May 19, 2020

Let's Talk Illustrators #144: Yuval Zommer

Earlier this month, Yuval Zommer released the next title in the Big Book series The Big Book of Blooms, and in my most humble opinion, it's the most eye-catching one yet! It was definitely high-time I caught up with Yuval for an interview, so I hope you enjoy our conversation about this stunning addition to an oversized nonfiction series!

About the book:
In The Big Book of Blooms, the next installment in the wildly successful Big Book series, Yuval Zommer brings to life some of the most colorful, flamboyant, and unusual flowers from across the globe. In the opening pages, readers will learn all about botany, including how to recognize different types of flowers. Subsequent pages illustrate the various habitats that are home to flora such as pitcher plants, the giant water lily, and the weirdly wonderful corpse flower. Readers will discover which flowers are endangered and why some blooms are fragrant or colorful, not to mention grisly details about carnivorous and poisonous flowers.
Let's talk Yuval Zommer!

LTPB: I feel like I’ve been waiting for you to discuss flora in The Big Book of Blooms for as long as the series has been around! How do you choose what to focus on next? Do you try to explore something different, technically speaking, with each new book?

YZ: The ‘Big Books’ series is my homage to the natural world. When I started, I had this idea that the titles should always be alliterative, which means it’s always: The Big Book of something-beginning-with-the-letter-B! So ‘Blooms’ seemed like the missing puzzle piece for a series that has so far covered Bugs


The Blue

and Birds.

Amazingly, grown ups do not seem to pick up on the alliteration thing, whereas I find kids seem to get it straight away!

Because the way kids look and notice things is different to adults, especially when it comes to nature, I always try and connect with my ‘inner child’ and channel into whichever book I work on the sense of awe and wonder that I remember from my own childhood. Technically speaking I have some vogue ideas when I start each new book, but I soon find out that the subject matter somehow determines the way the book looks, feels and sounds almost organically.

LTPB: Do you remember whose idea it was to make these books so large, or whose idea it was to have to physically change the orientation of the book to read some of the spreads? What do you think these design elements contribute to the experience of the series?

YZ: I am a fan of shared reading, be it parent-child, siblings or classmates, and the large format encourages that experience. One of my pet hates when it comes to nonfiction/information books is the old school format of a chunky block of text on one page and an illustration on the other page. I believe words and images work best together, and readers will know that the text in my books is always intertwined with the illustrations so the reading experience itself is that of a journey through the page. Sometimes pages are designed to be read in a vertical orientation depending on the visual narrative, for example the deep sea or a tall mountain. This all adds up to make the reading experience more immersive and fun. If the narrative is about nighttime, I’ll have the type in white against a black background. I am very grateful for my wonderful publisher Thames & Hudson for the creative freedoms I have when designing the books! It’s full credit to the T&H design team that the books are so lovingly produced.

LTPB: What kind of research did you do (factually and visually) for each book? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 
YZ: For research I rely on a relevant expert scientist/biologist/zoologist which is credited in each book, so that the books are factually robust. They check everything! Including counting the number of legs I draw on each bug.

For The Big Book Of Blooms I had the pleasure of working with head gardeners/botanists from Kew’s Royal Botanical Gardens in London, who guided and explained to me all about one of the greatest botanical collections in the world. I gained unlimited access to the tropical green houses and nurseries at Kew where conservation work is done to grow and propagate some of the world’s rarest plants.

When it comes to style I believe Mother Nature is the greatest artist/designer there is. I love how, when you look real close (like a child would do), even the plainest leaf or pebble has such intricate patterns and palettes. So for me it’s all about the details: the textures, colours and combinations which I then interpret in my own way.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? 

YZ: I work digitally using a very large Wacom tablet to paint and draw on. When I studied I used to work all on paper, but working digitally has been transformative in many many ways. I can multi layer artwork and also recompose artwork as necessary to fit text. My books are currently translated in 25 languages, and often the translated text becomes a much longer sentence in a different language! People sometimes assume I use acrylics or gouache but I don’t, I just use my Stylus pens as I would use pencils or brushes.

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

YZ: I am working on a new nonfiction series for next year, and it’s too soon to reveal, however much I would love to share it with you right now. With publishing everything is always a year or more in advance and announced only when the new catalogues are ready for the book fairs.

But I can tell you I am also working on another festive ‘holidays season‘ picture book to follow on from last year’s The Tree That’s Meant To Be. I always tend to have two books on the go as it keeps it fresh switching between the two!

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?

YZ: I would love it to be the Provensens (Alice and Martin Provensen, who collaborated together on over 40 picture books) because I think they have such a timeless and charming style. There is always so much artistry in their work that goes beyond just the words in the page. Another one of my heroes is Brian Wildsmith (he might be better known in the UK than in the US, but do Google his work!) because his picture books work in the 60s and 70s was ahead of its time, not only for his flair and vibrancy but also for the sensitive and respectful way he depicted the natural world.

A BIG thank you to Yuval for talking to me about the latest book in this series! The Big Book of Blooms published from Thames & Hudson earlier this month!

Special thanks to Yuval and Thames & Hudson for use of these images!

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