April 28, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #141: Akiko Miyakoshi

It was such an honor to chat with Akiko Miyakoshi about I Dream of a Journey. Akiko's striking charcoal illustrations are instantly recognizable across her books, so I was particularly glad to catch her as she plays with a new medium for this dreamy story. Enjoy the read!

About the book:
An innkeeper who spends his days at the crossroads of others' journeys secretly longs to have adventures of his own. People from all over the world come and go at the innkeeper's little hotel. He enjoys meeting them, and many even become his friends. Only, sometimes, when he goes to sleep at night, the desire to travel far away himself wells up inside him. He dreams of packing a big bag and journeying wherever he pleases, from one unfamiliar town to another. He imagines stopping to visit friends and having wonderful and unexpected experiences. The innkeeper continues to go about his daily routine at his hotel, but, someday, he is sure, he will explore the world.

LTPB: Where did the story we see in I Dream of a Journey come from?  

AM: In terms of behind the scenes, everything started with one single illustration -- used as the book's cover -- of a man (or a bear) riding a bicycle over a bridge. That illustration was originally one of my series of individual illustration artworks, which have nothing to do with picture books. Some, though, had the same theme in common, which was traveling. One day an editor who has been working with me for years came to me and told that it might be a good idea if these illustrations were put together and took the shape of a picture book. And I thought it was a good idea because a lot of times I had made picture books just that way. During the process of making I Dream of a Journey, of course, there were many trials and errors. That is to say, many draft versions. Some of which were the story of a girl who is traveling with her parents, or a man traveling alone, and so on.

LTPB: What can you tell us about your illustrative process for this book? What inspired the imagery we see in the illustrations?

AM: The story and images of I Dream of a Journey are greatly inspired by my own personal experiences. To speak specifically, the models in the scene with a lunch table are my friends in Germany, who have been keeping in touch with me for years. Because I have been traveling around the world for many years, I have my thoughts and feelings about traveling. There are a lot of bright and sparkly moments about traveling, but at the same time, I think everyone also experiences solitude too And I also think that being alone while traveling is not necessarily a bad thing because it's also a good time to think about many things, and you'll have more chances to connect and interact with the outer world. I tried to put the nuance of solitude and the main character's longing for the unknown world into I Dream of a Journey.

The reason I depicted the dream world with colors is to express the contrast between the real world and the dream world. To make the dream scenes colorful, I tried to express the character's expectations towards his imaginary journey. But a lot of you may say that dreams while sleeping are always black and white. So I thought, in the opposite way, it would be interesting if the dream world were vivid and lively in this book.

LTPB: What is your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

AM: I used charcoal, pencils, and gouache for the first couple of books. On the other hand, a lot of my latest art is done by lithograph, which I like because of its color layering. I Dream of a Journey is the first book that I illustrated only by lithograph, although it was hard when compared to previous styles. It involves drawing, processing with chemicals, printing, drying, and adjusting layers. But the end result is pretty rewarding.

I like the graduation and smoky atmosphere of a charcoal drawing, but it's sometimes difficult using multiple colors with charcoal. Lithography, on the other hand, allows me to use a full range of colors with my drawing style. I came across lithography five years ago, and I'm fascinated by the expression of its colors.


Which drawing material to use is definitely important for me because it's not only a tool, but it has something to do with the fundamental idea for the illustration. A lot of times I was inspired by the drawing material itself. I also use digital tools such as an iPad and a drawing software for color simulation in advance of working on the lithograph.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

AM: I’m working on a book of short stories about a shrew who lives like a human. I've been thinking of this idea for a few years. This new project started with an illustration of a shrew. I like the character so much -- with him, I can imagine a lot of the stories and the details of his world. It will hopefully be published next spring. And another one is about two kids living in the same apartment who become friends. It’s actually a remake of an old book which was first published in the '60s in the U.S. I came across the original book in Zurich three years ago. Because it's such a lovely book, I thought I'd like to translate it and introduce it to Japanese readers. But after consideration, I'm thinking now that it would be wonderful if I remake it with my own twist. And in addition to that, a few more projects are slowly progressing.

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

AM: Totto-Chan; The little girl at the window is one of my favorite books, which is so beloved around the world that it's been translated into 35 languages to date. It's a story about the author's childhood, in which she was a tomboy in elementary school. It would be nice if she could draw my childhood in a picture book.

A million, billion thank yous to Akiko for answering my questions! I Dream of a Journey  published earlier this year from Kids Can Press!

Special thanks to Akiko and Kids Can Press for use of these images!

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