October 18, 2022

Let's Talk Illustrators #227: Tania Yakunova

Today I'm super excited to share my conversation with up-and coming-illustrator Tania Yakunova! Tania's debut comes in the form of Dr. Rekha S. Rajan's super fun and interactive board book series This Is Music: Horns and This Is Music: Drums, and it was a (horn) blast talking to Tania about her research for the project and (drumroll, please)...what they have coming next for the series! Okay, enough puns, let's get to it!

About the book:
Make music with this hands-on introduction to the four instrument families: drums, horns, strings, and voice in this new board book series by a world-renown music educator.

Each title in the This Is Music series features an interactive novelty musical element that invites the reader to play the book!

Let's talk Tania Yakunova!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of the This Is Music board book series, This Is Music: Horns and This Is Music: Drums (the latter of which recently won the 2022 Applied Arts Award and was shortlisted during the 2022 Bologna Children’s Book Fair!)? What were you most excited to illustrate, and what were some of the more challenging moments?

TY: These are my first board books to be published. I have worked on interior and cover illustrations for fiction and non-fiction books (and was even nominated as a finalist for Book Illustrator Competition in 2019), but I have been dreaming of getting my hands on a proper picture book project for some time now.

The chance came when I was contacted by Rise x Penguin Workshop with the offer to became the illustrator of this amazing board-book series on the perfect topic - Music! I loved the idea immediately. This has been one of my favourite themes to draw since I started my journey as an illustrator. I had a lot of fun illustrating them, though there were challenges to find the right balance between artistic vision and proper realistic picturing of instruments, as these are educational books.

LTPB: Can you talk about your research for this book? How did you learn about the instruments you show on each page?

TY: I have been working with the text written by the talented educator Dr. Rekha S. Rajan -- there were amazing instruments from around the world listed in the books. I didn’t know all of them; some were very sophisticated and unusual. It took time to understand their “anatomy” and how to simplify them so they are coherent and lucid for small readers yet still remain authentic. I’m happy to have my husband, who is a musician himself, by my side as he helped me a lot.
first draft cover

final cover

LTPB: Can you talk about your process for hand-lettering these board books?

TY: I quite like to use hand lettering where text needs to be incorporated within illustration -- I believe that is the best way to go. I approach letters the same way as other parts of artwork, thinking of it as part of the picture. For this series I wanted to make bold lettering for the covers so it supports a graphic idea and made all 4 books (yes, there will be more!) look consistent. For interiors I used my own hand drawn kind of “font” to make sounds stand out from other text.

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?

TY: I start with pencil sketches, then move to iPad for cleaner sketching and then to computer. I usually draw digitally, using Adobe Illustrator first and then Adobe Photoshop. My process may seem a bit complicated, but I’m used to it and I like the result. Though sometimes I get tired of the computer and feel I need to go back to analogues media, like ink and paints.

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

TY: I’m now working on the two other books from the This is Music series: Strings and Voice. Strings is almost ready and Voice is on the sketching phase. More to share on those soon!

I’m also preparing my big solo exhibition in Cremona, Italy in collaboration with Tapirulan Association. There will be some old and new artworks, including ink drawings and ceramic pieces. And, finally, I'm about to start a very exciting postcard collaboration with a UK gift shop.

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?

TY: This is a really hard question. It would be either David McKee whose characters were with me since I was child. It was an honour to meet him in person last autumn in Italy and listen to his amusing stories. I was heart-broken to hear he passed away this spring.

Also, I recently stumbled upon this amazing contemporary illustrator Karlotta Freier and fell in love with her works, they give me a kind of calm and nostalgic happy feeling, mostly what I've got thinking about the past. I can look at her works forever.

A crescendoing thanks to Tania for taking time to answer some questions about this super fun new board book series! Both This Is Music: Horns and This Is Music: Drums published in August from Rise X Penguin Workshop!

Special thanks to Tania and Rise X for use of these images!


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