In today’s Meet the Illustrator feature we hear from Zachariah OHora, award-winning author and illustrator of No Fits, Nilson!, My Cousin Momo, Ralph and Niblet, and more. Zachariah shares his earliest memory of wanting to be an artist, his favorite sources of artistic inspiration, and the best name for a color that he’s ever heard.
What first made you excited about art?
It’s hard to say what the first thing was; maybe it was some of the animations on “Sesame Street” or “The Electric Company”.
My earliest memory of wanting to be an artist was in third grade. We had a substitute art teacher that came in one time. She was a full-on ‘70s gypsy witch-Stevie Nicks type, all silver bracelets, rings, and mysterious dark hair. She picked up my drawing and made a big deal about it. Then she asked me when my birthday was. I answered November 17th. “A SCORPIO!” she exclaimed. “I KNEW IT!” I didn’t know what a Scorpio was, but I knew that I had to figure out how to be an artist.
Here’s a picture of me from around that time. I wore that shirt for picture days three years in a row so the only way to tell what year it is, is by the missing teeth.
Here’s one from a couple years before that life-changing encounter. Nothing I’ve done since has come close to the honesty in this one.
What illustrated book from childhood has stayed with you over the years?
The Little Fireman by Margaret Wise Brown — the illustrations by Esphyr Slobodkina influenced me greatly. To be honest, I loved it and hated it at the same time. It kind of gave me nightmares.
Also Father Foxes Pennyrhymes by Wendy and Clyde Watson. Richard Scarry’s body of work continues to have a hold on me, too.
Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations?
I find inspiration for my work in old picture books, but also from illustrators like Ben Shahn and painters like Max Beckmann. Museums of all kinds, music and records, film and animation. The usual suspects. I’m really inspired by the look on this stuffed river otter’s face.
What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is in the attic of my home. It’s filled with books, toys, records, and a few stuffed animals. Here are couple pics.
What materials do you most like to use?
I usually work one of two ways. I paint with acrylic paint on paper or I will use sumi ink on very toothy paper. I scan it and add color and texture in Photoshop. But I mostly like to paint.
What design resources would you recommend to young artists?
Go to libraries and museums and take walks. Stay away from Google if you can help it.
How do you get your kids excited about art?
They get very excited when I draw tattoos on them with a Sharpie. They tend to get excited about whatever they get excited about. We’ve taken them to museums and they’ve only been interested in the gift shop. Other times they are as engaged as I am with the art on the walls.
I just try to stay out of the way and let it happen. But you have to expose them.
What have your kids taught you about books and reading?
They have been the main source of inspiration. They are also my captive test audience. I value their opinions to a point. They can be incredibly insightful but at the same time, they love what I consider to be some of the crappiest books out there. So they teach me there is something out there for every reader.
What’s the best name for a color that you’ve ever heard?
One of my favorite color names — not the color so much as the name is this one. Fuzzy Wuzzy.
Zachariah OHora is an award winning illustrator and author. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Business Week, and on posters and record covers. He lives and works in Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his wife and sons.
Books by the Author: