I’m excited because this is my first opportunity, since joining the PBB blog, to have a chance to interview the illustrator of one of MY books! Today, (Feb. 1, 2022) is the publication date of HUSH, LITTLE TRUCKER, published by Abrams Appleseed, and illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura. Toshi, as he likes to be called, has agreed to talk to me about his marvelous work.
Among other things, Kirkus has this to say about the book: “Put together tunes and trucks and you have the perfect singalong for any vehicular storytime. The melody of ‘Hush, Little Baby’ gets a proper workout in this tale of a child, the snow, and a truck-savvy mom… Adapting the text to the lullaby tune provides a natural storyline. Meanwhile, animation-style art conjures up a winter wonderland worthy of this duo’s imaginary play, complete with details that subtly show that the lost toy is a replica of Mama’s own, very real tow truck. Prep those vocal cords and sing your scales, because this is a book that begs to be sung repeatedly and with gusto.”
Toshi, I’m thrilled to talk to you! I remember, early in the project, I was tickled to be asked to help choose the mom & child characters from the character drawings you submitted. I think my favorites were the 2 everyone else settled on, too. Can you share something about your process for developing characters?
Of course. While I work on picture books, I also work as a character designer in the animation industry as well, so designing and developing characters are some of my favorite parts of working on picture books. Since this book is fiction, I had a bit more freedom exploring characters. When it comes to designing characters, personality always comes first. In order to achieve this, I find it very important that a character is relatable and believable to readers or audiences. Often I try to incorporate my experiences into the design somehow. It could be expressions or poses. Other than that, my process is very simple. I draw, draw and draw until I get the ‘It-feels-right” character.
One of Kim’s favorite images from the book because you have to turn the book on its side. How cool is that?!
I’m always curious about the difference between the collaboration of the writer and editor versus the collaboration between the illustrator and art director. I know a lot about the former (especially working with Meredith Mundy, who edited many of my books at Sterling; this is our first collaboration at Abrams) but I don’t know nearly as much about the latter. So I’d love to hear about your experience working with art directors. I assume they have different working styles, but I’m still curious about how much the illustrator comes up with totally on his/her own, and how much they do at the specific direction of the art director. Or just anything else you’d like to tell us about that relationship.
I’m interested in this subject too, as I aspire to write my own picture book one day. As for the direction given by art directors, each book is different, as one might assume. When you get a manuscript, it sometimes comes with art notes. You might get a few very specific notes for certain books, especially in nonfiction or biographical books. If you have no art notes in the beginning, which is true in most cases, you can come up with your own ideas for the images. Also, if you have a variety of illustration styles, your art director would probably give you examples of what he or she would like the final look to be. Once you have submitted the first thumbnails or sketches, you’d get feedback from the art director and/or the editor. From there on, revisions and notes would go back and forth.
When your editor wants you to see the shiny metallic ink on your front cover, sometimes she just snaps a quick photo of the proof!
As a graphic artist, I’m relatively skilled at composition, typography, layout programs, etc., but not skilled enough at actual illustration to have tried it on my own yet. Two things about illustration that continue to intimidate me: One is fretting about composing scenes in my head — like actually figuring out what the illustration needs to show and then deciding how to show it. The other is color palettes. I always worry my palette will be all over the place with no cohesion. Can you speak to either or both of those things and how you make decisions about them?
I’m still intimidated by these two things you mentioned. Composition takes the most time for me in the process of making pictures. What I always do at first is thumbnail sketch every spread on one page. That way I can see the flow of how each page transitions onto the next. Also, it helps me avoid compositions that are too similar. In this stage, or any other stage for that matter, my sketches are pretty rough, just clear enough to read what’s there. I feel quite often that if I tightened the sketches, the feeling or something would get lost somehow, and I’d just hate to see that happen. Thus I’d go straight from thumbnails to coloring. Fortunately, my past art directors were very kind and I didn’t get asked to do clean sketches.
Toshi says he hops onto the keyboard beside his desk for musical inspiration when he needs a break from the computer. I was happy to learn that the artist who created the images for my latest song-inspired book is also a musician!
I know what you mean about loose sketches becoming too tight as you move towards the final image. I remember a cartoon in one of my commercial art instruction books in school. (That’s what we called graphic art back then.) The art director has attached a note asking the artist to redo the work. Below that, the beleaguered artist has written, “But boss, I worked on it all night!” below which the boss has scrawled: “It looks like it. Do it again!”
I adore mid-century design and illustration. (I guess pretty soon we’ll need to specify which century we’re talking about when we say “mid-century!”) I think one reason I like your work so much is because some of the sharp angles and exaggerated features remind me of that style. What do you consider to be influences on your work?
Lots of my inspiration comes from artists of the classical animation period as well as those still working today. Similarly I have a great deal of admiration for classic children’s illustration, which uses bold colors and dynamic shapes. Mary Blaire and Alain Gree for example.
Gasp! I’m a fan of Mary Blaire, too! I splurged on a gorgeous book about her work a couple of years ago. I’ll have to look up Gree’s work, too. I enjoyed perusing the images on your website, especially the black and white illustrations. Are those images for specific projects or simply art you created to show your range with no particular client in mind? (My favorite is that hilarious dog walking image.)
Thank you Kim! All those images you’re referring to are just for fun. I try to work on personal stuff when I have some time to spare between jobs. (Kim butting in yet again to say: Readers, as soon as you’ve finished reading this post — AND have left a comment! — run, do not walk to Toshi’s website to see more of his work!) https://www.artoftoshi.com/
Tell us about anything new you have in the works!
I have a picture book that just came out on January 25th! The title is Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight: Patsy T. Mink and the Fight for Title IX, written by Jen Bryant and published by HarperCollins. Also I have 2 picture books in the works, both of which I’m illustrating. One is Listening to Trees, written by Holly Thompson and published by HolidayHouse Publishing, set to be released in Summer 2023. The other one is not yet announced. I frequently post work or updates on Instagram or Twitter, so please check them out.
We surely will! Thank you for stopping by, Toshi! And now, readers, you know your part! Pop down and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of our lovely new book! We’ll draw one random winner from all those who post by, oh, let’s say February 25th. (I apologize I haven’t yet announced the winner of Charlotte Sullivan Wild’s LOVE VIOLET. I gave everyone until February 1st to comment, forgetting that I post the night before! So it’s not QUITE February 1st as I write this!) And you still have until February 15th to comment on Selene Castrovilla’s SEEKING FREEDOM interview. Sorry, it’s been a busy month with a lot of post date swaps! We’re all still excited about Andrea’s awards!
Born and raised in Japan, Toshiki Nakamura moved to San Francisco right after earning a B.A. in politics. A graduate from Academy of Art University, where he studied concept art and visual development, Toshiki works as a freelance character designer/visual development artist based in Japan. He also works in children’s publishing illustrating picture books. Toshiki is currently represented by Shannon Associates for publishing/book work. See more of Toshi’s work on his website: https://www.artoftoshi.com/
He’s on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/artoftoshi/
and on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/artoftoshi
Photo by Madoka Shibazaki