May 23, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #26: Basak Agaoglu

If you haven't heard of debut author-illustrator Basak Agaoglu by now, I can safely say that won't be the case for long. Her debut The Almost Impossible Thing published in April 2017 to critical acclaim, and given the complexities of her debut (which we'll get into below!), the world is definitely waiting with baited breath to see what she'll create next. Basak was kind enough to stop by and chat about her foray into children's books and how she unexpectedly came to write her incredible debut. Enjoy!

About the book:
"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it." -- Chinese Proverb 

Most of us want to fly -- even if we know we're rooted to the ground. Especially if we know we're rooted to the ground. So when a rabbit spots a bird soaring in beautiful, colorful loop-de-loops, a dream is born. Though her friends tell her, "You can't do that," our rabbit is undeterred. Through comical ski jumps, trampoline bounces, swings on the trapeze, and experiments with kites . . . somehow, some way, there must be a way to fly. 

Let's talk Basak Agaoglu!

LTPB: I can’t believe this is your debut book! 

BA: Yes! My very first book, I’m so excited! 

LTPB: I’d love to hear, in your words, how would you describe it?

BA: This book is about a dream that a group of like minded and almost identical bunnies share and that dream is to fly. They have long ears like the wings of a bird. Throughout the book they all individually attempt to bring this dream to life. Even though they fail a bunch of times, they never give up. And at the end, they all come together and join their strengths. With great team work and collaboration they bring their dream to life. 

One too many colorful loops

LTPB: Where did this idea come from?

BA: A few months before I started working on this story, I found myself in the middle of a huge earthquake in Nepal. I was on a 2 week long trek, 13,000 feet high, hiking alone when it happened. I was the only solo hiker on the trek. The moment this terrible earthquake happened, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to finish it all by myself. I needed help. The rocks were still falling down and avalanches were happening. So along the way, I met some incredible people and joined their group. With tremendous emotional and physical support, we were able to complete the trek, and we made our way down the mountain safe and sound. This experience showed me loud and clear how important teamwork can be. So while I was working on the book, I knew that what these like minded bunnies needed to achieve their dream to fly was each other.
Initial title page design

Final title page design

This simple case cover was designed in one day


I’ve been drawing this bunny character for a long time, and I always felt like his long ears have to be used for something out of the ordinary, something unexpected. One day I drew the ears stretched out to the sides and that reminded me of a bird’s wings, and that’s how the first spread of the book came to life.

Initial sketch for first spread

Final art for first spread

LTPB: We go through so much of the book thinking there is only one bunny before we realize how many bunnies there actually are. Was it a conscious effort to keep readers guessing about how many rabbits there were? If so, why?

BA: Yes! I wanted to trick the reader to think that it’s the same bunny trying all the different ways to fly. But when you reach the middle of the book, you see the scene where all the bunnies from the previous spreads come together, and suddenly you realize that it wasn’t the same bunny all along. The pages you just looked at take a whole new shape. My intention here was to get the reader to feel the urge to look at the previous pages all over again and if they do, they’d be looking at it with a different perspective which I find rewarding. It is sort of a fun riddle within the story. 

LTPB: What medium did you use to create this book and why?

BA: One day while I was babysitting my friend’s 4 year old son Aziz, he showed me these coloring sticks he had called Kwik Stix, and I fell in love with them. Coloring with them feels like you’re coloring with your grandma’s lipstick, and who wouldn’t enjoy that! I ended up using those sticks on the cover art.

Too many colorful loops!

For most of the landscape and skies I used mono printing and block printing, which was a lot of fun. I really like the texture and spontaneity of mono printing. I also made rubber stamps for some parts. I made collages to create mountains because I really wanted to experiment with different textures and layers. I also used ink and gouache a lot, which are the two mediums I feel very comfortable with. I love the richness of gouache and the smoothness of the ink. 

LTPB: What are you working on next?

BA: I'm currently working on a board book about a mommy panda and her little baby, written by Megan Merchant. It explores the expression of a mom's enormous love to her baby and how she introduces him to all the wonders and colors of the world. It’s such a beautiful text, I feel very lucky to create images for it. And I can't wait to share it with my mom, thanks to her it was very easy for me to relate to the baby panda.

LTPB: Okay, last question! If you could have one illustrator (other than yourself!) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

BA: It would definitely be Maira Kalman. I am such a big fan of her. The way she paints, her words and how she finds the preciousness in the simplest moments mesmerizes me.

A million thanks to Basak for taking time to answers some questions about her process! The Almost Impossible Thing published from Philomel Books in April! And trust me when I say, it won't be impossible to fall in love with it. 

Special thanks to Basak for use of these images, and for a peek underneath the dust jacket, click here!

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