Friday, April 7, 2017

Q&A with Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson is the illustrator of the new children's picture book All Ears, All Eyes, written by Richard Jackson Among the other books she has illustrated are All the Water in the World and It's Picture Day Today!. She lives in San Francisco.

Q: How did you come up with the ideas for your illustrations for All Ears, All Eyes?

A: Whenever I begin the sketches for a new manuscript, I give myself permission to sit in a big soft chair with a cup of coffee and look at visuals. I love paging through my books on various artists and I also have quite an extensive collection of Bologna Book Fair Annuals going back to the 1980s. I use the books as a starting point and then I let my mind wander and my pencil drift. 

I also went directly to nature for this book. I often found ideas during my evening walk with the dogs. I love looking at the light and trees. I would stare at the textures of bark and grass and would come home, my pockets filled with twiggy bits and leaves.

Q: Do you usually do the illustrations in the order in which the text appears, or jump around from one part of the text to another?

A: I jump around a lot. This book had quite a few revisions and I would often have to re-conceive and re-render an entire spread when we decided it wasn’t working.

The spread with the hidden cat [see before and after images at left] must have been through three or four interpretations before the final version. It was the idea of my art director, Ann Bobco to show the cat very large. I was happy with the solution!

All Ears, All Eyes, © Katherine Tillotson
Q: How did you develop your style as an artist and illustrator?

A: Experimentation and play. I have used several styles and mediums over the years. I began with acrylic with Penguin and Little Blue, moved on to oil for When the Library Lights Go Out and then worked with collage for Picture Day and All the Water. Shoe Dog, another favorite of mine, was rendered with a scribbly charcoal line and crayon rubbings [see image at right].

Shoe Dog, © Katherine Tillotson
Q: At what point did you decide to illustrate children’s picture books?

A: As a child, I loved painting and drawing, but as I grew older, I was not certain how I would incorporate my art-making into a career. I attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, and received a BA in art with a minor in secondary art education.

However, I wanted to explore other job possibilities and after graduation I moved to San Francisco. I fell in love with the city. Eventually, I was lucky enough to land a job in the art department of the educational division of Harcourt Brace, which was located in San Francisco. 

© Katherine Tillotson
I have always had an ongoing love for picture books. During the years at Harcourt, I worked full-time designing textbooks during the day and rendered illustrations for my portfolio in the evenings or on weekends. I finally broke into the field when I sent out this sample [see image at left]. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am illustrating the retelling of a folktale. It is another story by my former editor and current author, Richard Jackson. We are having a lot of fun.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Well, I am not certain I want to admit it, but I am a very messy illustrator. (Okay, so I may have cleaned up the surface of my drawing table a just a little bit for the photo below.) My studio is in the basement of our home. No windows! I had to work on the light fixtures to try and find the closest match to natural light. (I always run upstairs to double check my color as I am nearing completion of a piece of art.) 

I like to cover the walls with postcards, clippings, scraps of paper and quotes that I love. 

Here is one:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 
—Antoine de Saint Exupery

and another: 

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” 
—Neil Gaiman

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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