using computer, luckily I don’t need a very big space.
I also have a desk set-up with art materials such as watercolors. For example, I paint various textures which I then install in my computer. 


What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young? 

When I was about 4~5 years old, my parents forced me to take lessons in piano, Japanese calligraphy, dance, abacus, and art.
I was not interested in any of them and quickly quit them all except art lessons. I went to art classes once a week for about 2 years until I was 6. I remember spending days and days just painting with watercolors and reading children’s books. During my teens, my major interest was reading comic books and I lost interest in painting. If my younger self found out that my own picture book was published, she would be really surprised. 

Manju is a delicious steamed bun with a sweet filling, and these treats are very important in the story. Do you have a special memory of manju from when you were a child?

There was a little homemade manju shop near my home. I would grab a few coins and run to buy some. They were so good! Whenever I eat manju now, the taste triggers happy childhood memories.

When did you decide you wanted to do children's books? 

I was away from art completely for a long time. Then one day, I looked back at my life. I remembered how much I used to love painting and I realized that I regretted not giving myself a chance to pursue my passion for art.  So, I started to take drawing classes and gradually started to think of combining art with my passion for reading.

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs? 

I had many rejections. I was not upset about my dummy books but I was depressed when my portfolio was rejected.
Then I realized that a lot of judgement about art works is based on individual taste:  it does not necessarily mean that the work is bad just because some people don’t like it.
So, I felt down when I got bad reviews for a day or two, but then I gathered myself and kept on going.

I created many dummy books and only one book was published = proof of so many rejections!!

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?

This might be something to do with my Japanese mentality, and I understand that each student has different reasons to take classes, but I was really surprised when students did not finish homework. I think it is so helpful to try to finish the assignments and receive feedbacks in the classroom. It did help me a lot.

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?

Work hard and be persistent. I think it is important to go to related events and conferences no matter how small they are and try to meet people. It also helps to join a group of people who do the same thing that you do, whether illustration or writing. I have a critique group I have met with for many years, friends that I met in your class! When you encounter hard times, these people can help you get through it with their experience, knowledge and friendship.

At a bookstore story time with Yuko.

Yuko told the story for the children in the traditional Japanese way with a special traveling box.

"Great for reading aloud" (from Kirkus Reviews) and "the delectable subject may have children demanding a manju cake before the end." (from Booklist)

For more about Yuko and her art, go to her website here

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