Leah Tinari is the author and illustrator of the new picture book The Presidents: Portraits of History. She also has written and illustrated the picture book Limitless, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and Vice. She lives in New York City's East Village.
Q: You note that your new book began as a project for your son. How did it develop into this book?
A: This body of work began as a project for my son Mars. He was very interested in knowing about the presidents and what they looked like, etc., so I decided to paint them all for him.
After painting 44 men, all white men but one, I became totally frustrated but also inspired. It led me to make another body of work called Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts.
These two projects both became picture books. Limitless was published last year and The Presidents on Oct. 29. The two projects were bought together as a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster.
Q: How did you research the facts about each president?
A: I researched the facts mostly on line.
Q: Were there some presidents you especially enjoyed drawing?
A: Yes, I really enjoyed Martin Van Buren. I loved painting his wild hair. I loved painting Lincoln--he has such intense features. Obama was wonderful to paint also and Teddy Roosevelt, my son’s favorite. He was a joy to paint.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: I hope the viewer can see the lack of diversity in the men that were chosen to lead our country and maybe it’s something to really think long and hard about.
Also that these presidents were kids once, and teens, and were fathers and brothers, etc., and owned pets, and have favorite foods just like the rest of us.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a book, fiction. I am in the process of creating "the dummy" that I hope leads to getting the book made! I am really excited about it. It really feels like me, or rather it feels like a great representation of how my brain works and thinks... playful and loving but inspired by reality.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I guess I would like people to know that I truly love what I do, I love to make stuff, I love even more when kids and people get inspired by it, and I am really grateful to everyone who takes the time to look at my work. Forever grateful. And to you for wanting to know more by interviewing me.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb