October 16, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #86: Oge Mora

Reading Oge Mora's author debut Thank You, Omu! is like eating a hearty soup while wrapped in a blanket with your family all around you. It makes you feel warm, safe, and loved, and it reminds us that kindness comes in all shapes and sizes, even stew-shaped sizes. And, of course, it reminds us that lifting up a community and bringing people together over a tasty meal can never steer you wrong. It was a blast chatting with Oge about this book and her personal connections to it, and I'm thrilled to share that conversation with you all today.

About the book:
Everyone in the neighborhood dreams of a taste of Omu's delicious stew! One by one, they follow their noses toward the scrumptious scent. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. Soon the pot is empty. Has she been so generous that she has nothing left for herself?

Let's talk Oge Mora!

LTPB: Did you approach this book any differently because it's such a personal story? What has been most special about your process for this book?
OM: Well, I definitely approached it like I did any other story. The great thing about my time at RISD was that I really had an opportunity to find the right balance between being personal but also somewhat removed. I use my own experiences as a narrative foundation and weave my stories on top of it. For me, it’s the only way to write. You got to come from a perspective that you know intimately, and people can feel when you do. I never want to feel like I am holding back in regards to my work. Honesty and open expression are important to me.

What has been so special about the process is when you put your heart out there, people share their hearts with you. I was at a story time last Monday when a woman came to me afterwards and shared her memories of her own grandmother with me. It was incredibly special, and the experience reminded me why speaking from the heart is so important.

I like to get my work to a certain level of completion, leave everything unglued and have it sit in my studio for a week or two. I think I have some of my biggest discoveries when I step away for a bit. So while I can pull the larger elements together quickly, I really might spend a month on finding the right pattern for a pot holder. I can't tell you how happy I was to find the old map I used for the one in Omu! Definitely did a happy dance!

LTPB: This is your author debut, right? What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?
OM: I get this question a lot, but to be honest, I don’t think about it much. Since I went to school for illustration I definitely felt more prepared to do to other people’s stories over my own. It is a different process, but I actually really enjoy solely illustrating almost as much as doing my own work. People imagine stories I never would have thought about, and so it is a great opportunity to challenge myself artistically. 

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?
OM: I use pretty much every kind of paper I can get my hands on, but I primarily paint or engineer most of my patterned paper. I really love to collage, but I think I enjoy painting a tad bit more. Hopefully I’ll have a opportunity to paint a book soon! I don’t think people will notice the difference too much because I add collage elements to my paintings, but I would! I hope with every book I do, I will look at the heart of it and adapt my style to it. What color palette captures it best? What papers align with the story? Do I need to paint it or collage it? Does it need to be detailed or more expressive? These are all things I take into account.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can tell us about The Oldest Student?
OM: I’m currently working on my next book with Little Brown and on The Oldest Student. I don’t want to reveal too much obviously, but The Oldest Student is such a incredible story. A young Mary Walker received a bible from a missionary and was told that her civil rights were in the pages. It would be years before she would get an opportunity to read and see for herself. I love the story because it reminds us how essential and powerful the gift of literacy is. Reading opens up the world, and I think it would be nice for kids to see someone much older than them go through that journey. A lot of nonfiction stories, especially African-American ones, are about major figures like Martin Luther King or the Williams sisters. And there is nothing wrong with that! There are really some incredible books out there. I just really loved how this was the story of an ordinary woman and her extraordinary personal achievement. The Mary Walkers are often overlooked in history, and I am excited to have an opportunity to illuminate their narratives.

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?
OM: What an incredibly fun question! Wow that is really hard… I think since I’m so young it’s kinda difficult to imagine my own autobiography! I think I would probably go with either Melissa Sweet or Sean Qualls. Melissa because she makes amazing nonfiction works, and we share an affinity for old papers/book scraps. Sean because his paintings are bold and colorful, and I’d like my autobiography to have that vibe. I truly admire their work. Sorry for picking two!

Thank you so much to Oge for talking to me about her author debut! Thank You, Omu! published from Little Brown earlier this month!

Special thanks to Oge and Little Brown for use of these images!

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