September 19, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #261: Ana Matsusaki

As someone who essentially collects illustrator interviews (and literally collects illustrated children's books), it's only natural that I'd want to talk to debut author-illustrator Ana Matsusaki about her book The Collector of Heads, translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato! Enjoy a peek behind the curtain of this gorgeous picture book debut!

About the book:
There are all kinds of collections in this world...serious, funny, weird. Imagination has no limits! And Rosália's collection might be the weirdest yet, as she collects the heads, histories, and memories of those who have died.

Let's talk Ana Matsusaki!

LTPB: Where did the idea for The Collector of Heads come from? How long did you work on this story until it was ready to be published?

AM: The idea for this book originated during an illustrated book course led by Fernando Vilela and Odilon Moraes, two prominent figures in Brazilian illustration. In this course, students were asked to choose a theme, and we settled on “Death,” from which each of us would develop a project. After spending considerable time thinking about all the possibilities, the concept of a collection of heads came to me. At that time, I was grappling with the notion that work is the most important aspect of one's life. I realized there are many other facets of who I am, and things that I love, that are not related to my job. What will really matter to me when I reach the end of my life? Will it be the hours I’ve spent working, or the relationships I’ve cultivated? The book was created as a reflection on what’s on our minds: our dreams, fears, and desires.

It took me about a year to complete the project. At that time, I was working as a graphic designer and lacked the technical skills to achieve the aesthetic I had in mind. After sending it to several publishers and receiving no responses, I shelved the book. Five years later, Editora do Brasil reached out, expressing interest in publishing my book in Portuguese. By then, I had gained more experience as an illustrator, so I made the decision to redraw the entire book.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

AM: The most challenging aspect was my lack of technical skills when creating the images for the first version of the book. I had a clear vision of what I wanted aesthetically, but I didn't have the means to execute it. The book’s five-year hiatus was crucial for me, as it allowed me time to work on my technique.

As for the most rewarding part:

Creating the heads was a deeply enjoyable exercise. Imagining what each one might hold in their minds is a creative process that I really enjoy.

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?

AM: I like to use manual techniques in my work because they allow room for exploration through mistakes. In this project, I used stamps, pencils, and ink. Then, I scanned these elements into the computer, working on them as a digital collage. I also used photographs collected from image banks. I really like this method slowly building the illustration, as sometimes while searching for a photo, I find something totally unexpected that I decide to use in my work, and it ends up completely transforming my original idea.

I often use this process for my work, although each book has its own language. What changes from one book to another is the decision to use more photographs or more ink, the color palette, and the type of shapes; these decisions are often guided by the text. The beauty of this technique is its adaptability across different styles.

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

AM: I am currently finishing the illustrations for the book Marcelo, Martello, Marshmallow, written by Ruth Rocha, one of Brazil’s most renowned children’s and young adult writers. The book will be published by Tapioca Stories, and it is an immense pleasure to have the opportunity to illustrate the English version of a book that was part of my own childhood.

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?

AM: If I had to choose, I would pick Brazilian illustrator Laura Teixeira. She was my teacher and instilled in me a passion for exploring different materials in illustration. I love the way she incorporates unconventional materials, like round dot stickers or colored tapes, to create her books.

If I had the opportunity to create any picture book biography, I would choose to illustrate my grandmother's life. Having grown up in poverty and raised seven children, she has faced many hardships but remains one of the most cheerful and lively people I know. She is beloved by everyone in her town, and her story would be an inspiring one to share.

A big thank you to Ana for allowing me to collect her answers to my questions! The Collector of Heads published last week from Tapioca Stories!

Special thanks to Ana and Tapioca for use of these images!

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