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Illustrating Picture Books in Tokyo and Toronto ―
Interviews with Miyakoshi Akiko and Sydney Smith

2020/06/15

Part 3: About Yourselves

Part 3: About Yourselves

Miyakoshi Akiko and Sydney Smith are two children’s book illustrators,both in their thirties and who live more than an ocean apart. Akiko’s The Way Home at Night won the 2016 Bologna Ragazzi Award, and Sydney’s Town Is by the Sea won the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal. They met at the Bologna Book Fair and became fans of each other’s works. And they’ve been friends ever since.

In part 3, the last installment, we asked Akiko and Sydney to talk about themselves. Enjoy the illustrations they drew for each other specially for this interview and the interview questions they’ve asked each other. This interview was conducted in July 2019.

Interview by Okimoto Atsuko 
Translation by Nina Raj
Do you have any book illustrator friends overseas besides Akiko? What is rewarding about exchanges with international counterparts?
Sydney: I have a few illustrator friends in the UK and Ireland. Years ago, I travelled to Bhutan and met some very talented young illustrators. Bhutanese stories are traditionally shared orally and picture books are new to their culture. It was fascinating and exciting to see the Bhutanese beginning a journey with picture books in such a good way. There are many places in this world that have a long history and a deep respect for the picture book artform and that is where Bhutan is headed. I learn a lot from illustrators, authors and other creators from around the world.
Sydney and Akiko at the Bologna Book Fair, 2016.
How did you and Sydney meet?
Akiko: JonArno Lawson, the author of Sidewalk Flowers, which Sydney illustrated, emailed me. He’d read the English translation of my Tea Party in the Woods and wrote to say how much he liked it. I was delighted because I had just read Sidewalk Flowers, which I really lovedーit somehow resonated with me. And the connection with JonArno led to emails with Sydney, so I was totally surprised to bump into him quite by accident at the Bologna Book Fair.


Sydney, what are your impressions of Akiko’s I Dream of a Journey?
Sydney: Embarrassingly, I am the biggest fan of Akiko. I was afraid to receive I Dream of a Journey because I knew it would cause me much professional jealousy. I believe that she and I share similar ideas about visual story telling. Sometimes she captures these ideas visually better than I ever could. She is a master of light, perspective. Her characters are expressive yet secretive which intrigues the reader. They are animals but are in no way whimsical or immature. I have grown to have a lot of respect for any characters in my books and I can sense that in Akiko’s work as well.
Sydney with I Dream of a Journey
Akiko, what are your impressions of Sydney’s Town Is by the Sea?
Akiko: First and foremost, I love the cover illustration of the sea. It has a quality that is hard to express in words: it draws the viewer in, and I love that it says so much about the story. I always strive to capture that special quality when I draw. For me, it’s important to have one illustration that is the key to the bookーthis cover illustration is precisely that! Every time I look at the cover, I feel like I can gaze at it forever. Sydney’s drawings are gentle and elegant, make me want to imitate him.
Akiko with Town Is by the Sea.
Questions from Akiko to Sydney
In part 3, we had Akiko and Sydney ask each other questions. Here are Akiko’s questions for Sydney.
Akiko: Here’s my first question. Up till now, you’ve illustrated books with text written by someone else. In your forthcoming book, you will be both the writer and illustrator. What is the difference between working with your own text and text by someone else?
Sydney: My next book is called Small in the City. It is my first attempt at writing. I wanted to create something that incorporated what I had learned from previous books. I wanted to tell a story using text and illustration equally. The story could not be told just visually or verbally.
Almost every text I have been given, written by someone else, is complete when it comes to me. My challenge is then to find a way to be essential to the story telling. With my own story, I wanted to write a text that was incomplete.
Akiko: My second question. Do you think of doing something other than illustrating picture books?
Sydney: I would like to make movies or animations. I would like to build a house. I have no carpentry skills but I think that would be rewarding.
Akiko: My last question. Who is the first person to whom you show your roughs? Do you show them to your family?
Sydney: I keep my roughs to myself for a long time. My editor is the first person to see my roughs. Sketches are placeholders for bigger ideas and those ideas are in my head. It’s hard for anyone but me to see the potential in my roughs and no matter how much I try to describe the final image it’s easier to just do it.
Akiko’s drawing for Sydney:
“Your wonderful picture books are always an inspiration. Thank you! Miyakoshi Akiko”
Questions from Sydney to Akiko
And here are Sydney’s questions for Akiko.
Sydney: Light is very important to all art but yours especially. You are very specific in your light sources and intensity. Do you find that there are other artforms that inform your understanding of composition and light?
Akiko: I find photographs and movies informative, even my own photographs. But paintings are by far the artform that most informs me. I’ve even drawn something inspired by a hint from a scene in “Twin Peaks”.
Sydney: My second question. As you continue your journey as an illustrator, do you find yourself narrowing your focus in terms of themes and techniques or are you tearing down walls and breaking your own rules? Or both?
Akiko: I find that the medium helps me conceptualize what I want to draw, but I want to try the reverse, to have my concepts choose the medium. In reality, mastering new techniques involves experimenting and is time-consuming. So in the end, I end up narrowing down my choices.
Sydney: And here is my last question. How important is silence and solitude to you and to the stories you tell?
Akiko: I am touched by gentle and peaceful scenes from everyday life, like the tiny speck of light emanating from a house seen from a plane flying high over Siberia or the humble family seen through the window of a house at night. I try hard to capture those feelings in my drawings.
Sydney’s drawing for Akiko
This marks the end of the 3-part interview with two young picture book illustrators. We thank them for sharing their work, life, and dreams, and we admire the sincerity with which they create children’s books. Though living more than an ocean apart, they have much in common in their work. Here’s hoping that friendship between creators of children’s books will continue to cross borders and contribute to the universal wish to pass on something good to our children and future generations.


