December 18, 2017

Let's Talk Illustrators #53: Kelsey Oseid

Kelsey Oseid's author debut What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky is an exquisitely styled encyclopedia of the night sky, with everything from information about constellations and their myths to a light exploration of scientific principles that make up the universe. It's elegantly designed, with its foil-accented cover (shiny like the stars!), ethereal art-style, and nearly monochromatic illustrations, and it was such a treat to pick Kelsey's brain about how this sleek compendium came to be. Meet Kelsey, everyone!

About the book:
Combining art, mythology, and science, What We See in the Stars gives readers a tour of the night sky through more than 100 magical pieces of original art, all accompanied by text that weaves related legends and lore with scientific facts. This beautifully packaged book covers the night sky's most brilliant features –– such as the constellations, the moon, the bright stars, and the visible planets –– as well as less familiar celestial phenomena like the outer planets, nebulae, and deep space.

Let's talk Kelsey Oseid!

LTPB: First I have to know: where did the idea for What We See in the Stars come from? Did you have an audience in mind when you started the book? 

I actually can't really take credit for the idea to make this book –– it really came from my wonderful editor Kaitlin Ketchum at Ten Speed Press. I've always been interested in nature and science topics, and I love to explore those in my illustrations. I had made a few small paintings of constellations, and Kaitlin came across those and thought my style might work for a book she'd been wanting to make happen, a compendium of constellations and their myths. As the book started to take shape, we expanded the content to include other night sky stuff like the solar system and the Milky Way.

Kaitlin also encouraged me to write for a broad audience. We describe the reading level as "all ages." It's really probably somewhere around a middle grade reading level, but it's very densely illustrated to keep younger kids engaged; and since space and stars are such a universally enjoyable subject, adult readers like it, too. It taps into a collective nostalgia lots of us have for planetarium visits and stargazing as kids.

LTPB: What kind of visual and textual research did you do for this book? And how long did it take to create the book from start to finish?

I read lots of astronomy books and articles for the book and rewatched the Neil DeGrasse Tyson "Cosmos" serious approximately twelve thousand times. I also learned a ton from Phil Plait's Astronomy class on the Crash Course YouTube channel, an amazing free educational resource that I would recommend to anyone looking to learn more about our night sky. I paid extra attention to the night sky, too, though I'm still not as good at picking out constellations in the sky as I wish I were.

I stocked up on blue and black paint as soon as I knew the book was a possibility and then had to knock on wood, since nothing was for sure yet. I was so relieved and also excited when we finally signed an agreement, and I could officially jump into the work. All that paint and several shopping trips' worth more –– and many months later –– the book was done. All in all, I think there was about a year between the start of the process and when I first held a copy of the book in my hands.

And again, the project would never have happened without Kaitlin, and her guidance made it a much better end product. Props where props are due!

LTPB: Did you design your own fonts for What We See in the Stars and Whose Poop Is That? How do you go about creating these different styles of text?

I haven't ever designed a font, but I did hand letter as much as I could for What We See in the Stars! I love hand lettering –– both the process and the final result. It gives such a cherished, considered look to a design, I think. The lettering in the book is really just my natural handwriting with a brush, for the most part. I felt super connected to the book through all of that!

I would have hand lettered the whole book if I could! Whose Poop Is That? is typeset, but I got to hand letter the title type. It was fun to come up with a lettering style that would look attractive but also silly to match the sort of quirky content of that book.

LTPB: What tools do you use to create your illustrations? Compared to other illustrations you’ve done, the ones in this book are almost monochromatic –– what was it like using such a limited color palette?

So, Whose Poop Is That?, that you mentioned above, was the last major project I illustrated in an old style I no longer work in. That involved a lot of scanning and digital color and Photoshop, which yielded an end product I liked but was just not quite the creatively fulfilling process I always wanted. I started using gouache paint about three years ago, and it just clicked for me that I wanted to illustrate with paint on paper and eliminate the computer from the equation (at least as much as is sensible –– I still have to digitize my images in order to submit them to my clients and publishers). Nowadays my process is so much more analog. I love it. I have a little ceramic plate as my palette, and a little vase of water to dip my brush in; a folded paper towel I use to wipe off excess water and paint from my brush bristles, and paper. And many, many tubes of gouache.

Working in a mostly monochromatic color palette for What We See in the Stars was honestly a great experience. It was my first time writing a book and my first time illustrating something I'd written. There was a lot of stuff to think about (and obsess over) so choosing a night-sky-only palette was actually pretty helpful in terms of keeping the book cohesive and the process a little more natural and free flowing.

LTPB: What are you working on now?

I am working on a super top secret second book! It's on another science-y topic, and it'll have a similar scope to What We See in the Stars but is a little more "down to Earth," we'll say (vaguest hint ever). That's pretty much it for now –– books are a lot of work, and I am happy to be pouring as much of myself as possible into them as long as I'm lucky enough to be working on them!

LTPB: The last question I’m asking all illustrators who participate in the series is, if you could have one illustrator, dead or alive, illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why?

Carson Ellis. She is kind of an idol of mine, and I've always looked up to her work –– she has such an incredible sense of mood and narrative in her work, while also always maintaining a vintage folksy quality. That's quite an achievement. And I'm choosing her as my answer because I know she would make my life look cooler than it actually is.

A million thanks to Kelsey for taking time to answers some questions! What We See in the Stars published from Ten Speed Press this past fall!

Reprinted with permission from What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky, written and illustrated by Kelsey Oseid, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.

Illustrations © 2017 by Kelsey Oseid

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