I'm Emily Reynolds.
Fumi, when did you first realize you wanted to be an illustrator?
Probably when I had to decide on which major to focus on in College.
I was trying to choose between either culinary arts or fine arts. I thought I will always be cooking and baking on my own anyway, but art was a skill I thought I could only learn from school. One of the professors at the college had a major influence on me, and he recommended studying illustration first before pursuing a fine arts career.
As a child, was there anything else you dreamed of becoming?
There was a big bread factory near my house, and it always smelled so good when I passed by. So for a long time, I wanted to be a baker!
How did being raised in Japan influence your creative work?
The schools in Japan always have art classes. Although the classes were not necessarily always taught by an art teacher, they still gave me many opportunities to experiment with different mediums and variety of ideas. We also learned to write calligraphy with pencils and with ink and brush, and I think that writing trains kids with precise motor skills and design sense skills. As I learned about other cultures, I realized that Japan is a much more art and design oriented culture compared to others.
Japanese people are very conscious of what makes something beautiful, and one can see and feel that in everything there, including how food is made and presented, the ways that gifs are wrapped, and the way people dress, etc.
What’s your secret to balancing mothering, teaching, and illustrating?
Of the three roles, being a mom is my most important. So I have been making that my first priority especially when my kids were very young. I was blessed because I didn’t have to work when they were little. Although I understand some moms have to work. As my kids got older, I started teaching and getting back into illustrating a little at a time.
Everyone’s situation is different, and for me, I have been receiving many promptings to get back into this again. So I’ve been doing the best I could to follow them. I pray every morning so that I will know what I should focus on, and what to work on first. I don’t get everything done on my list at the end of the day, but that’s OK because I know I’m accomplishing what’s most important for me at this time in my life.
What’s your favorite snack to snitch while painting?
Whatever I have on hand - usually dried fruits, nuts, dark chocolate, etc. Herbal tea and Pero are my favorite drinks during the cold months.
What music do you listen to for inspiration?
I love classical music, and of course, jazz!
What’s the one thing you’re always telling your students at Brigham Young University to do (or not to do)?
Use your talents to do good - create artwork to inspire and uplift others! Not the other way around.
What do you like best, and least, about teaching college students?
Best: When I can feel the goodness and commitment of a student.
Least: When I notice some students trying to get away with less effort.
Which professor had the greatest impact on you at BYU-IDAHO or BYU, and why?
Ricks: Leon Parson. Although I didn’t fully comprehend what he taught because my English skills were very limited at the time, but I could feel his enthusiasm for art. He taught me how having faith in God affects everything we do in life, including creative work.
BYU: Richard Hull & Robert Barrett. They are the ones who gave me the specific guidance and the drive I needed to succeed. I had no desire to go to NY after college, and they are the ones who insisted that I go, and everything changed after that.
Share with us your job description at Harper Collins back in the day. What was the greatest lesson you picked up from working there?
I was the assistant to Harriet Barton, the head art director in the Children’s Design Department. Answering her calls, going through her mails, scanning original art work, making copies, welcoming & directing visitors, ordering materials, keeping track of everyone’s sick days, etc. Later on, I did work on some design projects.
Harriett was the best boss anyone could ask for. She taught me so much about picture books; their history, influential artists, how the publishing companies work, etc. Most importantly, she taught me about life!
Which authors/illustrators did you most enjoy meeting at Harper Collins?
The illustrator I remember that most was Marc Simont (he won a Caldecott with the book The Happy Day back in the 1940s). I was surprised to see this grey-haired fellow arrive by bicycle to deliver his original paintings for the book we were working on. I was thrilled to have him sign some books in my collection that he has illustrated. I wish I would have known what to say or how to ask better questions than I did back then!
What do you enjoy doing most in your leisure time now? (If you have any?)
Yeah, if any, I’ve always enjoyed sewing and knitting. I also love to work in the garden. Weeding actually is a very calming and peaceful activity for me!
What is your favorite picture book, chapter book, adult novel, and movie?
