We are very privileged to feature Naomi Kojima for our Meet the Storyteller as we celebrate From Asia With Love: A Feast of Asian Literature – our current bimonthly theme.
What is a typical day for you like?
I used to be a night person, but now I like to work in daylight. I wake up early, and work for an hour or so at the kitchen table. Then I make breakfast, and I get the house in order before I go into my studio around 10:30 or 11. I wish I could ignore unmade beds, clothes on the floor, breakfast dishes in the sink, and plants begging me to water them, but I can’t. I then work until about 6. But not everyday is like that. Some afternoons I will wander off, go to a bookstore or a café, and think about my work outside the studio.
How long does it usually take for you to finish a book?
I am not very fast. It takes me about one year to finish a picture book. I make many storyboards and thumbnail sketches, and redraw and redraw.
As an author/illustrator, does the story come to you first in text/narrative or in images/illustrations? Can you walk us through your creative process?
It is usually the story that comes first. It may not be a full story yet. It may be just an idea. But my mind will start clicking. Sometimes I see an image. Sometimes I hear the first sentence, in Japanese or in English, but more often in English. I ask the idea a lot of questions, to see if the story is going to be strong enough.
I understand that you also translated Leonard Marcus’ Dear Genius in Japanese – what was that experience like for you? Did you work closely with Leonard on this project?
I loved Dear Genius, but I could not share my excitement with anyone in Japan. I wished so much there was a Japanese translation. I also felt a strong connection to the book, because Ursula Nordstrom worked at Harper, where my first two books were published. And without fully realizing what a great big project it was going to be, I took on the challenge of translating it.
Dear Genius is a long book, nearly 400 pages and with many footnotes. Unlike a 32-page picture book, it was hard to check the flow and unity of a 400-page book. I was unsatisfied with my translation and I revised the entire book four times.
But with each revision, I felt I understood Ursula Nordstrom more; her voice, thoughts and her emotions. Reading and translating her letters and Leonard’s footnotes was in itself an education of the history of US children’s literature and publishing.
Leonard was very kind, and I consulted him when I had questions, and I had many! Nordstrom has a good sense of humor, but humor can be the hardest to translate. Her jokes were often difficult to understand and were not funny at all when translated. Leonard explained and interpreted Nordstrom’s jokes for me, and I added the explanation as new footnotes. Leonard wrote a new introduction for the Japanese edition. Leonard’s help was invaluable for the Japanese edition of Dear Genius.
What are some of your must-have tools when you create your artwork?
Pencils number B, F B4, blue color pencil to scribble, light table, water colors, brushes, pen nibs, ink, color pencils, coffee, cookies, music.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Beautiful things always inspire me; books, illustrations, nature, music, smiles, kind and good thoughts. Funny things inspire me too! I don’t do it as often as I want to, but a quiet afternoon at a museum or picture book museum, looking at original art fills me with peace and inspiration.
What are some of the things that you are working on currently?
I am working on a new picture book, about a grumpy little girl named Tetsuko. I am hoping to finish the book by the end of 2013.