Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Hiroe Nakata

h1 August 24th, 2010 by jules

I feature a lot of illustrators here at 7-Imp, but I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve given something like a full-length interview to an illustrator like Hiroe Nakata, visiting this morning (and pictured here with her young daughter), who creates illustrations almost exclusively for preschoolers. To be sure, she’s illustrated books for older readers, too, but for bright, inviting, sunny art work geared towards the very young, Hiroe won’t let you down.

Publishers Weekly once described Hiroe’s watercolors as “ebullient,” and that pretty much covers it. Title after title, her light-infused watercolors, typically depicting warm, loving families at play, engage the youngest of child readers — or listeners. Hiroe’s illustrated titles are great choices for intimate lap-time reads with wee children.

I invited Hiroe for a breakfast chat to find out how she got started, where she’s been, and what she’s up to now. Her breakfast-of-choice is Eggs Benedict with fries (mmm, I wholeheartedly endorse that), and I’ll bring the strong coffee. I thank her kindly for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Hiroe: Illustrator.

{Illustration pictured left is from Because of You by B.G. Hennessy (Candlewick, 2005).}

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Hiroe: Watercolor and ink; some colored pencils.

7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Hiroe: {I’ve done} picture books and greeting cards. I never have done {for} older ones above 10. For greeting cards, I do a more sophisticated style with more details.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Hiroe: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY, where I adore the neighborhood. Very quiet, brown-stoned buildings with small parks with little critters, children everywhere. I pull many sources from my neighborhood for my illustrations. Kids in colorful outfits (I especially like seeing kids bundled up with colorful knits and gear during gray, snowy days—see my book, Snow Happy!—and it is so beautiful, visually), full of happiness…

Illustrations—and cover art—from Patricia Hubbell’s upcoming book (Fall 2010) Snow Happy!, published by Tricycle Press

Also: hip moms and dads and very homey cafes and shops. I like sketching out the babies and toddlers at the nearby playground, while I am playing with my four-year old daughter, Koharu.

I also enjoy participating in seasonal preschool events in this neighborhood, because of its coziness. And I learn so much about American culture, because my childhood was in Japan.

Illustration—and cover art—from Mommy in My Pocket
by Carol Hunt Senderak (Hyperion, 2006)

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Hiroe: Studied Illustration at Parsons School of Design, where I built my portfolio of children’s books. First, I found a job in a textile design studio, where I created thousands of textile designs, mainly for children’s apparel, including Baby Gap PJs, etc. While I was working there, I happened to find my rep., MB Artists (formally known as HK Portfolio), and my first illustrated work was published in 2000 (Lucky Pennies and Hot Chocolate by Carol Diggory Shield, Dutton).

7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?


7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Hiroe: Grandma Calls Me Gigglepie by J.D. Lester, {published by} Robin Corey Books (this is the third title from one series); Snow Happy! by Patricia Hubbell (Ticycle Press); Ducking for Apples by Lynne Berry, {published by} Henry Holt (this is the fourth title from a series); Preschool Day Hooray! by Linda Strauss (Scholastic).

Illustrations from Duck Skates (top), 2005;
Duck Dunks (middle), 2008; and Duck Tents, 2009.
All written by Lynne Berry and published by Henry Holt.

Mmm. Coffee.Our coffee has brewed, and we’re ready to get a bit more detailed. I thank Hiroe again for stopping by — in this case, for six questions over breakfast. (We’re having too much fun looking over artwork for seven).

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Hiroe: After reading the manuscript, I try to imagine the character in my head very blurrily and spend a few days (or even a few weeks) without doing anything. I spend my days doing usual things, like cooking, sewing or knitting, or playing with my four-year-old daughter, and gradually I visualize the main character with a pose, doing something silly or charming.

