Illustrator Interview – Toni Yuly

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Yuly portrait NEW

[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.)

Night Owl illo - Yuly

Night Owl 3 Yuly

Night Owl 1 Yuly

Night Owl 2 YulyThe 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.

Cat Nap 3 Yuly

Cat Nap 2 Yuly

Cat Nap 1 Yuly

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!

studio Yuly-2

[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.

art in home- kitchen - Yuly

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.

Livrm various - Yuly

Entrance way: Japanese screen found at a garage sale.

Japanese screen-Livrm - Yuly

Utility room: Japanese cloth from a thrift store.

Japanese cloth - laundry room - Yuly

Hallway: JARU ceramic wall art from the 1960’s found at a swap meet in Seattle.

Jaru ceramic-hall-Yuly

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

[TY] Positive.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[TY] Dark chocolate and ginger tea.

Readers can find Toni on FB:                                      and on her website:

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!.

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20 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Toni Yuly

  1. I hope I get to meet Toni one day! I imagine Toni’s mind is sorted like the artwork for the books, taking away elements that were useful in composing her picture but no longer add anything that move the story forward! Best of luck in the next launch. Be sure to have a friend tape a percussion presentation so we can all experience it, Toni!

    • Toni says:

      Thanks Julie for all of your kind words and support! I just know we will meet one day…maybe this year! I will be sure to share the Night Owl percussion storytime! All the best to you in 2015!

  2. Ronda Eden says:

    Nice interview. Love that messy studio! Ronnie

  3. Toni says:

    Thanks Ronnie. I do sometimes “clean up” and organize, but it never stays that way for long…

  4. Catherine says:

    What cute illustrations. I am so into owls right now and collecting art 😉 I love that thrift store find, so funky.

    • Toni says:

      Thank you Catherine. I love owls too and wish I could see one in the wild some day…I haunt thrift stores and I think it is the best way to “score” with the great finds. If you just go once in a blue moon the good stuff doesn’t seem to be there 🙂

  5. rhythm says:

    This was another great interview!!!! It is so fun seeing all the behind-the-scenes of these artists. I like Ms Yuly’s style – bold and simple. And I have recently become interested in owls as we have one hanging out near our window that I listen to at night. Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Love these behind the scene interviews of the illustrators among us, I love Toni’s funky cute illustrations and natural approach.

  7. Sylvia Liu says:

    What a cool interview. Thanks, Joanna and Toni. Your studio looks like mine, only neater. Can’t wait to see your new book!

  8. Toni says:

    Thanks Sylvia. I can NOT believe that anyone’s studio is messier than mine, haha! You are going to have to send me a photo of yours 🙂 I hope that you can make it to one of my Night Owl book events next month, it would be great to meet you in person.

  9. Another cool interview. Love that thrift store find too!

  10. I can’t wait until her “Night Owl” book is released. I am very curious about the story as well as the illustrations, which are so simple, colorful and bold. What a great interview.

    • Toni says:

      Thank you for your kind words Patricia! Night Owl is released this month on Jan 28th…I can hardly wait! Hoot hoot! Please feel free to contact me on my website or facebook page if you have any questions about it or any of my work. Have a great day!

  11. Erik - TKRB says:

    Ms. Yuly sounds like a really nice lady! I would like to go to Japan one day. I like Ms. Yuly’s artwork! 😀

    • Toni says:

      Thanks for your kind words Erik! I hope that you get to Japan one day…I would like to go back now and see all of the changes since I was there a long time ago.

  12. Took me long enough to catch up with things after a week’s vacation. 🙂

    You have such a fun and vibrant style, Toni! Your art makes me smile. I love the WIP sketches and I love that you have so many Japanese pieces (I adore Japanese aesthetics and sometimes wish I were Japanese instead of Chinese in background).

    Early Bird was so adorable; I can’t wait to read Night Owl!

    • Toni says:

      Thanks Teresa! I hope you had a wonderful vacation! Your kind words are so supportive and I appreciate you!

      I didn’t know that you were of Chinese descent, that is awesome! I sometimes feel partly Japanese because I lived there… I hope to visit again one day!

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