That’s a hard one to answer. There are so many good ones - Story-wise: Ox-cart Man, Only Opal, The Man Who Planted Trees (there is a short video of this last story on youtube, you should watch it, it will leave a very deep impression on you!). Japanese ones: Hanasaki-yama, Kitsune no Okyaku-sama, Mahou no Enogu are my favorite. Illustration-wise: The Orange Book, The Happy Hocky Family, any of Kinuko Kraft’s princess books. There are so much more, but these are what came to my mind!
Fumi and Emily as roommates with buddies (including illustrator, Brigida Magro, center--check out Brigida's work on instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/sweetbeyond/)
most likely riding the N/R subway line from Queens into Manhattan. Fun fun! Oh, the days!
What were your three favorite activities to do while living as a starving young artist in NYC (besides teaching me how to cook Japanese curry, eat soba noodles for breakfast, and pronounce baking powder in Japanese (“bakingu-powdah”)?
Having a friend like you there was one of the best things about living in NY. Everyone needs a good friend to help ease the transition of learning to live in the big city!
Walking around different neighborhoods and feeling the city’s energy, going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for only a quarter(!), taking a stroll in Central Park especially during spring and early summer when everything was in bloom.
How does your husband’s (Tim Davis) background/vocational expertise influence you in your work? Does he critique your paintings for you? Do your kids give you their two cents as well when you paint?
Tim is a wonderful husband and a father, and is amazed with anything I create! So he’s not so good with critiquing my work. But my kids are honest and eager, and they have a good sense of what makes good art, so I often show them my work to get some good feedback.
What are your creative plans for 2020?
Create many new pieces for my portfolio, and finish my own book project!
Do you still sew, and work in origami, or fiber arts or textiles?
Yes, I’ve been making clothing and toys for my kids whenever I get a chance. I love creating with my own hands with raw materials!
How many books have you illustrated? Which is your favorite?
10 books. My favorite one will be the next one—hopefully!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Over the years, I’ve met and talked with many people who have read my books not realizing that I was the one who illustrated them. When they find out, I get looks of surprise and admiration, along with kind words.
Who was your creative inspiration as a young girl? And as an adult now, who are your favorite current artists or illustrators?
When I was very little, my mom had a mother goose book illustrated by Gyo Fujijkawa who was a Japanese American. I think that was the only English picture book we had in our house. The book had so many illustrations, and I used to look at them over and over. We used to get some books from the mobile Library Truck every week, and I used to love to look through all the illustrations in the picture books and chapter books. Ken Kuroi is an illustrator I really admired at the time. He has very soft warm touch to his color pencil work, and I loved it. Besides regular illustration, I used to buy this magazine called Ribbon which was a manga series for girls. I would copy many of the drawings from it.
I love simplified well designed art. My favorites right now are: Shizuko Wakayama, Mary Blair, Ingela Parrhenius, Leo Espinosa, Kenard Pak, and many more!
Do you have any advice for children’s book enthusiasts who’d like to write or illustrate their own stories?
Although I can’t provide much help to the writers, for artists, the best advice I can give is to get good training by either going to art school or a professional online school—now there are many affordable options. There is a big difference between an amateur and a professional illustrator, and you really need to be one of the best if you want your work published by major publishing companies. Publishers usually like to choose their own authors and illustrators, so if you are new, it is very unlikely they will publish a story which you have both written and illustrated. I would work on getting some illustration work published first to get some experience and connections, then introduce your own illustrated story to either your agent or publisher. If you just want to self-publish, that’s a whole different story. I don’t have experience with that.
Tell us about your most recent book release from 2019…
This is a sequel book to the book I illustrated over 15 years ago. The first book Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed has sold many copies over the years, and the publisher wanted to make another book. I think the story in the sequel is better than the first one although it’s a bit complicated. I had to paint 17 unique characters from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and that was not easy. It’s called Ordinary Mary’s Positively Extra Ordinary Day. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures as well as reading the story!
Thank for humoring me with all of these questions, dear Fumi! It was a delight to hear what you’re up to and it will be a pleasure for all of your readers to see your latest book!
To peruse more of Fumi’s cheery and uplifting illustration work, and to watch her new style unfold over the next year, check out Fumi’s portfolio on Instagram!
Can't wait to see what Fumi's up to next! Happy Valentine's Day, Sweet Readers!