Sunny Seki was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan and moved to the US when he was twenty-four years old. He ran his own photographic studio for many years before recently devoting himself to creating books for children. His first picture book, The Tale of the Lucky Cat, won a NAPPA Honor Award in 2007 and his latest book, Yuko-chan and the Daruma Doll has been selected for the 2012 Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set.
Sunny is also a renowned shadow puppeteer. He lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife Judy and their 9 children.
What come first for you, the words or the images?
For me, it is like riding a bicycle. The front wheel is the images and the rear wheel is the words. You could say that I push myself to the limit to climb the mountain with my bicycle. It may sound strange, but I get ideas faster than images or words. Then the bicycle becomes the vehicle that carries me. However, there are times when certain images come to me, and they become the reason to make a book. At other times, I have important words to express. The images and words are both important to me, and I cannot leave them in the hands of others. After I joined the industry, I was amazed that there are so many unicyclists!
How would you describe your artistic style and influences?
My style has resulted from a variety of influences. Of course, great masterpieces have always amazed me. However, I have always been more fascinated by folk art from different regions. Even before technique, folk art has a distinct passion, and I love this. I see this art form as primitive or unfinished, but I like the warmth that it emits.
Another influence for me is ukiyo-e, or "pictures from the floating world." The Japanese created this form between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, peaking in the eighteenth century. Unlike the oil on canvas so characteristic of European art, ukiyo-e features images carved onto wood blocks and then printed on paper with a type of watercolor. The result is very sharp but sensitive. I am Japanese, so ukiyo-e is very special to me. When I visited the French home of Monet, I was amazed to see how many ukiyo-e prints he had collected. Ukiyo-e had obviously impressed a world-renowned impressionist!
I was a professional portrait photographer for nearly forty years, so naturally the photographic perspective has also appeared in my illustrations. Finally, I have also been influenced by the popular manga style. Therefore, I would say my illustrations are a combination of ukiyo-e, manga, and photography.
I use a variety of media in my work, and I plan to use more in the future. And rather than solely "artistic," I prefer readers to see my books as "kid-friendly." I will be very happy if a child sees one of my illustrations and thinks, "This is me!"
If you could send Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would want to send my book to three special places. The first stop would be to countries suffering from disasters - either natural or manmade. Secondly I would like to send it to India –the birthplace of Daruma. He planted the seed for my story, and it would be my humble privilege to present this work to all the children of his native land. Finally, I would be overjoyed if my book could be delivered not just to a country, but also to people who have disabilities. If Yuko-Chan and the Daruma Doll could be transcribed into Braille, I would consider my job to be done.
I am certain that Daruma-san would happily roll over and over to meet children of all ages from all over the world!
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