In today’s Meet the Illustrator feature we hear from Erin Eitter Kono, author and illustrator of the charming and cheerful Caterina books. Erin shares the real-life inspiration behind the latest Caterina story, her favorite sources of artistic inspiration, and the best name for a color she’s ever heard.
What first made you excited about art?
When I was young, my family lived in Winona, Minnesota, across the street from the artist Herb Hultgren. When my mom would visit with his wife Mr. Hultgren would let me sit in his studio, watch him paint, and give me drawing lessons. When I was 9 years old my family moved to Iowa. As a parting gift, Mr. Hultgren filled a huge box with professional grade art supplies: watercolor paper, paints, and brushes, everything I’d need to become a “real” artist. It was a gift of confidence.
What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham. Graham is one of my all-time favorite illustrators. In Be Nice to Spiders, a little boy can’t keep pets in his apartment so he brings his spider, Helen, to the zoo. She eats all the flies and makes all the animals happy. Until, of course, the zookeeper decides to clean up all the cobwebs. To this day, I try very hard not to disturb spiders.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the area where I live and the kids that I know. Palos Verdes is on the coast outside of Los Angeles. It’s an amazing place. Our neighborhood has wild peacocks, coyotes, horses, at least one goat, a large pig, and lots of chickens. There are always plenty of interesting things happening. Since moving here I’ve been learning to sail. Last year when I was working on Caterina and the Best Beach Day I went sailing at our local bay.
We were just off Rat Beach (our local hangout) when a whale surfaced about twenty feet from the boat. It was a magical moment.
That week I revised the book so that Caterina and Leo could look for a whale, too.
What does your workspace look like?
My studio is in a bedroom at the front of our house. It can be described as organized chaos.
What materials do you most like to use?
I go back and forth between working in digital and traditional materials, but what I love is paper. I’ve collected papers from around the globe, everything from fine cold press watercolor papers to random ephemera. The collage technique I’ve used in the Caterina series has been fun because I’ve been able to incorporate some of my bits of paper from places that mean something to me.
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
One thing I’d like to say to young artists is to follow your own obscure interests. If you pay too much attention to what’s currently trending on art and design boards you’ll tend to follow those rather than have a unique voice. As for resources, I’ve been on Pinterest a lot the last few years. I use the private boards to collect inspiration for projects. I’d started a Pinterest site for Caterina when her first book came out, thinking that any character as crafty as Caterina would no doubt be on it. But, I’ve found it just as useful for myself.
How do you get your kids excited about art?
I encourage my daughter to just play with it. She’s actually a bit like Caterina in that she’ll get frustrated when her art doesn’t look like she envisions it. Lately we’ve played a game where she has to start a drawing/painting without knowing ahead of time what it will be. We also have fun going to museums. We pop into a gallery, pick out our favorite piece, say why, and then quickly move on. She loves it.
What have your kids taught you about books and reading?
That there’s a difference between what I admire in an illustration and what children do. Ultimately I’d like to appeal to both, but it’s the kids’ perspective that is most important to me. They’re my audience.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
Fuzzy Wuzzy. It’s a kinda peachy pink. Like a bear with no hair.
Erin Eitter Kono is an award-winning author and illustrator. She was raised in Iowa and then spent years traveling the world. Erin currently lives in Palos Verdes, California, with her husband, daughter, hamster, dog, and the neighborhood peacock.