At this point, I might start sketching out a little but not so much. I’d rather create my inspiration board in front of my desk, where you find my little thumbnails, but more than that, I push-pin my favorite swatch of fabrics or beautiful pieces of yarn or actual objects, like my childhood stuffed animals, leaves I found in the park, or packages. I also go though many magazines and books for correct colors. I decide on my color palette first. I think I do this because of my past experience of creating textile designs, and the color is very important in my illustrations. Then I sketch out the details while paginating the manuscripts and, from there, everything comes so smooth and easy. While I am creating the final art, I always keep in mind that I have to make everything look very fresh and whimsical because I use watercolor. I try not to create the look of overworked art. I sometimes paint several {times} the same pieces to get this perfect, fresh look. Because my style is loose and bouncy, this is very important!

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Hiroe: I used to have my studio space, but it became my daughter’s room. I have a desk in our bedroom right now. I can work in a small space, because I use watercolor, which does not make a big mess. (I actually cannot work in a messy studio.)

Illustrations from Kristine O’Connell George’s Up! (Clarion, 2005)

3. 7-Imp: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Hiroe: Harry the Dirty Dog, The Little House, Blueberries for Sal. (These American books in the ’40s and ’50s were around me in Japan. I still find that books in these ages were very beautiful with fun endpapers always.) Also: Chihiro Iwasaki, a Japanese watercolorist, who illustrated children better than anyone. I admire her work.

{Ed. Note: Chihiro Iwasaki is pictured right. Image comes from the website for the Chihiro Art Museum.}

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators or writers—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Hiroe: The people above but also Richard Scarry. I love his sense of humor. I also admire the work of Lisbeth Zwerger. Her work is absolutely opposite from my work. But I am so drawn to her work.

Illustration from Chihiro Iwasaki

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Hiroe: I do not listen to music while I create. Since my husband is a DJ, I do not have much choice at our place. I prefer loungy types of music.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Hiroe: I play piano only with my four-year-old daughter, who dances and jumps on our bed with Chopin’s waltzes.

Illustration from Marsha Hayles’s Pajamas Anytime (Putnam Juvenile, 2005)

* * * (A Portion of) The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Hiroe: My daughter.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Hiroe: My daughter.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Hiroe: The first bird’s singing before dawn. The giggle of a ticklish baby.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Hiroe: The big yell of an adult man on the street. I hate them!

* * * * * * *

All artwork and photos used with permission of Hiroe Nakata. All rights reserved.

The match-girl image by Chihiro Iwasaki taken from this site.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan. Thanks to Matt, Alfred now lives permanently at 7-Imp and is always waiting to throw the Pivot Questionnaire at folks.

10 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Hiroe Nakata”

  1. Thanks so much for featuring Hiroe! Love her sweet, free-spirited style. Great bears and bunnies :). Her daughter is adorable!!

  2. That watercolor of a kid standing on books to reach the fan has to be my FAVORITE!! I love the hair of her characters – I think I see that whimsy in her daughter’s great little pigtail-bumps. (What a cute kid.) There is so much color and life there — somehow watercolor normally comes across to me as placid and serene. Now I know – definitely not all the time! Love this! What a treat.

  3. Always a fan of Hiroe’s work. Such a distinctive, seemingly effortless style. Thanks for the interview!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful interview. I now feel as though I actually know Hiroe! I am so lucky to have her as the illustrator for Snow Happy! Hiroe, you have added so to the liveliness and joy of this book, that I can’t express enough gratitude. I have just seen an advance copy, and I LOVE it!
    Gratefully yours,

  5. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Hiroe Nakata […]

  6. Hiroe,
    Your work is so very wonderful. It makes me very happy inside. I’ve been so lost in the digital world of late. I think i’ll pick up my watercolors again.
    Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. That parasol picture is completely charming. As someone who writes about a mostly-brown world, I am taken with the colors in that photo as well as the ones in her work!

  8. Stunning work with colors so crisp and clean. I agree with the previous comment that ‘it makes me very happy inside’ just to look at your art.

  9. […] by as Hiroe answers questions from the blogger of  “Seven Impossible Things Before […]

  10. I’m not sure but I think Hiroe Nakata is one of the reasons I subscribed to Country Living UK when I can afford it.She used to do small margin pictures of gardening. I love her style, loose and bouncy and gorgeous!

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