Exclusive Interview With Ofra Amit | Brightness Magazine
Ofra Amit is an illustrator whose main work is illustrating books – from picture books to poetry books and short stories. She teaches illustration in Wizo Design Academy and also gives lectures about her work in various places.
Since 2004 and throughout her years of work, she had received awards, participated in exhibitions worldwide, and published in international publications.
My main work includes illustrating books, from picture books to poetry books and short stories. I explore the symbiotic relations of text and image: The visual narrative which goes side by side with the textual narrative to compose a new creation.
I naturally relate to the more universal, psychological theme, that is, I focus on the inner world, the subjective point of view, its feelings and atmosphere, to create a world which is not related to a specific place, culture or time.
I use acrylic paints on paper or board, sometimes combined with collage, which allows me to add layers of meanings to the image and by that to give the observer the option to reveal those meanings.
Tell us about you and when did you decide to be an illustrator?
Since I was a child it was clear to me that I was going to do something related to the visual arts. I wanted to be a painter, I didn’t know there was such thing called “an illustrator”. I loved drawing new shapes of letters, not knowing this is actually what we call “typography”. I was also interested in Geometry and how things are shaped in three dimensional space, so being a 3D designer was one of my dreams too. So I went through a lot before I found myself as an illustrator. I studied architecture but quit after one year, in favor of Visual Arts studies, with the emphasis on Graphic Design. After graduation I work as an animator of computer games, until one day a friend showed me Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are”. I haven’t seen it for years and so I could look at it from a new perspective. I could see the powerful role of illustration in a story. This was one of the triggers that made me decide I want to be an illustrator.
• Where does an idea come from and how does it transform from an idea into a book?
I think there is more than one answer to the question of where ideas come from. We are only partially conscious to our sources of inspiration. But to get closer to the place of where ideas come from, when I read a story or a scene in a story, I ask myself what it’s about, what its essence is, what the subtext is, and try to sum it up in one word or one phrase, usually a word or a phrase that describes feelings or an atmosphere, like “loneliness”, “happiness”, “longing”, “sadness”, “fear”, etc. This “key word” would be the heart of the visual work to be created. This leaves a lot of room for ideas and symbolic language, as long as I stay close to that “Key word”.
• How do you decide what to include and what not to include in the book?
What not to include is very often more important than what to include. If the illustration describes the text literally, then there is no tension between text and image. If you show less, or if you show something else, you let the reader/observer fill the gap between the two medias and put them together by himself/herself, according to his/her own emotional and cultural world. In this way, I believe, the experience of reading a picture book is deeper.
• What are some of the techniques or processes that you used in creating the artwork for the book?
I usually start with finding out how the main character would look like, who she/he is. I do a lot of pencil sketch work to get to the point when I know this is it. When I have a character I can identify with in one level or another, I feel more comfortable to go through the scenes of the book and add more elements. I try not to make high-end sketches but keep it pretty rough, because very fine sketches can make you too committed to it and less free to spontaneous changes.
• The illustrations in your books are wonderfully vivid. Can you tell me a bit about your technique and the materials you use?
I use acrylic paint because I like working with layers. It gives the option to paint over things you don’t like or just add brush strokes and still expose what’s underneath. Sometimes I also use collage, with materials and textures which are symbolically relevant to the story, to the specific scene the illustration refers to. Lately I have been using color pencils (in my latest book “So-So, Go-Go and Sunny” by Dafna Ben-Zvi) instead of acrylic paint and collage. There is something less “heavy” with color pencils and I wanted to try it. However, I realized it was not easier with color pencils to find the balance between spontaneity and the sense of control.
As for the color palette, it is always hard to know why you choose one color or another. I guess it’s because choices of colors are the most intuitive – that kind of choices which don’t go through reason. I do love orange-red color, so there is a fair chance it will be dominant in my work. I used to think there are some colors I will never use (like purple, for instance) but we all know that there is no color palette that couldn’t work for us, it’s just the relations and balance between the colors that make it work in harmony.
• Who are some of the artists who have influenced your work?
The list is very long, so I will only name a few: Isabelle Arsenault, Joanna Concejo, Beatrice Alemgna, Gérard Dubois, Pablo Auladell, Maira Kalman, Yuko Shimizu, Olaf Hajek and many many more…
• What is your best piece of advice for young artists who are getting started as creators of children`s books?
Never think of the children that are about to read your book, have in mind only the one child you have been once