November 15, 2016

Let's Talk Illustrators #8: Katie Harnett

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat has a special place in my heart. And not just because it centers on a cat! Okay, a really cute cat. Like puts-Grumpy-Cat-to-shame cute. Author-illustrator Katie Harnett brings to life the story of a cat with seven names and an ability to find the best in people, even when others can't see it yet.

About the book:
His name is Archie, or Cupcake, or Oliver, or Valentine… but no matter what you call him, you know and love the cat who wanders up and down Blossom Street every day. And it seems that everyone in the neighborhood has something to offer Archie. But there's one house on the street that he hasn't visited yet…

Let's talk Archie and Katie Harnett!

LTPB: I feel like the first question has to be about Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat’s name. Every person in the neighborhood has a different name for him, which is such a fantastic idea. And I love that we don’t know what name Mrs. Murray chooses for him! How did you work to match each human personality with the name they give Archie?

KH: One of the aspects that I was most interested in when I created the book was showing the different characters in the neighborhood and a snapshot into their day-to-day lives. The different names that they chose to give Archie were a big part of that, as an insight into the characters themselves. I thought why each character would have chosen each name and sometimes the stories behind why they chose them, although some (like Madame Betty’s) just seemed natural. I also wanted the overall title to have a good rhythm to it, but still have names that each character could have chosen, so filling both of those briefs was quite difficult.

LTPB: I love everything about Archie, from his frowny little face and mismatched eyebrows to his ability to give people a chance. How did Archie became the Archie we know and love? How many incarnations did you go through before you had him just right?

KH: I’m so glad that you love him! The basic idea of Archie was always fairly similar to how he ended up, but he was initially even grumpier and more taciturn. The eyebrows were always a big feature: it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that cats do not, in fact, have very visible eyebrows. But they’re very essential to Archie, so they had to stay.

LTPB: We open the first spread to find Archie in the very forefront of the book, staring right at us despite the busy street behind him. This is a huge contrast to how we first meet Mrs. Murray, silhouetted and alone. In your mind, what makes these two such a great fit for each other? What makes Archie decide to take a chance on her?

KH: Despite his grumpy appearance, Archie is a kind-hearted cat (he may not like swing dancing, but you know he keeps going back because the little girl likes it). I think he takes a chance on Mrs. Murray because he is really a kind cat. Also, despite being so sociable, he is looking for a bit of peace and quiet, which Mrs. Murray has in spades! As Mrs. Murray is hoping for a bit more excitement in her life, they are the perfect duo. I really wanted to convey that although Archie and Mrs. Murray are fairly contented before they meet, they are both much happier afterwards.

LTPB: What medium did you use to create Archie?

KH: I used a mix of paints (watercolor, gouache and acrylic) and colored pencils. I also do some work on Photoshop after scanning artwork in, which is mostly correcting minor errors, but it does make a difference. I find working entirely digitally really difficult, and as someone who enjoys texture and brush marks, quite counter-intuitive. So I’ve settled into a medium that works well for me, although I’m always trying to make myself try new things and expand my visual language.

LTPB: Who would you want to illustrate your picture book biography?

KH: Oh this is a very tricky one. There are so many illustrators I admire, but right now I would have to choose Isabelle Arsenault. I love her work, especially Jane, The Fox & Me (written by Fanny Britt), so perhaps it would have graphic novel elements to it.

Stop by Katie's website for so much more Archie fun, including that step-by-step process of drawing a cat's face that we saw earlier! Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat is available from Flying Eye Books wherever books are sold near you!

Special thanks to Katie and Flying Eye Books for use of these images!

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