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Tatyana Feeney is an illustrator, originally from North Carolina. She moved to Ireland eleven years ago, after meeting her husband one fateful St. Patricks weekend, and they now live in Trim with their two children. I asked Tatyana about her distinctive childlike drawings and illustrations.
How did you get started in illustration and children’s books?
When I was growing up I loved art and I also loved reading- it took me a while to figure out how the two were going to come together. I studied Art History in college and then Graphic Design, and then, naturally, I worked in a kindergarten for a few years- and it was from reading the picture books and drawing and painting with the kids that I realized picture books might be a good fit for me.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
That is a hard question because there are so many great things about it- logistically it is nice because you can work from anywhere and of course your working schedule is your own to decide. My kids (currently anyways) think it is a very cool job to have and that I am famous, but I suppose the very best part is that you are creating a world that is as you see it -where frogs have picnics and owls get very distressed by orange knitwear.
With the books you’ve written yourself, do your stories follow the illustrations or the other way around?
Well, with my own stories I can already see the pictures that go with the text- and often the pictures come first and the text follows- whereas with other people’s stories I am trying to think about how the way I work can fit with what I think they are trying to say. My stories generally follow the illustrations because they are usually generated from a character I have drawn. I try to think about what the character does or what he or she likes (or doesn’t) and from that the scenarios or stories have developed.
How do you get into the mindset of a child?
As I mentioned, I worked in a kindergarten for a few years and I suppose that, and having children on my own has helped. I also think listening to adults and what they say about their childhoods- when you hear a story from a friend or relative and you realize that the kids we were are still part of who we are as adults- it helps maybe to retain some of those thoughts and feelings of childhood.
You use monoprint and collage, water colour in your work. Can you tell us about these processes and why you use them?
Monoprinting just means a print that is a one-off. In my way of using it I draw a picture directly onto a glass plate covered in ink- which means I have to draw my images backwards on the back of the paper and then trace it to have it come up the right way around. It is kind of a long winded way of doing things but I love the effect of the ink line. I also use it in a different way to make very textured colours- for example the Bunny’s blanket in Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket- and in that method I mix ink colours on a glass plate and then roll them onto card- sometimes using other elements, lace, bubble wrap etc to add texture. If necessary I will then add collage or watercolor to my illustrations but the monoprinting is the main thing.
Your illustrations are very childlike, can you explain your idea behind this?
Drawings done by young children have always appealed to me because they are so free of self consciousness, they are just honest and imaginative. When I started seriously thinking about being an illustrator I was most influenced by other illustrators who worked in a simpler and more childlike style. Over time I have developed my own way of drawing that has (I hope) some of that simplicity and freedom.
What were your favourite books growing up?
I went to the library a lot as a little kid and some of my favourites from that time were In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Anansi the Spider, and Alice in Wonderland. Some favourites from a bit later are Watership Down, the Narnia series and To Kill A Mockingbird. One of the nicest things for me as a parent has been getting to read these books again (and lots of others) with my kids.
How do you feel about the idea that children aren’t reading as many books as they used to, with video games and ipads being used more and more as entertainment?
I don’t like it, of course, and as a mom I am very strict about any kind of screen time my children have. On the other hand, I think there seem to be more and more books and series for emergent readers and tweens and now there is such hype and excitement around books like the Harry Potter series that I really think and hope that books are seen as something cool and that a passion for books isn’t being lost.
What are you working on now?
A new picture book…..