February 19, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #98: LK James

I got a chance to catch up with LK James about her debut book The Full House and the Empty House, a powerful allegory about the complexities of inequality in friendships. It's a book I've been waiting for since I saw the cover many moons ago, and when I finally got to read the book I was pleased to see that the story hits every single note I'd hoped it would. It was a pleasure talking to LK, and I hope you enjoy our conversation about her rather impressive debut book.

About the book:
The Full House and the Empty House are very good friends— when they dance they admire in each other the qualities they lack within themselves. Even though the houses are different on the inside, it doesn't reflect how they feel on the outside. The bathroom of the full house was full of many bathroom-y things. There was a big bathtub with gold clawed feet, a sink shaped like a seashell, a hairbrush and comb made of bone, and cakes of lilac soap. In the bathroom of the empty house was just a toilet and a sink. In the evening when the two houses grew tired of dancing, they would rest on the hillside and look out at the world together.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk LK James!

LTPB: This is a very unique story! In your own words, what is The Full House and the Empty House about?

LKJ: I’ve heard from so many readers about what they see in the book—a commentary on identity, on consumerism, on the stories that objects tell, the different ways to express who you are, the list goes on. But to me this book is about two houses who are friends, and how their differences enrich each other’s lives.

LTPB: Why did you decide to explore this particular story through the lens of houses? How did the idea come to you?

LKJ: Before I started working on this story, I was drawing anthropomorphized house characters and thinking about how the objects in a household might influence the mood of a house. I made this little zine that was full of imaginary objects that would imbue a house with hostility (for example: a slamming door amplifier and burlap bedsheets). I do see how our stuff affects who we are and how we feel, but I’m also skeptical of that idea. We are not our things—you know? So, I kept turning the idea over and over—drawing these house characters, filling them with certain kinds of objects, then other kinds of objects, then nothing. A relationship began to emerge and from there came the story.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium?

LKJ: I illustrated everything with a brush and black ink on many sheets of drawing vellum. Half of the layers (digitally) became red, and the other half became teal—where the two colors overlapped produced purple. And each page got an underlayer of that mustard color. This is the approach I use when making a risograph or a screen print. I don’t have a preferred medium per se, but I do love working with layers, I love a minimal palette, and blending printmaking techniques with hand illustration and digital illustration. My goal is to make something that feels human and is imbued with the rich character of the printmaking tradition.


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

LKJ: I’ve got a new book that I’m finishing up—it’s not quite ready to show people outside my critique group, but it’s getting close. Otherwise, I’ve been working on a collection of color pencil illustrations called Animal Harmonies which I usually sell through my Instagram, and I’m working on a new series of risograph bird prints. (You can tell I’ve been into drawing animals lately.)

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

LKJ: Roger Duvoisin. I love his line quality, color sensibility, and his use of texture. His books have been a big source of inspiration for me. However my life turns out, I’m sure he would depict it with warmth and humor, with a dash of absurdity.

Thank you to LK for answering some questions! The Full House and the Empty House published earlier this month from Ripple Grove Press.

Special thanks to LK and Ripple Grove Press for use of these images!

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