November 28, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #271: Tatyana Feeney

I got a chance to talk to the incredible Tatyana Feeney about a fun new poetry series launched this year called Petite Poems. Tatyana illustrated August title Theme in Yellow: A Classic Ode to Autumn, written by Carl Sandburg, and with another coming next year it's exciting to feel like I'm catching her on the brink of something special. Enjoy the read!

About the book:
Discover the power of poetry in Theme in Yellow, a simple, modern introduction to Carl Sandburg, featuring an ode to autumn and the joys of Halloween.

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Tatyana Feeney!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Carl Sandburg’s poem Theme in Yellow: A Classic Ode to Autumn? What personal connections do you have to this poem and Sandburg’s work in general?

TF: I was fortunate to connect with Cameron Kids about the possibility of illustrating a poem (or poems) in their Petite Poems series. We were looking at poetry relating to seasons and Theme in Yellow was perfect for that brief.

I knew a few Carl Sandburg poems before I started working on the book, but I wasn’t familiar with this one. I think starting the project without any preconceptions about the poem or possible imagery linked to it was beneficial. I was able to imagine the lines with no competing visual ideas.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of the illustrations? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you read the poem? And as you studied it, how did your illustrations evolve?

TF: The opening lines of the poem, “I spot the hills/With yellow balls in autumn” were the easiest to illustrate. I knew exactly how I wanted that page to look.

As the poem goes on and the Halloween theme evolves, I wanted to make sure the illustrations had a little spookiness but were also right for a younger audience.

The nice thing about illustrating a poem is there is a bit more freedom of interpretation. I enjoyed being able to take the lines, which don’t have many words, and filling the space with my imagination. I had the opportunity to think about how those few but meaningful words would look through my artwork.

I loved taking, for example, the page with the line, “And I am called pumpkins.”, and using that to show how the pumpkins have grown over the months until Halloween.

LTPB: What differences have you found between writing and illustrating a book versus illustrating someone else’s words? Which do you find more challenging, and why?

TF: I was trained as an illustrator, so for me, pictures come first. In the books I have written and illustrated I have a story in my head that is developing as the illustrations are created. Then, I try to find the best words to fit my visual narrative. With someone else’s words, I am imagining what their pictures might be and thinking about how I would interpret them, so that is more challenging.

From Small Elephant's Bathtime

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?

TF: I create my illustrations as monoprints, then I scan them into Photoshop for the finished artwork. This gives me the freedom to use different types of paper and monoprinting textures within the same image.

Printmaking, and most often monoprint is my preferred medium. I started experimenting with monoprints when I was in art college and loved the vibrant colours and the texture possibilities. It’s a medium that allows for unexpected outcomes and happy accidents, which means that I am always learning new things and seeing new possibilities for imagery.

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

TF: I am just finishing up a book that I wrote and illustrated, but I am not sure if I can share more than that at the moment. I do have another Petite Poem book coming out in Spring 2024, Hope is the Thing With Feathers, by Emily Dickinson. 

And a wordless picture book is also due out next year with Beehive Books and it is called Skipping Stones.

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?

TF: That’s an easy answer. Ezra Jack Keats. The Snowy Day was one of my favourite books growing up, and as an adult, I think it is actually the perfect picture book. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is the perfect snapshot of a day in the snow when you are small. But, I would also really like to live in Richard Scarry’s world, so he would be good too!

A huge thanks to Tatyana for talking to me! Theme in Yellow (Petite Poems): A Classic Ode to Autumn published earlier this year from Cameron Kids!

Special thanks to Tatyana and Cameron Kids for use of these images!

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