September 5, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #259: Oleksandr Shatokhin

I feel lucky that I got to talk to author-illustrator Oleksandr Shatokhin about his wordless picture book Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine. This touching story follows a young girl who is trying to find hope and safety amongst the backdrop of the current conflict in Ukraine. Take a closer look at this girl's tale with creator Oleksandr below.

About the book:
A wordless picture book portrayal of war seen through the eyes of a young girl who finds hope in the symbolism of yellow butterflies against the background of a pure blue sky.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Oleksandr Shatokhin!

LTPB: Can you talk about what inspired Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine and what your personal connection to the story is?

OS: Ukraine has been fighting against the Russian invaders in a full-scale war for over a year. During this time, so many terrible and inhumane things happened. But like many Ukrainians, I truly believe in the victory of our country, in peace, freedom, and light. This is what my book is about. About light after darkness. I saw with my own eyes the destroyed homes, the troops of the occupiers, the frightened migrants forced to leave their homes. But at the same time, I see the strength and unity of Ukrainians in this struggle every day. It is also depicted in the book – all those feelings and emotions are in there.

LTPB: Given the subject matter and backdrop of the story, what challenges did you encounter in trying to convey such a difficult and sensitive story to children? And why did you make the book wordless?

OS: The approach to creating a silent book definitely differs from the standard one and therefore requires emotional, clear, and understandable development of the plot in illustrations. Wordless books are called silent for a reason. They are silent because they lack words but overflowing with emotions! And I wanted to make this book particularly emotional and purely based on feelings. I wanted to lay down my thoughts and experiences. I believe this is why the format of a wordless book best fits the theme of war. Sometimes words are superfluous. I love quiet books.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

OS: I believe one has to find their own approach, a certain visual language for the book to shine and unfold interestingly and fully. I change my drawing approach from book to book to fit the story. In the Yellow Butterfly, I used black and white illustrations that focus us on the story itself and even create a certain tension. The color, on the contrary, helps to emphasize the inevitability of good and seems to glow in the black and white story. I usually work with digital illustration and drew this book in Procreate on iPad.

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

OS: I am currently teaching students at a three-month beginner illustration course. This is what I’m focused on at the moment. Interesting experience. At the same time, I am thinking about creating new picture books. But these are just thoughts for now :)

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?

OS: I would love to illustrate my biographical story and wouldn’t entrust anyone with it :) But it is fun thinking of your autobiography in a format of a picture book or a quiet book in general.

A million thanks to Oleksandr for taking time to answer some questions! Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine published in January from Red Comet Press.

Special thanks to Oleksandr and Red Comet Press for use of these images, and to Publishers Spotlight for arranging the interview!

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