In her extraordinary debut picture book, You Are Stardust (4+), artist Soyeon Kim creates a visual narrative with 3D artwork that’s both arresting and also representative of Elin Kelsey’s text. In You Are Stardust, Elin and Soyeon illustrate in words and pictures how closely connected human beings are to their environment — an ideal message for Earth Day on April 22nd. Here Soyeon discusses her process and the challenges of illustrating a child’s connection to his or her world.
Tell us about your process — it’s so unusual.
The first step of my creative process is rough sketches or thumbnails. Once I have these thumbnail sketches, I put together a box. In order to give a 3D quality to the drawing, I often work with boxes that are made from recycled canvas frames. For You Are Stardust, I purchased olive-coloured wood sticks, then I measured and cut them in the proper size to put together a box. Once a skeleton of a box is made, I attach linen cloth on the top and bottom of the box so that I will be able to hang the drawings. Then I produce rough drawings, which take size and space into consideration. When I am done with roughs, I do my coloured drawings with pen, ink, and watercolour, cut them, and then hang them in each box using fish string and hot glue.
Do you work with the photographer on how best to shoot your models?
I was actually with the photographer and my editor, John Crossingham, when we shot the artwork. We’ve talked about how to show depth and the camera angles to use to photograph some of the works, but all the credit goes to the photographer and editor. I was mainly at the photo shoot to tweak the artwork in case some elements were hidden or blocked by other drawings.
Did you look for ways to connect the characters and animals throughout? Or did that come naturally?
To be honest, the connection of the characters and animals actually came together naturally. I limited the characters to five and showed animals that were provided from the text, or animals that would just fit perfectly in terms of text and artwork.
Was it challenging to think of the simplest way to show a concept? For example, the image of the cells that become a bird, a person, and a whale?
Yes, there were definitely some challenging moments to figure out the simplest way to show a concept. In fact, the example that you have provided, “You started life as a single cell. So did all other creatures on planet Earth,” was one of the most difficult. I did not want the interpretation of the text to be too scientific and straightforward, because I wanted to create images that are more poetic, so that children would read the text to understand the artwork and explore what the text and picture meant for them.
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