The Tigon and the Liger is shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Awards! To mark the occasion, I talk with illustrator Cosei Kawa about his work on this beloved book. Read on to find out what an “omphant” is (it’s cute!) and to watch the delightful message he prepared for the children of Sheffield.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a few of your favourite things about living in Shizuoka, Japan?
I am an illustrator of picture books and I teach illustration at the Shizuoka University of Art and Culture. Recently, I moved to the seaside in search of good sushi. I often walk on the beach – goofing off on the job!
You completed an MA in illustration at Falmouth University. Has living in the UK influenced your style? Do you think you have a particularly Japanese illustration style?
Living in the UK has significantly changed my illustration style. It was in the UK that I started my career as a professional illustrator. It is nice to hear British people say that Cosei’s illustration smells oriental, while Japanese people say it smells occidental.
Can you tell us how you go about creating your illustrations? What materials do you use?
I use pencil, watercolor, acrylic, collage, and CG to draw. Making rough sketches takes longer than colouring.
Did you enjoy illustrating The Tigon and the Liger? What did you like about the story?
I like the way the cats got over their difference. The lions and tigers rejected the tigon at first. I imagine they felt strange looking at this different animal. However, a great discovery, a unique creation, or a revolutionary design may look strange. The feeling of strangeness is evidence that it is good! Don’t you think this book looks slightly strange?
How did you approach illustrating a story set in the Gir Forest in India? What inspired the fantastical drawings and little collages – like stories within the story – in some of your pages?
The Gir Forest has many teak trees, so while drawing the book, I burned incense of teak and surrounded myself with the scent of that forest. As for the small side stories, I enjoy drawing these and prefer to have them in my work. I drew a lot of caricatures and comics on my school textbooks.
If you could create your own hybrid creature, what would it look like and what would you call it?
I would create an “Omphant”. This is an elephant who lives in your belly button. Omphant likes sesame seeds.
Do you think it’s important that children have access to books that represent cultures other than their own?
The importance to know different cultures is increasing. Too many societies are becoming closed-minded and too nationalistic these days. Some kingdom is going out of a circle and some eastern tiny empire hates a missile man.
What countries or cultures would you like to see represented more often in children’s books?
After drawing this book, I became more interested in the intersection of civilizations and in places like Istanbul, Shanghai, or Karelia.
When you are not illustrating picture books, what other types of artwork do you create?
If I am not illustrating, I would make visual narratives anyway, like graphic novels, animation films, or board games.
Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators?
Please enjoy drawing. To do so, you can survive and continue growing.