Monday, January 26, 2009

Art Day Interview: Illustrator Katherine Zecca

Today’s Art Day interview is with author/illustrator Katherine Zecca, who illustrated: “The Strange Life of the Land Hermit Crab,” “River Song: With the Banana Slug String Band” by Steve Van Zandt, and “In My Back Yard” by Valarie Giogas. She also wrote and illustrated A Puffin’s Year. Read on to find out more about Katherine’s wonderful art.

Q: How did you get started illustrating for children?
A: I got started by asking myself a question. What would make my heart sing? I
was a scientific illustrator for NOAA Fisheries, and the National Marine Mammal Lab for a dozen years. I got a contract with the National Zoo to illustrate a book about Pollinators. It just got me really excited about the possibilities and the challenges in the publishing world.

Q: What are you working on right now? Do you have any books or art projects you’d like to talk about?
A: I am writing a couple of non-fiction books, developing the research needed, which to me is really fun. I also enjoy contacting biologists whose specialty is about the animals I am writing about.

Q: Do you do non-children’s book art (licensing, fine art, etc.) or art just for fun? Is that art similar or different from your children’s book art?
A: I live on a beautiful nature preserve, I look forward to spring when I can start doing some sketching and painting outdoors.

Q: When someone else has written the text for a book, how do you decide what scenes and details to draw?
A: I do some rough drafts and small sketches. Generally try to memorize the story, really get my head into it, to the point that I see the pictures. Then I start sketching ideas out, looking for visual references. I find some of those from my own sketchbooks sometimes from photographs I have taken.

Q: When illustrating picture books, do you include a visual storyline that’s not in the text or include animals or people you know?
A: I have used my friends and neighbors as models, used my dogs for "Why Puppies do That."

Q: Can you explain your art process?
A: If I am illustrating someone else’s story, I will start with their words, try to get a visual picture in my head. Then I start sketching and making notes to myself. From there I find images I like, refine them and pass them on to the creative director. After I get their approval I enlarge them onto heavy water color paper and refine the drawing again. I will usually make small color samples of a page before continuing onto the final painting. On River Song I focused on complimentary colors to really push the feeling of the seasonal changes.

Q: What is your favorite color?
A: I love every shade of blue

Q: What is your favorite medium to work in?
A: Right now I enjoy acrylic inks, very bright and easy to control, use it like watercolors

Q: What childhood art supply brings back happy memories?
A: Top of my head...hmmm finger painting

Q: Did you always want to be an artist when you grew up?
A: I had no idea I had any talent what so ever, it was cultivated in my twenties.

Q: Do you use models / source pictures or do you draw from your memory/imagination?
A: I use everything at my disposal. I think I have stored memories, sometimes images just come to me from a favorite hike, horseback ride in the mountains.

Q: If you could be anything other than an artist, what would you be?
A: A jazz guitar player, a stand up comic, a pilot

Q: What gets you through an illustration you’re having trouble with?
A: I like to go for a walk with my dogs, and basically get away from my drawing table. Sometimes just doing the dishes or cleaning the house gets me going again too, but I would much rather go for a walk with my lab and basset.

Q: What illustrated book do you remember from when you were a child?
A: The one book that has truly influenced me was Charlotte's web. I have an original copy that was given to me by my brother in 1962. I was reading it before it became popular. Since then I have been following a life path that directly relates to that book. I didn't realize this until I say the latest film made. Between my absolute love of all animal life, farms, rural settings, illustrating, and writing. This is why I like doing school visits because it gives me the chance to really connect with children, to hopefully inspire them.

Q: Is there a children’s book illustrator whose work you gravitate towards in the bookstore now?
A: Chris Van Allsburg hands down.

Q: If you could be a kid again for just one day, what would you do?
A: Ride my bike, make forts and hug my Mom again.

Bio: Katherine was born in Weisbaden Germany, and as lived most of her life in the Pacific Northwest. She moved to Vermont just a year ago. Previously a staff artist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she created illustrations of fish, whales and seals for marine biologists. In her new career as an author and illustrator, Katherine is able to use her life experiences and wonderful voice of writing to authenticate her books and share her moving experiences to encourage children to learn about the world of nature. Katherine enjoys camping and sketching on long walks in the woods with her Basset Bailey and her black Lab Hunter. For more information, visit her website: or her cafepress shop:

Or contact Katherine’s agent Lori Nowicki at:

Thanks for the interview Katherine!

All images in this post © Katherine Zecca.