November 14, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #49: Kathryn Otoshi

For as long as I can remember, I've been infatuated with Kathryn Otoshi's books. Her book One was probably one of the first books I ever studied for its illustrative merit, and all of Kathryn's books have a gentle simplicity about them that makes them relatable, timeless, and, of course, absolutely beautiful. I was so excited to chat with her about her new book Draw the Line for so many reasons (It's wordless! Look at those complementary colors! The underlying message!), and I'm thrilled to share our conversation with you today!  

About the book:
When two boys draw their own lines and realize they can connect them together ― magic happens! But a misstep causes their lines to get crossed.

Push! Pull! Tug! Yank!

Soon their line unravels into an angry tug-of-war. With a growing rift between them, will the boys ever find a way to come together again?

Let's talk Kathyn Otoshi!

LTPB: Hi Kathryn!! Thanks so much for joining me today!

KO: Many thanks for this opportunity to share with your readers!

LTPB: What inspired the story we experience in Draw the Line

KO: At the time I was doing the book, I was feeling overwhelmed and overextended. Sometimes we can say “yes” to too many things because we really want to do it, but we don’t have the foresight to realize, “Hey, I just don’t have the bandwidth for it.” In every relationship there is a push, pull, give and take. Sometimes someone takes too much and can cross a line with you. Sometimes you do it to them. Suddenly I saw a visual black line being drawn on a white page. Thus Draw the Line was born. 

Each book I write is generally based on something going on in my own life, and Draw the Line was still being developed during Fall 2016. The story naturally evolved into gentle commentary about current affairs…what can happen with any relationship if we don’t treat it with respect. Thus, the narrative became relatable to both kids and adults, and explored what can happen between countries as well.

LTPB: What did it mean to you to have this story experienced with as few words as possible?

KO: It’s important to push yourself as an author and illustrator. So I gave myself a new challenge – to do something with only visuals. Children learn visual literacy through power of the art. Since the theme of this book is about connecting with others, I realized I could create a crossover language for children in other countries and cultures because, simply put, the pictures could potentially say it all!

LTPB: I’m really into books that explore complementary colors, so seeing this new book from you was extra special! Why did you choose purple and yellow as your two colors for the book? What do the colors say about the characters? 

KO: Originally the illustrations were supposed to be completely black and white. The boys are visually opposite in appearance from each other, and I wanted to talk about the concept of “other” while giving teachable moments about what it means to be “black and white” about an issue. You can thank my Roaring Brook editor Connie Hsu for bringing color into the picture! Every now and then, Connie would say, ”I’d love to see a splash of color in this!” And she was right. About three-quarters of the way into the process I found a way and realized color could denote the boys’ emotions. 

As to my particular color palette, I just loved the range of Blue-Violet/Purple colors, and how they reminded me of dark clouds, while Yellow might feel like sunlight breaking through the sky. I purposely used complementary colors since they are “opposites” on the color wheel. These colors became very important, almost like characters in themselves, where they could express a clear mood, not just of the boys themselves, but also depict the background mood or tone of that entire spread – whether it be happy, gloomy, foreboding or hopeful.

LTPB: What medium do you use for your illustrations and why? 

KO: I used watercolors in this particular story for the background, ink wash for the boy’s faces, and a black Berol Prismacolor pencil for the outline of the actual boys and for the metaphorical "line." The hardest part was drawing the boys’ faces. I wanted these boys to be inclusive of different cultures and ethnicities. If you look closely, the boy with the black hair could possibly be Asian, Hispanic or white…

and the boy with the white hair is definitely of mixed background. But if I drew one line a little bit off, I would miss my mark. And I wanted the boys to look a little “cartoony” to be accessible, but not “too” cartoony because it’s a very layered and an important subject matter that I was addressing.

For the backgrounds, it became important to let the watercolors evolve and bleed in their own unique ways. I’d always be a little bit surprised at how it turned out. I would sometimes need to do the same spread three or four times over for just the background because each time I would use the watercolors, the wet paint would react completely different to the paper and the “mood” of the spread would totally change.

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

KO: I definitely have some stories in the works – but hmmm, most are in stages too early to show. I have two picture books I’m excited about in the works. I’m also developing a graphic novel idea I’ve had for several years now that deals with prejudice and inclusion, and a middle grade novel with a science fiction edge that takes place in another country. All very different for me! I like changing things up and trying new writing styles. Mostly, I do it so I don’t get bored of myself!

LTPB: If you could have one illustrator (alive or dead) illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

KO: OK, if it’s a picture book biography, I’d say Iain McCaig. He’s an illustrator and concept artist who I know from the film industry – part of my past life. I just love his illustration style and how he draws people! You can tell he’s passionate about what he does just by looking at his line work. Everything he touches is just gorgeous. I am an artist who likes to try different styles (collage/watercolors/cartoons/abstract images), but I could never do the kind of illustrations that he does – simply masterful. I hope with continued perseverance, I’ll someday be able to emote that level of line with such inspired passion! In the meanwhile, I’m enjoying the process of learning and improving, and expressing myself through different stylistic narratives in picture books.

A special thank you to Kathryn for stopping by! Draw the Line published in October from Roaring Brook Press, so draw a line straight out the door to your local bookstore! 

Special thanks to Kathryn for use of these images!

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