December 5, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #272: Kate Gardiner

I am very pleased to share with you all today my interview with the venerable Kate Gardiner. Kate is the debut illustrator of Small Places, Close to Home: A Child's Declaration of Rights: Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by Deborah Hopkinson. I hope you enjoy learning more about how the visuals came together for this meaningful book and Kate's personal connections to the text! 

About the book:
In backyards and city parks, in school and at home--wherever and however we move through this world, we have certain inalienable rights--and it's up to each one of us to ensure those rights for others, too.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by Eleanor Roosevelt and signed on December 10, 1948, marked the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. This gorgeous adaptation for children reminds us that universal rights begin in small places, close to home.

We all deserve to live free,
to feel safe,
to belong,
to learn,
to dream.

Let's talk Kate Gardiner!

LTPB: Congratulations on your debut! How did you become the illustrator of Small Places, Close to Home: A Child's Declaration of Rights: Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by Deborah Hopkinson? What were some of the major changes you noticed as you developed the illustrations?

KG: Thank you so much! As for how I became the illustrator for Small Places, Close to Home, that's a bit of a long story. I had just graduated from Maine College of Art & Design in 2020 through the whole turmoil and uncertainty of the Pandemic. I had planned on going to grad school at the University of the Arts in London, England, but due to Covid I instead found myself moving back home with my parents in Plainfield, CT. While back home, I started working as a maid at a local nursing home and was really trying to spend any free time I had working on illustration and attempting to figure out where to go from there. I felt a little aimless, but I was hopeful. I started posting more on social media and my agent found me that summer through instagram. I don’t have a big following so I really think it was pure luck or some miracle of the algorithm that sent him to my page. I graduated in May 2020 and by July 2020, I had gotten an instagram message from my agent. To be honest, my first thought was, “this can’t be real” I definitely thought it might be a scam. But thankfully it wasn't! Steve is the best agent I could have ever hoped for, and just a few months later he sent me the manuscript for Small Places, Close to Home. It all feels like a dream, It was a very exciting and surreal moment in my life. I am so grateful to Writers House and HarperCollins for taking a chance on me, and Deborah Hopkinson for writing such a lovely book!

Small Places, Close to Home was definitely a challenging text to conceptualize, especially as my first book. Almost every line in this book could have endless interpretations, for example the line “I deserve to live in freedom, in a just and peaceful place”, there isn’t just one visual that could be used. The possibilities were so broad that it was a bit difficult to land on a definitive idea. I ultimately decided to illustrate scenes from everyday life. I wanted the book to be very inclusive but not cliche or too on the nose. In the beginning, I would say my illustrations were a bit more poetic and whimsical, and although they made sense to my brain, I think they would have been difficult for a child to interpret and make the connection between the message and illustration. It took many, many rounds of sketches to get to what you see now. With the help of my amazing Art Director Dana Fritts and Editor Donna Bray, I think we landed somewhere great.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

KG: The most difficult part of creating this book was the actual physical process. My equipment was limited at the time and I didn’t know all that went into making picture books. I was fairly young when I started--I think I was 22 and I was pretty unsure of a lot of my decisions, It was a learning curve for sure. I painted things separately and assembled digitally, like a digital collage. I thought working that way would allow me to easily make edits, but in the end I think I made things more difficult for myself. The most rewarding aspect was realizing I was capable of such a big project, and really pushing myself beyond the self doubt and seeing the book come to life. I’m very happy with how the book turned out in the end. It was also very rewarding working with everyone who made this book possible. I have been lucky to have the nicest art directors, editors and authors in my three years of doing picture books.

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?

KG: For this book, I used gouache, colored pencils and digital illustration. I painted the backgrounds, people and all of the elements separately and then scanned them into procreate and photoshop and pieced it together. Then I went in with digital illustration for the finishing touches. I would say my preferred medium right now is gouache and colored pencil but I also really love pen and ink.

I learned so much from my first book. I learned that I definitely prefer working 90% traditionally with a lot less digital editing. During Small Places, Close to Home, I also discovered a very real hatred of scanning haha, so I keep that to a minimum by working on one large painting as opposed to a bunch of little pieces of paintings that need to be scanned individually. Before my first book, I mainly worked in black and white pen and ink with very little color, so I would say the overall process is much smoother now that I have had more practice using gouache and color in general. I would love to eventually combine gouache and pen and ink- I haven’t quite mastered that combination yet though.

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

KG: I just finished my second and third books and am currently working on my fourth. The two finished are Sometimes We Fall by Randall de Sève (cover and some behind-the-scenes images below!) and A Family Tree by Staci Lola Drouillard. The one I am currently working on is Firefly Season by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Outside of picture books I am working on illustrating a field guide for a wonderful non-profit called Wild Seed Project, which has been a very fun change of pace- I love illustrating flora and fauna!

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?

KG: If I had the chance to write my own picture book autobiography I would want Júlia Sardà to illustrate it. She is an illustrator I have admired for so long, I am truly in awe of her talent and love everything she does. This is such a hard question though because I love so many illustrators' work!

A huge thanks to Kate for digging into the inspiration for this book with me. Small Places, Close to Home: A Child's Declaration of Rights: Inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights published earlier this season from Balzer & Bray!

Special thanks to Kate and Balzer & Bray for use of these images!

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