Today I get to do something I love to do - help celebrate the success of someone who I've been rooting for for some time now. Kristi Valiant has been working hard and long to bust into trade picture books and she's finally done it with a beautiful new picture book, CORA COOKS PANCIT (illustrated by Kristi, written by Dorina K. Laazo Gilmore)! And along with being warm and lush, it's published by MY first publisher of The Prince's Diary, Shen's Books!
Along with it's multi-cultural setting, and the reminder of a classic initiation rite of passage, there are so many more reasons to love this book...
Q. Congratulations on the release of CORA COOKS PANCIT! It's GORGEOUS!! I know you've illustrated scads of leveled reader books (educational) but is this your first trade picture book?
A. Thank you! Yes, CORA COOKS PANCIT is the first trade picture book I've illustrated. I've done around 30 leveled reader books that are mostly sold to schools, and I've recently illustrated some chapter books too.
Q. I love your loose style and all the sketch lines that show - it gives your art a vitality which I just adore. But I also thought I saw hints of digital... What is your illustration method?
A. Good eye on catching the digital medium! My artwork in CORA COOKS PANCIT is entirely digital. I sketch right in Photoshop, because I find it so convenient to resize, redraw, and move parts of the sketch around that way. Then when I paint the final in Photoshop, I move the sketch layers to the top and multiply them down onto the layers below - that's how you still see the sketch lines. I love sketch lines and sometimes I even add extras in at the end! I play around with digital brushes to get the look of different kinds of paint, but I do all the painting on my computer with an electronic pen and tablet.
Q. The color palette you chose is so warm and inviting - what influenced the feel you were going for?
A. The text was the main influence. It's very family-oriented and heartwarming. When you combine that with the warm, rich Filipino culture and the process that Cora goes through to cook a warm noodle dish with chicken and vegetables, the color palette was just calling out to me to be warm and inviting!
Q. I especially love the light pouring through the kitchen windows - did that present particular challenges?
A. The light pouring in with the shadows across the floor was one of my favorite things to paint! I wanted some warm sunshine lighting, but the whole book takes place indoors. The warm light pouring in the windows was the solution. I modeled the patio doors/windows after my own house, so I had an instant reference to make it easier to paint.
Q. There is a sweet little dog popping up throughout the book - what's his story? And his toys as well - is there a story there too?
A. This book has a fair amount of text to be read, so I wanted to include a humorous, visual story in the illustrations for kids to discover while listening. The dog's visual story kind of echoes Cora's own story. Cora is usually ignored in the kitchen because she's too little, but by the end of the book she gets what she wants - to make delicious pancit. The dog wants to play but is ignored throughout the book. He keeps bringing different toys to try to get Cora's attention. In the end, she plays tug-of-war with the dog using the very first toy he had brought her. Someday soon I want to get my own pet doggie!
Some of the stuffed animals he brings Cora are stuffed animals I own myself. I like monkeys and penguins, and my husband likes hippos, so those had to be in there. Also, I usually include a little mouse in my books, because I was called mouse when I was little.
Q. Cora is just adorable and her Filipino family is charming. Did you work straight from your head or did you use photo reference?
A. I researched a bunch on Filipino heritage since Cora's grandpa came to the U.S. from the Philippines. I took indoor photos of a little girl and her mom as general references, and I'm always looking for true-to-life, childlike poses (most kids don't stand straight up so Cora certainly doesn't). I try not to rely too much on photos, because when I do, the characters look too stiff. I'm still figuring out the right mix for me between realistic and stylized. I kept this book more realistic because the story was more realistic. For my own goofy picture book manuscripts that I'm writing, my sketches are far more stylized and from my head.
Q. This book made me hungry with all the wonderful food Cora and her mother made. Have you cooked Pancit and did you like it?
A. Oh yes and yes! For the author and illustrator photos on the back flap, I had suggested that we should be holding bowls of pancit. The recipe is in the book, and I was really hoping that I would like it (it would be hard to promote the book if I didn't like it!). I didn't need to worry at all - my husband and I made the recipe and we absolutely loved it!
I have a book signing at Barnes and Noble in Evansville, Indiana this coming Saturday, July 25, and I'll be bringing a big pot of pancit to give out samples. Once people taste how yummy it is, I know they'll want the recipe!
Q. What's next for you illustration-wise?
A. Today I'm creating an illustration for a touring production of Peter Rabbit, and I have a few more freelance illustration projects to attend to. I'm also working hard on one of my own picture book manuscripts about dancing penguins and sketching it into a dummy to submit to agents. I hope to begin submitting that this summer.