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Interview with Artist Kenard Pak

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Back in December we posted a review of The Dinner That Cooked Itself from Flying Eye Books, an enchanting Asian-influenced tale of hard work, loneliness and patience. The tale was woven by the great mind of J. C. Hsyu and illustrated by the brilliant Kenard Pak. Kenard’s simple illustrations rely heavily on bold shapes and layers of texture to create a wonderful children’s book that all the family can enjoy. Kenard is no stranger to both the illustration and animation world; As well as his triumphs as a children book illustrator he has also created highly graphic and emotive work for films such as Peabody and Sherman and Madgascar 3. We took the opportunity to ask Kenard a few questions about his work and how he has seen it develop of the years.

How did you develop your highly textured and unique style of work?

I’ve always worked with simple, graphic shapes but, seeking something new, I set out to experiment with designs that would either offset or complement hard edges. I can’t remember when I started using textures, because at one point I preferred the opposite. I know resistance to my history in animation is a factor. A sudden interest in artists I used to dislike have a lot to do with it. Also, my memories are a big part of what I do: they are very hazy and grainy. What you see now is a progression, so who knows what it will look like later?

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Where do you seek inspiration from for your work?

I really like Ben Shahn, Andrew Wyeth, Charley Harper, but I adore the storytelling and elegant shape language of Adrienne Adams’s work. Richard Scarry! There’s a select handful of contemporary artists that I actively admire and avoid who are significant influences on what I do. My memories of growing up in Maryland are an important part of my artwork.

How does working on a series of illustrations for a book differ from your work in creating concepts for animation?

With a picture book, I let my creative process unfold into its most extreme, natural state. It’s chaotic and fuzzy with very few parameters. Eventually limits reveal themselves and artwork emerges that I have to stop working on, otherwise I’d go on forever! The beginning, middle and end all have nothing to do with each other. On an animation production, I structure myself based on the needs of the production designer. I have a list of rules and directions, and my colleagues and I know exactly what to expect. If we had to sum it up, it’s really about measurement of time, efficiency and linear functions.

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Which children’s books did you find most compelling when you were a child yourself, and has this informed your current work?

To this day I have a Richard Scarry book next to my bed, just like when I was a kid. My favourite books as a kid were the ones that were educational or had cool illustrations on making something, like a wooden toy or origami. All those nameless, wonderful books at the local library about bugs and leaves, I wonder what happened to them? They had these amazing covers, drawings and paintings…

How were you approached to illustrate this story?

I had done an illustration for Nobrow 9 and Alex Spiro contacted me asking for a manuscript. At the time I didn’t have anything, so Alex proposed The Dinner That Cooked Itself. My wife J. C. Hsyu came on board as author and what you see is all our hard work compressed into one picture book. Hope you like it!

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This is your second children’s picture book, are there plans for a third?

Flowers Are Calling is a sequel in spirit to my first book Have You Heard The Nesting Bird?. It’s pretty cool! The book has many different flowers and all the various pollinators that live with them, all illustrated to Rita Gray’s lovely, quiet writing. It comes out March 2015 through HMH.

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What else are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a picture book series about the four seasons that I’m writing myself.  Henry Holt is kind enough to have me work with them. I’m particularly excited about these books because I’m integrating full size traditional watercolor paintings. Expect the first picture book somewhere later in 2015! I’m also really excited about a book with Tundra Books – it’s about a very clever Warbler.

You can see more of Kenard’s work on his website here. You can also buy The Dinner That Cooked Itself over on Flying Eye Books site.

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