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Kidlit Spotlight: Kellen Hatanaka draws the cover for Tokyo Digs a Garden

Some people harbour lifelong dreams of creating picture books. For Kellen Hatanaka, the chance to embark on a career in kidlit came out of the blue. “I was approached to do my first book based on some pieces I had originally created for a design show in Toronto,” says Hatanaka, a graduate of OCAD University. “Those pieces became the inspiration for Work: An Occupational ABC,” a quirky abecedarian published by Groundwood Books in 2014.

Hatanaka’s digital art – featuring sleek lines, surprising colours, and retro flair – brings an abundance of style and visual humour to the upcoming release Tokyo Digs a Garden. Written by Jon-Erik Lappano, the book will publish in March with Groundwood.

After putting out two of his own books (Drive: A Roadside Look at Opposites was published in 2015), Hatanaka says he was a bit unnerved by the prospect of illustrating someone else’s work. “To be completely honest it is a huge responsibility,” he says. “I needed to make sure I did Jon-Erik’s story justice, but at the same time add my vision and ideas.”

Here, Hatanaka demonstrates how that vision was realized:

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_One1. After developing quick, rough sketches for an illustration, my first step is to create hand-drawn elements that I can add to my digital pieces. It was very important to have an extensive variety of foliage for Tokyo Digs a Garden, so I began by drawing as many different types of plants, flowers, leaves, and shrubs as I could. This gave me a plant-life library I could pull from while I worked on the book.

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_Two2. In addition to hand-drawn elements, I also like to incorporate textures, which I use to create depth and add different surface qualities to specific items on the page. I do this by collecting a variety of found papers and fabrics and also by painting on paper with a variety of paints.

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_Three3. Once I have collected all of my drawings and textures, I scan them and prepare them for use in my illustrations. I clean up the images if necessary and adjust the levels in Photoshop.

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_FinalIllustration_COVER_STEP_14. In Adobe Illustrator, I start the illustration by creating large, general shapes of the characters and background. I like to get the composition set with these shapes before I add detail. I also work out the colour scheme for the piece at this stage.

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_FinalIllustration_COVER_STEP_25. Slowly, I begin to place some of the scanned plant drawings to fill in the foreground and background. I use hand-drawn and scanned watercolour elements to give Tokyo and Kevin some depth and a sense of light. You will notice them on Tokyo’s shirt and hat.

KidsSpotlightMarch_Kellen_FinalIllustration_COVER_STEP_36. I continue adding more plants from my library and finish the illustration with fine details at the very end. This includes things like Tokyo’s glasses and adding a variety of patterns to the characters and some of the plants.