[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?
[TY] I am an author/illustrator.
Sometimes an image captivates me and the story comes from that image, and sometimes an idea shows up in my head and the pictures come later, through a process of working with the words and story around that idea.
[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[TY] I was born in Seattle, WA and grew up on an island near Seattle. My childhood was full of wild, natural surroundings and lots and lots of water…that deep connection with nature from an early age has always been at my core and my inspiration. At 17, (1972) I lived in Sendai, Japan for a year as an exchange student and was totally immersed in Japanese culture. I discovered Eastern sensibilities, and it changed my life forever…
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[TY] I think I have always experienced the world as an artist, which sounds pretty pretentious, but I mean to say, that like a lot of my artist friends, I have a heightened visual sense and seem to notice almost too much! I can get easily overloaded by sights and sounds, etc. but I have learned that this is a doorway into creativity…noticing little things and following them…
Growing up my family didn’t encourage or appreciate the arts so I never saw myself as being a creative kid (although looking back I was always writing and drawing, etc.) I just thought I was weird. It wasn’t until college, when my future husband suggested I become an art major, because I spent all of my spare time drawing, that I started to think of myself as “creative.” Trying to make it as a fine artist was discouraging, but I have never stopped making art.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[TY] I worked for years as a fine artist in ink, watercolor and egg tempera. I painted tiny little paintings and showed them around town. I also love design and in 2009 started designing a line of greeting cards that were very different from my fine art. That is when I taught myself Photoshop, (kind of) and started scanning pencil and ink drawings into the computer and coloring them there. I also love photography, collage and making cardboard wall sculptures.
[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?
[TY] Nature, love, connections, courage, inspiration, helpfulness, kindness, humor.
[JM] Please tell us about your new picture book coming out this month.
I am super excited that my second book, Night Owl, flies into the world on January 28th! It is a companion to my first book, Early Bird, (for ages 0 to 5) and stars a plucky little owl who is also a great listener! The book emphasizes sound words and listening skills I am thrilled to share Night Owl with the world. (I even have a little percussion performance planned for the book launch.)
The artwork has a limited palette of mostly blues and purples and was inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e block prints.
(My first book, Early Bird is also released as a board book on the same day!)
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[TY] I am in the middle of working on the artwork for my third book, Cat Nap, which comes out in January 2016 (Cat Nap is also a companion to Early Bird and Night Owl.)
This is the funniest of the three books and stars a cat who wants to nap, a kitten who doesn’t, and a tiny mouse who has fun following them around the house in a game of hide and seek.
As my audience for these books are very young, I aim for simplicity in story and artwork. I believe that less is more, especially with this age group and so the process I go through is usually one of taking away over and over again and playing with an idea until things click.
With Early Bird I had an image of this round little bird and the story came from that. With Night Owl and Cat Nap, the titles came first so developing the characters and getting the stories to work was more difficult, but I have learned that if I stick it out long enough, and don’t give up, it will click…eventually.
[JM] Do you have a favorite picture book from when you were young?
[TY] Yes! Caroline and Friends, by Pierre Probst.
[JM] Please share a little about your decision to quit your day job and become a full time author/illustrator last October.
[TY] I have had a day job since I was 12 and so when my 60th birthday started to loom up in front of me I decided to take the plunge and go full-time as an author/illustrator. It wasn’t an easy decision and I am still transitioning! I miss the people and the buzz of the workplace, and I miss the library patrons. But it is time, and I am excited and grateful to be working full-time at my dream!
[JM] What does your workspace look like?
[TY] Pretty chaotic…very chaotic…really just a big mess!
[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? (photos?)
[TY] A real hodge podge! Too much to share. Here are just a few…
Kitchen: A thrift store find.
Living Room: Black and white botanical drawings by my son done at age 15, A Japanese print of Kyoto found in the thrift store; a print from a local Seattle artist from the 1930’s and a print of one of my favorite artists, Rouault.
Entrance way: Japanese screen found at a garage sale.
Utility room: Japanese cloth from a thrift store.
Hallway: JARU ceramic wall art from the 1960’s found at a swap meet in Seattle.
Five Fun Ones to Finish? [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?
[TY] I have not travelled much, so I have to say all of the parks in Western Washington are my favorite. I use to live by Discovery Park in Seattle and it has everything…water, trees, small spaces and big spaces. I love the ocean and often visit the Washington coast… I guess I see the Pacific Ocean as the most wonderful park in the world.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[TY] I am in desperate need of a pet! I am allergic to cats, sadly, but have decided that I will get a dog in 2015!
[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[TY] I worked as a Japanese language translator at a fish cannery in the San Juan Islands.
[JM] One word to describe yourself
[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[TY] Dark chocolate and ginger tea.
Toni, I am so excited you are going to get a dog this year! Also, I wish you success in your first year as a full-time author/illustrator and with NIGHT OWL and your board book EARLY BIRD coming out at the end of the month!.