Sunday 20 November 2016

Interview with Illustrator / Designer Kat Uno

When one writes books that require illustrations, usually but not only for children, finding a good illustrator is not easy. In the interview that follows, we give you, the reader, the opportunity to meet a wonderful illustrator. Her website is full of cute, fun images.

1) Hi Kat, thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed for this blog. When / how did you get involved in art? Is it something you have always loved or was there someone or something that introduced you to art in general and illustrations in particular.

I have loved drawing from a young age. I was really shy as a child and spent a lot of my free time drawing or reading. Having lived in Hawaii my whole life I've found that there were many challenges regarding artistic opportunities. I didn't have many art museums I could visit or classes I could take so my first sources of inspiration were my Saturday morning cartoons, comic strips in the newspaper and regular trips to our local store that sold Sanrio merchandise. Although I discovered my love of drawing on my own, my mom is very talented. She was a stay at home mom always doing something; sewing, crafts, painting t-shirts, doll making, beading etc.

2) What medium(s) do you use?

I'm classically trained and have a college degree in Art (my focus was traditional media) but currently the majority of my work is digital. I work off of an iMac and Wacom tablet using Photoshop and Illustrator. Funny story is that I sort of "fell into" using Illustrator (which I love and start all my illustrations with nowadays). I was fresh out of college and was hired to illustrate and design a whole suite of educational materials for a small local company. Originally I was planning on hand drawing everything but then I realized the task would be enormous so I turned to learning Illustrator (which I previously had very little experience working in). With Illustrator you can create one object/drawing and then re-position/scale/edit and reuse that same drawing in countless ways. For example I had to design 6 characters. Those characters were going to be in different poses and scenes in over 400 pages. I created a library of the characters in different poses, costumes and with different expressions that I could pull from and pop into the pages. Although still a lot of work, you can probably tell this would have been much more time consuming if every page was hand drawn, scanned in and digitally painted separately. Suffice to say I learned to use the software very rapidly within the 3 years I worked for that company! That was around 2003-2006, before YouTube had taken off so I relied mainly on reading tutorials online, books and just discovering what the tools could do while I was working.
3) Do you draw / paint by hand or via computer or a combination?

I would say my process is a combination of both hand and computer work. I almost exclusively start by sketching with good old paper and pencil. I then scan in all of my ideas and then I trace them over in Illustrator. I add digital painting, textures and finishing touches in Photoshop.
4) What gives you inspiration for your art and designs?

I'm not sure if it's obvious, but I love to create cute characters and designs! When I was little cartoons, comics and Sanrio provided most of my inspiration but nowadays I love looking at kids clothes, Instagram and Pinterest. Children's books and Mid Century design and animation also lend a lot of inspiration. I draw a lot of inspiration from my kids. My kids passions influence me a great deal (notice the number of cats in my designs? My daughter's favorite animal!)

5) What are your favourite themes or topics?

I love drawing animals and putting them in funny situations. Whether it's cats wearing glasses or a bear wearing a rustic woodsman outfit I always find joy creating fun illustrations. Although I don't do a lot of florals, I really love pretty, highly detailed floral designs as well! Pattern design is a recent passion of mine. I've really only started creating patterns in repeat a couple years ago. 

6) Do you use a specific range of colour or can you alter them if the client needs something different?

I think that I tend to use a lot of bright, saturated colors. It's more of an unconscious thing than something I plan out. I am not ashamed to admit that I don't have the best sense of color and I struggle using color to create different moods in my illustrations. I find it's something I am constantly observing and learning to develop. Clients are usually good at specifying what they want regarding color but I've found they do like my bright use of colors.

7) If an author is interested in your illustrations, what is the process in order to determine if their story / work will suit the type of illustrations that you are comfortable with or enjoy producing?

I have been fortunate to be represented by the Astound Agency ( They handle all of my publishing/illustration projects. I started with them last year and since then I've landed some really great jobs! Working with an agency is wonderful because they have experience matching their artists to possible clients. So far, I've always felt that my work "matched" the job that I was hired to do. Publishers usually know what "style" they are looking for in an illustrator so when they hire you they sort of expect you to produce in the style you promote in your portfolio (which is why it's important to only show your best work in the style you usually or like to illustrate in).

Thanks for the opportunity to get to know you and your beautiful artwork. Kat Uno's work can be viewed on her website:

This interview was carried out and compiled by 
Shoshanah Shear
Occupational Therapist, healing facilitator, certified infant massage instructor, freelance writer and co-author of "Tuvia Finds His Freedom" and author of "Healing Your Life Through Activity - An Occupational Therapist's Story

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