Having been inspired by all things Japanese of late, our picture book expert at Writing.ie, Olivia Hope, took great joy in interviewing Hiyoko Imai, the Japanese-born Amsterdam based illustrator and designer, whose minimalist papercraft come to life in her latest picture book Sun and Shiro and the Polka-dot snake.
Hello Hiyoko! Your paper craft in Sun and Shiro and the Polka-dot Snake is so intricate and beautiful. Can you tell us how you developed this style?
Thank you! For my illustration, I cut and paste every piece by hand to create a simple form and composition. Japanese washi papers gives warmth its textures and natural colour palette. Growing up in Japan, where the craftsmanship and minimalist aesthetic are deeply influenced in our culture, I always have so much love for tactile work and handmade arts. This led me to find my style along the way.
Where and when did you get the idea for this story?
Almost 5 years ago, when our son was 3 years old, I slowly started to develop an idea of creating a story with characters who love nature, food and arts & crafts. These three things we learned to appreciate even more since becoming parents. As for food, I’m fascinated with what we eat and how we eat differently as our child had various food allergies in the first years and I’m particularly interested how we develop our palate and sense (and preference) of flavours. By combining art and food/life experiences, I wanted to create a book series to introduce children to different perspectives on food, navigated by unusual, lovable characters.
What was your favourite scene to illustrate and why?
Sun watching / gazing / dreaming away at the moon (page 13). It really shows how Sun is in the moment, enchanted by nature.
I really like that the family name of Sun is Wonder, as it really captures that curious nature of Sun, and Shiro is a wonderful side-kick with her expressive tail and ears. How did you develop them as characters?
From the very beginning till the end, I worked closely with my own family. Sun was a somewhat introverted, observant, and creative child. Shiro was a caring, food-loving dog. Polka-Dot Snake was a picky eater and happy loner who was fully comfortable being different and being himself. We recognize ourselves a lot in each character, and it was quite natural and fun process to develop them all together.
Nature is a really important feature in this story, what other stories or pieces of art have inspired you?
Many films I watched in my childhood, especially My Neighbour Totoro and Mary Poppins – I’ve watched them a thousand times. Ronald Dahl’s works are also all great, they are the classics. I’m often drawn to the stories which lead us to connect today’s world with the fantasy world.
Which comes first for you – the paper craft or the story idea?
And finally will there be more Sun and Shiro adventures?
If the opportunity will present itself, absolutely yes 🙂 Originally I proposed the concept of this book as a series. Besides the Polka-Dot Snake, I already have other interesting/fun/slightly crazy characters lined up & ready to go. It would be wonderful to continue creating their adventures in different settings and seasons.
Sun and Shiro and the Polka-Dot Snake
Sun and his white-tailed dog Shiro love spending their days outdoors, exploring nature together. Every year, they look forward to early fall, when shiny red apples start to grow in the orchard near their house.
While on their latest adventure, they meet a curious little creature called Polka-Dot Snake—a slithering friend who happens to love apples even more than they do.
Hiyoko Imai is a Tokyo-born illustrator and designer living in Amsterdam. Her minimalistic style is playful and delicate and she has shared her talents and experience in cross-cultural workshops for children. Besides work, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and being outside in nature with her son.