October 31, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #267: Travis Jonker

You might know the name Travis Jonker from any number of places: Travis runs the School Library Journal blog 100 Scope Notes, he is half of The Yarn podcast with Colby Sharp, he represents a third of The Undies/Endies Awards with myself and Carter Higgins, and he's an author! Now Travis has added another feather to his cap with his illustrator debut Just One Flake, and it's my absolute pleasure to share his journey with you all here. Enjoy!!

About the book:
It's snowing outside! Liam rushes out into the squall, determined to catch one perfect snowflake. He tries any number of tricks to complete his mission, but each time he is thwarted.

He sticks out his tongue and looks up . . . nope. He builds a snowman, climbing up to get a little closer to the snow . . . still nope. He runs around the yard--tongue still out--because faster is better, right? Wrong! Nothing seems to work. Until, in a final leap of faith, he catches that one flake . . . in a way he never expected. And the snowflake itself is pretty unexpected too.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

And check out the book trailer:

Let's talk Travis Jonker!

LTPB: Where did the idea for Just One Flake come from? Did you know you were going to illustrate it, too, when you thought of this story?

TJ: The idea began as a drawing:

I was challenging myself to make a spontaneous drawing a day to post to Instagram (mainly to get past insecurity about sharing my work publicly). It was a snowy winter here in Michigan and I made a picture of a kid sticking out his tongue to catch a snowflake. I liked it so the next day I made a kid on top of a snowman with his tongue out. From there the story came together. As for illustrating it, I'd been working toward that goal for years. My agent and editor knew I was interested, and I thought if the right story came along I'd ask if I could try it. Since this story came to me visually, I really had an idea for how it would look. I submitted a dummy with rough sketches and Abrams gave me a shot to illustrate. I still can't believe it.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?

TJ: I haven't illustrated anyone else's text yet, but when I've written a text for another illustrator, I really try to just let them do their thing. I completely respect what a professional illustrator brings to the story.
Since this was my first time illustrating, it was just really fun to try visual things that I thought would make for an engaging story.

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

TJ: The most difficult thing for me has been color. I love black and white and the world of color theory sort of paralyzes me. I went through a lot of combinations to land on the Just One Flake colors (I think there are five colors plus black and white in the book).

The most rewarding thing was being proud of the book when I was done. I feared that I would hate it by the time it was finished, but that hasn't been the case.

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?

TJ: I ended up doing a bunch of tests and trials:

For the final art, I used a black Pentel color brush on watercolor paper. I scanned that and added digital watercolors with Procreate on an iPad.

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

TJ: I have a couple picture books coming out next year: Caboose (illustrated by Ruth Chan) and The Ship in the Window (illustrated by Matthew Cordell). And I'm very proud to say that there will be a sequel to Just One Flake, called Just One Wave - that will be the next thing I'm illustrating.

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?

TJ: Jerry Pinkney (RIP). He's the best.
Just one Thank You (just kidding, a million Thank Yous!) to Travis for talking to me about his illustrator debut! Just One Flake published earlier this month from Harry N. Abrams!

Special thanks to Travis and Abrams for use of these images!

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