September 29, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #157: Naoko Stoop

I was so excited to talk to Naoko Stoop, illustrator of Yumi Heo's last book Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party. Naoko's illustrations in this book are so sweet and very uniquely made, but I'll let her reveal the details below. Take a closer look at this beautiful book with me!


About the book: 
Sun and Moon sit down for a tea party, but they soon find out that they see the world very differently. Moon says moms and dads get their kids ready for bed, while Sun says no, they get their children ready for school. So who's right? Well, as the two come to find out, they both are. With the help of Cloud, a gentle mediator, each stays up past their bedtime and sees the world from the other's incredible point of view.

Let's talk Naoko Stoop!


LTPB: How did you come to be the illustrator of Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party?

NS: Back in the summer of 2017, I received the manuscript with the notation that the author, Yumi Heo, had passed away. Although I immediately knew that I wanted to illustrate this beautiful story, I also knew that this was going to be challenging, knowing it was Yumi’s final book. I never met Yumi, unfortunately, but I collected the books she wrote and illustrated, and did some online research about her life and works. I watched her interview video. And I realized we had quite a bit in common. We both grew up in East Asia and started art careers in NYC. In one interview, she talked about what it was like to be a foreigner in her early days in the city. I could relate to what she said. Maybe our shared experience of crossing the cultural bridge brought us both to this place. We have created a book that speaks to what it is like to not understand people different from ourselves, and then to learn, and to reap the rewards of that understanding. 


LTPB: What is the first thing you do when you receive a new project? How do you make a conscious effort to tailor your illustration style to each new manuscript?

NS: Each project starts with a slightly different approach. When I worked on a story about the ocean, I went to an aquarium with a sketchbook and spent all day staring at creatures, and I slept with ocean sounds for three months. When I did a wolf story, I went to the Wolf Conservation Center to see wolves, and I learned how to howl to them so they’d answer me back. After doing that sort of research and immersion, I start looking for my wood canvases, because I actually paint on wood. My art is a collaboration with Mother Nature. I start with unfinished wood surfaces, and the natural wood grain plays a role in the finished painting. I have to find the right pieces for each story. Sometimes it takes months to collect all the canvases. I often visit a number of lumber yards and furniture factories in search of the perfect canvases.



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?

NS: I didn’t have a formal art education. As an adult, I played around with my art at the beginning. I painted on anything I could find for free from everyday life. I especially loved drawing on brown paper bags from grocery shopping, and leftover scrap plywood from a nearby speaker factory. I wanted to be creative, and those perfect materials were right there.



For this book, I collected unfinished plywood and painted with mixed medium: acrylic paint, gouache, pastel, and pencil. For some pages, I painted entirely on a single piece of plywood, including all the details; for other pages, I used multiple canvases to paint the background and the details separately, and then combined them digitally on the computer. 


LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text? When you do both, which do you generally start with?

NS: I appreciate both situations. Illustrating directly from my own mind gives me more freedom in many ways because I don’t have to guess what the author wants to express or emphasize in each scene. But I learn and discover more and stretch my drawing abilities by illustrating the stories written by others. I have been very lucky to be paired with wonderful authors like Patrick McDonnell, Kate Banks and Yumi Heo. Those experiences definitely gave my illustration skills more depth. 


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

NS: Currently, I am working on a storybook with Random House Studio written by Donna Jo Napoli. The book is about a Japanese girl who has recently moved to America and begins a friendship with the girl next door. The story explores how children have an easy way of becoming friends even without sharing a common language or cultural heritage. I guess we have a lot to learn from them. This story is a great reminder.



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?

NS: There are so many artists that I admire old and new. But If I could name anyone, I’d love to see how Hiroshige Utagawa would depict the modern world. He is one of the greatest Ukiyo-e artists from the Edo period in Japan. I’d ask him to illustrate my life as if I lived as a cat. That would be my wildest dream! 

Thank you so much to Naoko for answering some questions! Sun and Moon Have a Tea Party published from Schwartz & Wade Books earlier this year!

Special thanks to Naoko for use of these images!




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