Jillian Tamaki

Darkest Light

Jan 30th, 2012

Personally, I think one of the best things about being an illustrator is the reading. When you’re asked to interpret an article or story, you read very attentively.

I became familiar with Hiromi Goto‘s work when a friend raved about A Chorus of Mushrooms many years ago when we were in college. So it was a nice surprise when I was contacted in 2008 to illustrate her YA novel Half World. (Apparently she was a fan of the way I draw rats!) Hiromi’s writing is so distinct… very beautiful and, well, disgusting at the same time. She describes poverty. She’s not afraid to let bodily fluids squirt. I felt an instant attraction to her writing.

Now there is a sequel to Half World: Darkest Light. It’s out tomorrow! What’s awesome about both Half World and Darkest Light is that not only are the covers illustrated, but both books also contain many interior illustrations. Dreamy. With so much debate in publishing circles about what YA covers should look like, it’s nice to know that Penguin Canada felt the first book did well enough with an illustrated cover to warrant a similar approach for the sequel. More illustrated YA book covers! They’re pretty! They work!

Currently the book is only released in Canada, but I imagine a US version is in the works. (If you’re really keen you can order through amazon.ca, I think.)

Thanks AD Lisa Jager and Penguin Canada for springing for the shiny, sparkly cover paper.

Society of Illustrators News

Jan 23rd, 2012

I won two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators this year, in the Book and Institutional categories. HOORAY! This means you can see the original embroidery for Black Beauty (and The Secret Garden) at the show, which runs Jan 25- Feb 18. The opening is Feb 3.

The second gold medal is for this Croquet Poster, which was commissioned by Cramer-Krasselt to benefit the Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee. This image will be included in the Institutional/Advertising show, February 23, 2012 – March 17, 2012. Thank you, Society and jury!

What’s Going On

Dec 13th, 2011

Hey guys, a few things I wanted to mention.

1. A Student FAQ! I made one. It’s here.

2. Tomorrow (Dec 14) I will be on my husband’s radio show, Your Dreams My Nightmares. You can ask a question via call-in, email, facebook, or twitter. All the info for that is in this post (I keep on telling him to GET RID OF THE RED, but I’m sorry. My powers only extend so far.) Your question has a much likelier chance of being answered if it doesn’t involve asking what kind of brushes I use. The interview will be archived and I’ll post the link here when it is.

3. Happy Holidays!

(The picture above is from a few months ago. It was originally commissioned by Toronto Life Magazine.)


Nov 11th, 2011

I’m looking for someone to help me in the studio for a day or two. Organizational stuff for the most part. In exchange, I will give you coffee, lunch, optional donuts, and will happily look at your portfolio if you like. Day/Time is flexible. Email me at jill (AT) jilliantamaki (dot) com. Position filled!

The above pinecones are from a job that got killed. Too bad. I quite like them.

Penguin Threads: Available now!

Oct 25th, 2011

When we first announced the Penguin Threads project back in March, the response was phenomenal. I have never participated in a project that has had such a response. Well, as of today, the books are available for purchase. (Buy at Amazon, search/buy at your local indie bookstore via Indiebound, or get them from Penguin directly.)

They are here. They are all glued together and have words inside.

A surprise when you open the cover... the backs of the embroideries!

We are having a launch event in New York City. Not only will you get to hear me chew the fat with Penguin Classics Director Elda Rotor, you will also be able to see the original embroideries in person. Here’s the info for that event:

Tues, Nov 8, 7PM
Purl Soho
459 Broome Street (between Greene and Mercer)
RSVP @ penguinthreads@gmail.com

What Could Have Been: some alternate sketches for the Emma and Black Beauty covers.

Lastly, I wanted to provide you with a few more behind-the-scenes/in-progress goodies. These were completed in a few feverish weeks between December 2010 and February 2011.

Thanks for your interest in the covers. I hope they encourage you to read the wonderful stories inside. And be sure to check out the three wonderful new covers in the Threads series from Rachell Sumpter.

Please direct all press inquiries to Sonya at sonya.cheuse@us.penguingroup.com

Folio Society: Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market & Selected Poems”

Oct 20th, 2011

I did another Folio Society book!

This one is a collection of Christina Rossetti poems. Some of you may be familiar with her most famous poem, Goblin Market. It was on my first-year University reading list anyway.

Christina Rossetti’s poetry is romantic, devotional, and often very bleak. She derived a lot of her inspiration from Nature: the seasons, harvest, and death. If you’d like to read the corresponding poems to these illustrations, they are as follows:

1-3: Goblin Market
4: The World
5: Hollow-Sounding And Mysterious
6: By the Sea
7: In an Artist’s Studio
8: Passing and Glassing

There are more illustrations in the book. You can order the book here. Here is how to join the Folio Society.


