January 23, 2024

Let's Talk Illustrators #276: Vitali Konstantinov

Today I'm talking to Vitali Konstantinov, illustrator of Genius Noses: A Curious Animal Compendium by Lena Anlauf and translated by Marshall Yarbrough. This is such a fantastic start to a new illustrated series about what makes every animal special, and I'm excited to share Vitali and Lena's process for developing and executing the kick-off book Genius Noses!

About the book:
This special collection of animals takes us around the globe and amazes us at the curious diversity of nature. Whether it's the musk weevil, the elephant, the pig, or the saiga antelope-- they all have wonderful noses. In addition to a wide array of functions, noses tell us a lot about animal habits and habitats.

Which animal can smell underwater? Which one uses their nose as a snorkel? What can animals do with their noses besides smell? Readers will find out this and more in this entertaining collection filled with surprising and unusual facts.

Check out the endpapers:

Let's talk Vitali Konstantinov!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Genius Noses: A Curious Animal Compendium? Can you talk about your research process for this book?

VK: These books are created by me and Lena Anlauf together. Lena writes the text and I draw the pictures, but we are constantly exchanging ideas and build the concept and the layout of the book in constant communication. Sometimes we do not remember who had which ideas in the end.

Lena writes the text while looking at specific scientific studies and articles. We then choose the most exciting and entertaining details while planning the layout and the final illustrations. All text and illustrations are also checked by a scientific reviewer, so that everything is factually correct.

If you are illustrating a nonfiction book about animals, of course it would be perfect to meet the protagonists in person. But that's not always easy – even if you visit their natural habitat. Lena and I spent an entire day in a tropical dry forest where a group of coatis lives, but we did not see a single one. It is a pity, but we do need to visit zoos to get live impressions of rare animals. Museums of natural history and documentaries do help, too. Photos are often misleading as you don’t see the animals in motion or in correct size ratio.

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

VK: There are countless facts and stories about these animals. The hardest part was limiting our selection. The special challenge for me as an illustrator was finding a balance between realism and stylization. The most important thing for me is to show the character of the animal, its being and its beauty, keeping to my style and to children's book conventions. And it is a great pleasure to learn new things while doing the research and developing the illustrations.

LTPB: It looks like you do a lot of commissioned work and side projects! Can you tell me what else you do in addition to writing and illustrating children’s books?

VK: I did a lot of commissioned work in the past. But now I am concentrating on my own nonfiction comics about different aspects of human culture and history for children ages 10-12, and the joint projects with Lena on nature topics for primary school children.

Additionally, a very important part of my work is organizing readings and workshops for children in schools, libraries, at festivals etc. . . . With Genius Noses we have already done book tours in Europe and in South America, and we are open to events in the US, either in-person or virtual, as well. :-) Promoting reading and experiencing the creativity of children is always a great opportunity to get inspiration for new 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?

VK: I prefer to work analog. In Genius Noses I used a combination of colored Indian ink and crayon drawings. And a very good French watercolor paper of course :-).

In my nonfiction comics I do reduce the number of colors and I mostly draw with a pencil, sometimes just in black and white with only a few colored highlights.

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

VK: Of course, I do have a lot of plans and ideas. There are several book projects in various stages of development that I'm working on right now. But. . . let's wait for the releases! The next book by NorthSouth Books is Genius Ears!

Also, Lena and I recently visited Ecuador and I'm still trying to process all the overwhelming impressions.

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?

VK: I can't imagine such a situation :-) . . . Actually, you can find a bit of me and my biography in almost every illustration I do ☺ . . .

A HUGE thank you to Vitali for talking to me about this genius new series! Genius Noses: A Curious Animal Compendium published last September from NorthSouth Books!

Special thanks to Vitali and NorthSouth for use of these images!

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