Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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12 Comments

Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

  1. Her parents must be so proud. Thanks for sharing Elizabet’s passion and another great book!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful to read about Elizabet’s determination to become an illustrator! I love how she captured so much personality on the book covers 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Obviously do NOT enter me in the drawing for the book, but I just had to give big praise to Anna for doing such an amazing job with this interview. AND I love love loved learning about Elizabet! Especially that she was a younger sister like Jasmine AND had similar spunk and determination. YAY!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christina Uss

    Hooray for the spunk of girls everywhere! Loved this post, it made my enjoyment of the book even deeper knowing a bit more about Elizabet and her own childhood. And her illustrations absolutely bring Jasmine even more to life!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fantastic way to kick off the JASMINE launch week! I love love love all the illustrations!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mariagianferrari

    Great interview, Anna!! I loved getting to know Elizabet. Her illustrations of Jasmine are sweet and plucky. And congrats, Debbi!! So happy your books are soon in the world!! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fabulous and in-depth interview! I can’t wait to get my copies of Mochi Queen and look at the illustration on page 37! Congrats on your launch week, Debbi!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved the review. Can’t wait to see the books.
    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Laurie Eisenberg

    I have twin granddaughters. This is EXACTLY the kind of values their parents are teaching them. Girl power!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. David McMullin

    Theses are really great covers. I can’t wait to look inside.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I love the illustrations! Looking forward to checking out the whole series!

    Liked by 1 person

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