Jul 5th, 2011

Welcome to the Results Show!

People, I am OVERWHELMED by the response to this very humble contest. I received over 60 entries (pictures and donations) from across the globe and we raised $800 (!) for Unicef! (Remember to write that off, donors.)

And without further ado:

The winner of the Walrus tote/Indoor Voice prize pack is Juan Carlos Solon! Juan donated to Unicef and was chosen by a random draw. I met Juan at last year’s AI party. Nice guy. Congrats, Juan!

There were two Irish Myths books to give away. I decided to divvy them up to a pro and non-pro. I can honestly say I received some work that many a legitimate publication would be happy to print.

The winner in the “Pro” category is Andrew Schick for his picture “The Clam-Diggers”. Mr. Schick sez, “I had the idea while sitting on a beach near my house and watching a family dig up gooey ducks and clams.” Great story and I like the dichotomy of Observer and Participant in this picture.

The winner in the “Non-Pro” (which I defined as amateurs/students/someone who makes less than half of their living from illustration) is Maryanna Hoggatt, who drew her inspiration from the old yarn about watermelons sprouting in your stomach if you swallow watermelon seeds. Keep up with the coloured ink + charcoal, Maryanna. To me, this feels like the start of something sophisticated and fresh.

Choosing only one per category was so hard, with such varying personalities and approaches. Unfortunately due to volume, I can’t run all of the entries, but here are a few of my favourites (both pro and non-pro). If you like what you see, go visit the artists’ websites!

Philip Hall: “I like the myths that famous musicians aren’t dead, Elvis been abducted – or that Paul McCartney didn’t died years ago and that he doesn’t use a lookalike…ha yeah right. Lennon spends his summers jamming in greenhouses.”

Roman Muradov submitted this charming picture and explains: “It depicts an ancient Poldevian tradition of burning post-it drawings of curious creatures accumulated through dull summer jobs. Usually performed on August 28th (29th if you’re left-handed).”

Next, another bit of summer whimsy, perhaps a little closer to home? Seo Kim not only has a beautifully light touch and sense of character, but a very amusing URL (www.instantdoodles.com).

But, whoops, Ryan Haywood is here to set the record straight: “Losing weight for summer continues to be, year after year, a big fat myth.” Thanks, Ryan! (P.S. Your work is so gorgeous, dude.)

I would say that most entries dealt with the idea of mythological beasts and legends. Emmanuel Tavares gets down to brass tax: Summer is about goofing off and neglecting responsibilities.

Actually, you know what? Forget about it. Summer is about hot dudes and beefy centaurs. By Ana Benaroya.

Anthony Wislar submits this piece titled “Mating Season”. Very “New Yorker”!

M.S. Corley created his own Summer myth: “It is said that you should never stare directly into the sun or else you will give up your sight. This is of course only a half truth. You will lose your earthly sight yes, but you will gain a heavenly sight to see the true workings of the earth. If you are lucky enough to lose your sight upon the solstice you will truly see when summer comes upon the land, the King approaching from the east carrying the sun high in the sky. The rest of us blind to heavenly things can only know of him by watching the movements of birds in the sky or notice his passing when they feel a summers breeze.” Epic! And just the picture to go along with it:

Emily Hughes also made up a myth, The Sunburn Goddess: “It seems like she’s especially prevalent this summer, though her ‘blessings’ with pigment are different for everyone- sadly mine is a red curse.” Emily is a 2nd year illustration student but seems well on her way to finding her voice.

Chau Nguyen submitted this subtle piece with a rhetorical question: “Mine was inspired by summer nostalgia—maybe the myth of end-to-end recreation?” Spoken like a true freelancer. Chau, do you have a website? [Update: YES!]

And last but not least, here is a picture from the youngest entrant, 12-year-old Madison Wilker. 12-year-old or not, this picture is just cool. A sphynx has animated itself to run away a fire-breathing mermaid! PEOPLES’ HEADS ARE ON FIRE! Don’t lose your flare for drama, Madison!

That’s it, folks! Juan, Maryanne, Andrew, email me your addresses. Others who received an honourable mention above, please also email me your addresses, I’m going to send you a little somethin’ too.

Thank-you EVERYONE who entered, whether your image appeared here or not. Your emails brightened my days for the last few weeks. We shall do it again.

Illustration in Practice

Jun 13th, 2011

Over on Twitter, @walrusmagazine asked readers to take photos of their new Summer Reading issue. Above, a few contributions (used with permission!).

One of the most thrilling things about the most recent TCAF was seeing the poster I designed tacked around Toronto, where for a few weeks it was part of peoples’ workplaces, commutes, and daily routines. While it’s always cool to see your work printed, it is even more exciting to see it in an even-larger context: the world!

