Renowned illustrator Satoshi Kitamura began his career as an artist working in advertising before moving from Tokyo to London, where he started writing and illustrating children's books. Since then he has published more than 20 of his own books, as well as illustrating many more. He also translates children's books from English into Japanese, including David McKee's Elmer books (which you can spot an allusion to in our Gallery...).
Satoshi has a gift for illustrating poetry, which has borne fruit particularly in his collaboration with the poet John Agard; and in his illustrations for The Ring of Words, for which he won the National Art Library Award in 1999. His work also demonstrates an appreciation of music, which he has depicted in his art using bright lines and patterns. In a recent interview with The Big Picture he said, "I’m very influenced by music, and I like musical instruments...My approach to illustrating music is spontaneous. Music and painting come from the same source. They are just different aspects of the same thing."
In addition to books, his credits include designing posters for Tokyo Underground and signage at Birmingham Children's Hospital (UK); and one of his signature cats, this one called Browser, is a logo for the Seven Stories in Newcastle, UK.
Satoshi divides his time between Japan and London.
Sounds have no visual shapes or colours in a physical sense but I wanted to give substance to their psychological impressions. The only way to 'show' music in a picture is to give it shapes and colours. I did it playfully but perhaps was influenced by great artists like Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who did visualize musical impressions and created the most original works.
You have illustrated several different poetry books. Was the process you went through to illustrate The Carnival of the Animals any different, taking the music into consideration as well?
It was a very interesting and challenging experience to illustrate The Carnival of the Animals. I had to "illustrate" both music and words. I tried to combine the impressions I received from the text and the music and to translate them into visual images. Sometimes I had images in my head which I had no clue how to interpret. New techniques had to be learnt. I experimented and painted in a way I had never tried before. It was an inspiring and rewarding process.
Saint-Saëns' tunes were terribly inventive and joyful; while the poems were as diverse and beautiful as their musical counterparts. It was one of the most difficult but enjoyable pieces of work I have ever done. I'm grateful to the three poets, Judith Charnaik, Cicely Herbert and Gerald Benson, who organized the whole project and appointed me as the illustrator.
Do you listen to music while you work?
I often listen to music while I work. I'm too lazy to put CDs in my player and just leave the radio on! I love all sorts of music: jazz, classical, contemporary music, pop, rock, Irish, Japanese and all sorts of folk music of the world... but most of the time I listen to BBC's Radio 3, that plays European classical music.Sometimes I ask myself whether it is better to be an artist or a musician. If I could play a trumpet or clarinet perfectly, I'd rather be a musician than an artist. Sadly, I have no talent in music (I'm perfectly tone-deaf). So it may be in compensation for that that I have worked on quite a few picture books with musical themes!
Posted August 2009
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