Today I get to show you another adorable picture book and wow is this one colorful!
Katy Tanis is a children’s book writer and illustrator, as well as a surface/pattern designer. She is currently a Masters student in biology at the Bronx Zoo and Miami University. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
“Love in the Wild” is her latest creation and she is both the author and illustrator. This board book can be read as a simple book about love with very colorful animals, or it can be an informational text about the diversity of love found in the natural world in the “back matter” (which is actually a supplemental pdf, since it’s a board book). And oh my goodness, look at those bright colors! I thought it was frowned upon by editors and art directors for illustrators to use neon colors, but I stand corrected!
Me: What was your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting? How did that lead you to where you are now as an illustrator?
Katy: Like most young kids, I have been drawing since I was able to hold a crayon. Many kids slowly lose their enjoyment in artmaking as they get more self-conscious about what they are creating. I think two things helped to prevent that in my case.
- Creative family influences. I saw many adults in my life practicing a wide variety of crafts. They often invited my siblings and me to assist on their projects or to work on our own versions of those crafts. So we had many outlets for exploring our creativity. No one in my family really drew pictures, but they did a little bit of everything: wood carving, sewing, painting, refinishing furniture, basket weaving, cookie decorating.
- Resistance to fear of failure & persistence. I am not sure how this happened. I was always very creative, filled with ideas, and okay at drawing, but I was never that kid who stood out as naturally talented. There are still some basic drawing principles I struggle with, even after decades of art classes. I guess I was always drawn to art, so I just kept going. I think many art teachers saw potential in me because of my enthusiasm and creativity, even when my technical skills were lacking. Their encouragement probably kept me from giving up.
Me: You have quite a diverse resume of clients and experiences, from designing children’s clothes and puzzles to studying biology. So what is it that draws you to creating picture books?
Katy: As you noticed, I have a wide range of interests, and creating picture books is a good way to tie them all together. You get the luxury of exploring a certain subject in depth; however, each project is also finished within a limited amount of time, so you can follow your curiosity to the next thing that interests you.
Me: What did your illustration process for this look like? Are you primarily a digital artist or traditional?
Katy: I am always going back and forth between the two, but most of my artwork is finished digitally these days. Leaning on digital artwork is rooted in a mixture of fear (no “undo” in traditional work) and being particular about my intended result. It’s also just practical, since most art directors expect you to hand in digital art these days.
Even if I get the colors exactly how I want them traditionally, the colors usually change a bit after I scan my illustrations, so I continue to adjust them digitally. Starting as a textile designer, I am very used to having flexibility in my color choices and trying many options before I decide on the best color combinations. Working digitally allows me to be more flexible with my color choices. I also often end up tweaking my layouts digitally.
LOVE IN THE WILD actually started as an art show, so everything was done initially with real paint. The final book, though, is fully digital. Digital is usually more graphic, which tends to be better for the target age group for board books. Even when I’m doing an art show, I often plan out my colors and compositions digitally.
Me: Your work is so bright and colorful! You use a lot of neon colors, which surprises me. I’d heard that neon colors are harder to manufacture for printing books. Have you run into any difficulties with this? Have you had any pushback from agents or editors about that?
Katy: I am surprised that you noticed the neon colors. I actually haven’t used any neons in professional projects, just in my personal work. I would LOVE to do a book with neon eventually, though. I am a sucker for a spot color neon. I have a nice collection of books that use neon color. I put the ones that are available on bookshop.org on a list here.
I did a lot of color matching and color approvals for both fabric and print in my fashion jobs, so I have a good sense of what colors can be achieved with different manufacturing processes. I haven’t really asked to use the neons for manufacturing yet. I know it costs more, so it needs to be the right kind of project. LOVE IN THE WILD was the one project that I was really worried about how the colors would turn out. I am very specific with my color choices, even when they are ‘rainbow’ colors. I worried that some of the colors were going to get muddy during the printing process, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I think the colors turned out really well! Mudpuppy does a great job with their colors. I am always happy with the way the colors turn out on their puzzles, too!
Tip: Holbein Acryla Gouache makes some great neons. I also love Opera Pink from Winsor & Newton Designers Gouaches, which is not quite neon.
Me: This book is so unique in the world of board books. What inspired this topic for such young readers?
Katy: Mudpuppy approached me about turning this concept from my art show and 100 day instagram project (#100daysof❤️intheanimalkingdom) into a board book. I was already thinking it was a great concept for a children’s book, but I hadn’t decided on what age group yet. So I was relieved when Muduppy made that decision for me and I could just move forward with it. I also think it’s important to start with these concepts young. Many board books explore the same concepts: animal sounds, colors, letters, numbers and babies and toddlers often get very gender-specific gifts. I think it’s important to widen a child’s world view right from the beginning.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this book?
Katy: I admit that this question stumped me. I can’t think of anything in the writing or illustrating process that surprised me. But while researching the book, it was sort of surprising to see the multitude of ways that gender, mating, pair-bonding and parenting is expressed in animals. People seem to want to put everything into neatly defined boxes, but nature is much more fluid.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Katy: It took me a long time for my illustration skills to match my expectations. I am still not 100% there. There is this myth that artists have a God-given talent. They do not. It is a learned skill like anything else. You have to keep working at it and eventually you will get there. There is a great quote by Ira Glass that says this better than I can:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
On a more practical note: Join SCBWI. They have many resources and workshops for new writers and illustrators. Picture book making is a lot more complex than many people think. It’s important to understand the market and the industry. Read a lot of picture books. The library is your friend!
Great advice Katy. Thank you for stopping by my blog. Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, I recommend doing so. Not only to study the interesting color choices, but to also study the text of this deceptively simple board book. It’s quite an interesting read.