When I teach, I’m often struck about how jaded students seem to be about Illustration, often by 3rd year. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism? A response to the classic “embittered illustration instructor” syndrome? Perhaps it’s a scapegoat: that if that student fails to find success as an illustrator, she “didn’t really want to be an illustrator anyway”. Perhaps it’s legitimate anxiety about the economic feasibility and the creative constraints of being a working, practicing illustrator. Whatever it is, the jadedness is very exasperating and strange to me. Lots of things that are worth doing require sacrifice, confidence, and a little healthy self-delusion. But to me, the payoff is so exciting: you’re not just a consumer of culture anymore, you’re a contributor. Illustration, at its best, injects a bit of beauty and insight into a visual landscape that is often so vapid, crass, and garish.

When I was living in Edmonton in 2004, I started seeing extremely lo-fi silkscreened band posters around town. I’d rip them down and hang them up in my apartment (now THAT is effective advertising!). The simple beauty and attention to detail was so sublime. It made life in the city a bit better every time I found a new poster quietly affixed to a telephone pole. It was a little thing, but life is kind of made up of a lot of little things, isn’t it? (I later found out they were made by Raymond Biesinger, who has since gone on to much illustration success himself.)

Illustration is powerful precisely because it is commercial. People interact with it in a way that is very distinct from other art forms and to me, that’s the upside, not the downside. Illustration is for the masses, but that doesn’t mean the masses deserve crap. Most people could probably describe to you their favourite comic or cartoon or album cover or picturebook from childhood, regardless of whether or not they are “creative”. The things people encounter in their daily lives are not inconsequential and they have an impact. Perhaps those jaded students can think back and remember the things that enticed them to pick up their paintbrushes and pencil-crayons in the first place.

The Walrus!

May 31st, 2011

The Walrus, aside from being one of my favourite magazines to read, has been very good to me professionally. It was one of the first magazines I worked for and remains one of those (increasingly rare) editorial outlets that offers bother compelling content and artistic freedom for illustrators. The concept for this Summer Fiction issue (on newsstands June 13) is simple: pretty girls and reading on the beach. Is there anything better?

This image will be available for *purchase* soon. Meanwhile, in the market for a new tote? Of course you are! You don’t have 10,000 already… OK, maybe you do, but do any of them have a sexy underwater reading theme? DIDN’T THINK SO! Only $10, free shipping in Canada, and all proceeds benefit the Walrus Foundation. Buy now!

Two Interviews

May 25th, 2011

For some reason people have wanted to ask me questions lately. Firstly, here’s a short Illustration Mundo interview. Secondly, here’s a more in-depth, mostly-comics-related interview originally conducted for the Sequential blog that was in a print handout at TCAF a few weeks ago. The interview, with q’s from Dave Howard, is pasted below.


Did you have any favourite comics growing up?

I read a lot of Archie comics, plus the comics that were in the newspapers. My parents really liked The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Herman, so we had some of those anthologies in the house too. I copied the “Punk Accountants” Far Side cartoon for my dad’s birthday (he is also an accountant). When I was a teenager, my sister and I liked to cut up Archie comics and make collages with the balloons or sticking them on new images. It’s still a fun thing to do.

Growing up, were comics a kind of guilty pleasure, was it something you embraced openly, or not that important to you.

I didn’t really analyze it. In fact, when we were promoting Skim in 2008, people would ask what comics I read as a kid and I was just like, “eh, I didn’t really read comics”. I had completely forgotten that I read a TON of comics and I really enjoyed them. I just didn’t view them as important or significant at the time.

I’m sure there are many, but are there any particular cartoonists or artists or designers or illustrators or writers or directors you admire, whom you can say had some influence on your work or approach?

I became interested in comics at the very end of my degree at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where I was studying Design and Illustration. I became obsessed with Tomer Hanuka’s work and that included Bipolar, the comic he makes with his cousin Asaf. Later, when I made the conscious effort to educate myself on making comics (2004), I learned the most from Chester Brown, Michel Ragabliati, Julie Doucet, Will Eisner, and Dan Clowes. I got most of those books out of my local library branch.

When you signed on to doing Skim, wat there any prep work you did, any comics-related research or other artists you looked to for inspriation or guidance? Any artists you went to or whom you read when you found yourself in a jam?

I was never “signed” to doing Skim. Skim started off as a 24 page collaboration between myself and my cousin… there was no book deal. It was initially released by a Toronto zine called “Kiss Machine”. But to answer the question… probably, but I can’t remember now. My ignorance and lack of formal training was probably a good thing, actually. I just did the best I could, and approached it with the skills as I had… as a designer and an illustrator. I just read tons, as I mentioned. That was my education.