Miyakoshi Akiko

Born in Saitama, Japan, in 1982. Graduate of Musashino Art University. Started writing and illustrating picture books while still at university. Lived in Berlin for one year in 2007. Among her works are The Tea Party in the Woods (Kaiseisha, 2010), which was awarded the 17th Japan Picture Book Grand Prix, and The Way Home at Night (Kaiseisha, 2015), which won the Bologna Ragazzi Award and was listed as a New York Times / New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book. Her other works include The Piano Recital (Bronze Shinsha, 2012), Whose Are These? (Bronze Shinsha, 2013), I Dream of a Journey (Bronze Shinsha, 2018), Room in the Field (Poplar, 2011), and Turning on a Flashlight (Fukuinkan Shoten, 2014). Lives in Tokyo with her daughter.
http://miyakoshiakiko.com

I Dream of a Journey 
by Miyakoshi Akiko

“How long has it been since I started running this hotel?” The hotel owner has guests from all over the world, and he yearns to travel when he hears their stories of faraway lands. So one day, he packs a huge suitcase and . . . The soft colors of the illustrations done in lithograph lift the reader away to another world.
See a making of this book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObZgQ0DN9rc


Sydney Smith

Born in Nova Scotia, Canada,in 1980. Graduate of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University. Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books, 2015), a book with no text, won many honors, including the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award (Children Literature category) and the New York Times / New York Public Library Best illustrated Children’s Books. Town Is by the Sea (Groundwood Books, 2017), a picture book about a boy who lives in a coal-mining town, won the 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal. Lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.
@Sydneydraws

The Town Is by the Sea 
by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith

A story about the day in the life of a young boy who lives in a coal-mining town by the sea. The sea takes various hues as the day progresses, and in the evening, the boy’s father comes home from the mines and the family sits in the sea breeze and gazes out at the sea. The preciousness of a typical day is captured in this quiet and heart-warming story with stunning illustrations. A book that will stay with its reader for a long time. Kate Greenaway Medal.

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