January 9, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #54: Aram Kim

I'm so excited to kick off a new year of illustrator interviews with Aram Kim! Aram is the super talented illustrator behind this year's Multicultural Children's Book Day poster, so it seems only fitting to ring in the new year by celebrating her work. I have to admit, I was so bummed when I missed the opportunity to chat with Aram about her debut picture book Cat on the Bus (a nearly wordless book about a cat!) so I was thrilled to have the chance to chat with her about her second book No Kimchi For Me!. Enjoy!

About the book:
Yoomi hates stinky, spicy kimchi –– the pickled cabbage condiment served at Korean meals. So her brothers call her a baby and refuse to play with her.

Yoomi is determined to eat kimchi. She tries to disguise it by eating it on a cookie, on pizza, and in ice cream. But that doesn't work. Then Grandma shows Yoomi how to make kimchi pancakes. This story about family, food, and a six-year-old "coming of age" has universal themes, and at the same time celebrates Korean culture. A kimchi pancake recipe and other back matter are included.

Peek underneath the dust jacket here.
Watch the official book trailer here.

Let's talk Aram Kim!

LTPB: I imagine there’s a pretty adorable origin story for No Kimchi For Me! What is it? 

AK: The story was born from the combination of many different thoughts and inspirations, and below is one of those. 

I have been intrigued by the Korean tradition of eating savory pancakes on a rainy day. In Korea, kimchi pancakes, as well as seafood scallion pancakes or "leak pancakes," are associated with rainy days. When it rains, it is common to hear people say, “We should cook some kimchi pancakes,” or, “Let’s eat some scallion pancakes.” There are a few unproven theories about the association. Some say, the rainy weather with low air pressure causes low blood sugar, which attracts food with flour and oil. Some say the sound of cooking pancakes with lots of oil in the pan (sizzle sizzle sizzle cheeeeee) resembles the sound of rain. Whatever the real reason is, I always thought the relationship between the rain and the food was very poetic. When I started making children’s books, I really wanted to do a story revolving around a Korean theme. Food had always been a favorite subject matter for me to draw and write about, so kimchi pancake made perfect sense. That’s why No Kimchi for Me! was set on a rainy day. 

LTPB: This is only your second book, and your first one, Cat on the Bus, was nearly wordless. What was it like working with a text this time around? Which came to you first, the textual story or the visuals? 

AK: I loved working with more text for the second book. It suited the nature of No Kimchi for Me! Cat on the Bus was initially planned as a wordless book, and the final had less than 20 words. I have always been fascinated by wordless books, and I want to try again in the future. While wordless books are very intimate, inviting readers to take time to look at the pictures very closely, a book with text opens up the chance to share a fun story with a big group of children quite effectively. Also, children in Yoomi’s age are very verbal, and I wanted to show how children express themselves very openly through what they say.

Regarding the sequence, once I had a big storyline I wanted to tell, art and text came hand in hand. I would sketch things out within the storyline, and write the text to go with the picture at the same time. The fun part was how the text was edited. Grace Maccarone (Holiday House) is a fantastic editor, and she helped me bring out my voice clearly. The way she edited my text really suited my personality and character.  

early versions of Yoomi

LTPB: What is your preferred medium and why? What have you learned since Cat on the Bus and now No Kimchi for Me! that you’ll carry on through your next books? 

AK: My all-time favorite medium is a pencil. 

Additionally, I love color pencils, crayons, and pastel, which I used for both of my books in slightly different ways. Drawing with these media brings me back to my childhood when I felt free to express myself. There is something very soothing in drawing with these soft, dry materials. I like the thick, somewhat cranky, but still very soft marks crayons make. 

But I certainly do not want to limit myself to the media I prefer. I am especially inspired by artists who always try new things. I met Mordicai Gerstein, who I’d always admired, during a librarian preview event at Holiday House. I was impressed and moved how he was still learning and trying the new medium even after the lifetime of bookmaking –– he was learning to use Photoshop and applying that in his new book! I also admire David Ezra Stein who fearlessly works with all these different media and uses different styles for each book. I once got to visit his studio in Queens, NY, and his studio was filled with experimental drawings he was making to figure out how the next book would look like. So I want to make sure never to settle in my comfort zone. I want to keep learning and expanding my tools. I recently started using brush and ink to draw dogs for the New Year (2018 is the year of dog!), and I’m already in love with the medium. I will keep experimenting. 

LTPB: How involved are you in the design of your books? This book has everything, from unique endpapers to a case cover that’s different than the dust jacket! 

AK: The only part I’m involved in, regarding the design, is creating endpapers. I always love looking at endpapers of picture books and like all kinds, from solid colored pages to fun patterns, to the extension of stories. It’s an extra fun for readers and extra fun for bookmakers. For Cat on the Bus, endpapers were the slight extension of the story.  

For No Kimchi for Me!, I wanted something fun and also a bit informative since I was introducing food that might be foreign to a lot of people. 

Current endpapers work well when I do a reading. I show children different kinds of vegetables in the front endpapers, and what they make in the back endpapers. The case cover design that is different from the dust jacket was a surprise for me. I saw it when I received F&Gs (unbound books printed in advance for promotional purposes), and I was so happy!

Other than being an author/illustrator, I also work as a children’s book designer. I design other people’s books –– the work I love every single step of the process. However, there is a thrill to turn in all the artworks and just wait and see the final design of the book a few months later. Kerry Martin (Holiday House), an excellent art director, designs my books, and I can’t be happier. Because I love Kerry’s design so much, it’s a big treat that I can just sit and wait, knowing I will love the final book.

Yet, because I can’t help it as a book designer, I always prepare a preliminary design file of my book to use as a personal guide. I put all my art in an InDesign file that book designers usually use, and put in all the text. I want to make sure there is enough room for text in each page, nothing is too close to the gutter (middle of the book where two pages meet) or to the trim (edge of pages). I have learned so much working as a book designer, and it has been very helpful working on my own books. 

LTPB: What are you working on now? Will we be seeing more of this adorable duo? 

AK: I’m glad you asked, and I’m excited to say YES! I’m working on the second book featuring Yoomi and the family. It is especially exciting for me because I neither planned nor expected to expand Yoomi’s world. So when my editor suggested the idea, I was over the moon. It took a few months for me to come up with a good sequel idea. I wanted the theme to be authentically Korean, but also widely known in the U.S., so that any child can relate to. The title hasn’t been decided yet, but in this story, Yoomi is learning taekwondo! Here are a few preliminary sketches that I made to study characters. The book is scheduled to come out in spring 2019. 

LTPB: If you could have any illustrator illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

AK: Mary Blaire! Even just imagining it makes me so exhilarated. Her vivid colors, compelling compositions, limitless imagination, yet such sweet and beautiful illustrations –– there is nothing not to admire about her art. Her fearless career throughout her entire life is also a great inspiration to me. I would be curious to see how Mary Blaire would turn my somewhat quiet life into a magical world full of colors!

A million thanks to Aram for taking time to answer questions about some of the cutest cats in picture books! No Kimchi For Me! published last fall from Holiday House!

Special thanks to Aram and Holiday House for use of these images.

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