Can I ask about your use of photo-references in the production of Skim – did you take pictures and draw from them, especially in Scarborough [a suburb of Toronto]? Your work is wonderfully flowing, is there any advice you can give about drawing from photo-references?

I mapped out generally what I wanted to do, then traveled to Toronto to shoot specific reference. Most of it is from around the St.Claire-Christie area, where my sister was living at the time and I was staying. That trip was pivotal to my own mindset and I’d never attempt to do a book about a specific place without visiting it. Photo-referencing should support the story and make the details vivid. That said, too-heavy reliance on photo reference is very bad and should be avoided.

On your blog you mention working with students – can you tell us what you are teaching and where you are teaching it? How has the experience been for you, does it interfere at all with your creative process?

I teach 2nd year drawing for illustrators at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It does not interfere with my creative process, in fact I have to admit that, as frustrating as it can sometimes be, it has made me a more critical, thoughtful, and inspired individual. To see people make discoveries about their own process (I try to stress that what one learns in art school is not a technique, but a process) is deeply rewarding. Plus, these are 19 and 20 year old kids… they’re showing you what’s new and cool before it becomes mainstream.

Are there any rituals or habits or processes or other things you go through in order to maintain your inspiration?

I have encountered this question often lately and I’m always a little confounded by it. Most of my creative friends are never at a loss for inspiration…. they are at a loss for time, resources, or struggle with the “business-y” constraints of the job. But if you gifted them a week of free time, they’d be able to fill it easily. It’s like that saying, “only boring people are bored”.

You say you are grateful your foundational year was spent in a Fine Arts environment, and has shaped the way you think about images, make images, and your understanding of Illustration — how is it you think about images, and illustration?

That’s a really huge question. I will only say that I do believe Illustration can be smart and have content, but Illustration is not Fine Art. They are different worlds, with different histories, communities, objectives, and constraints. The exist in the world for different reasons. I was trained as a commercial artist and I’ve long given up feeling conflicted about that. That’s my philosophy and that of my husband, Sam Weber. But we speak often about how that seems to be changing… the nature of Illustration and its place in society. Not even out of art school 10 years and it seems like our outlook is quite curmudgeonly and dinosaur-like.

Is there any advice you can offer other new cartoonists? Any experience you can share for even newly established cartoonists, maybe around contracts or keeping your vision?

I dunno, just make some comics! Seems like the best time ever to be a comics artist… think of all the ways you can get your work seen. If you want to be a cartoonist and are not making comics, you’re just lazy or crippled by fear. Which are two huge problems. As for established cartoonists, who am I to tell them anything? I’ve only been doing this for 6 years!

Your Penguin Classic embroidered book covers are amazing, can I ask how you came about with the job offer, can I ask where the inspiration came from for the concept?

I did some embroidery, because it was simply something I wanted to try, and put it online. I’d worked with Penguin’s Art Director, Paul Buckley, as an illustrator before, and he happened to see my embroidery just as he was pitching the “Threads” project. So it was fortuitous. The inspiration was simply my love for those books, the freedom assigned by the project and the stitching effects I had been experimenting with in the medium. Again, similar to comics… I’m untrained in that medium, but I think that ignorance has been beneficial, in a weird way. You’re a little more fearless if you don’t know you’re committing cardinal sins.

Do you have any favourite contemporary cartoonists, anyone you’ve read recently who you liked?

I’m drawn to comics for different reasons. Visually, I’m excited by weird comics that look strange and unusual. I like Jungyeon Roh, Sakura Maku, Dash Shaw, Brecht Evens, weird manga and stuff. But as I get older, I become less impressed with drawing and am more deeply moved by more straightforward narratives. To be able to tell a compelling story is so much more difficult than being able to draw badass pictures. So I’m in awe of people like Chester Brown, Lynda Barry, Michel Ragabliati, Seth, Hope Larson, or Tatsumi. I still do love me a fucked up art comic though.

Looking at your wonderful petite livre Indoor Voice, it seems lovely and freeing to sketch unabashedly – do you keep a sketchbook with you at all times? Do you sketch often? How vital is it to you?

I don’t sketch every day. But there’s rarely a day where I don’t make something. Right now I’m trying to teach myself how to quilt. But yes, the sketchbook is completely essential. As I tell my students, you rarely will make breakthroughs –lateral steps– on projects.

You have a new project with Mariko Tamaki coming up, is there anything you can tell us about it?

Mariko and I are working on a new graphic novel, Awago Beach Babies. It is no way related to SKIM– sequel, prequel, or otherwise. Mariko is in the writing phase right now and I’m just patiently waiting.