We interviewed Oge Mora, children’s book illustrator and author, upon the release of her debut picture book, Thank You, Omu!, which was named one of The New York Times Notable Books of 2018 and one of the School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018. A recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Mora’s work reflects her love of vibrant color, collage and varied media for illustration. She lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.
As a child, did you want to grow up to be an illustrator for children's books?
Yes! Along with being an actor, a ballerina, and a couple other things ;) But all jokes aside, I always wanted to illustrate children's books and I never grew out of them. Since the field is so incredibly competitive I never thought it was a viable profession, but I am so glad I was wrong!
How did your first picture book Thank You, Omu! come about?
Thank You, Omu! was my final project for my fall semester Picture and Word class while I was at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). For our final presentation, some art directors usually attend. I presented my book dummy that had a couple finishes and my now art director Sasha at LBYR (Little, Brown Young Readers) asked for the pdf. My now editor Andrea took it to acquisitions and I was working on a new sketch dummy by spring semester. The whole experience was kinda wild, but I am incredibly grateful. With Little Brown the book went through a lot of changes and I am pleased with what we ended up with. I'm glad they took a chance on me!
Tell us about the medium you used for these illustrations.
I paint papers, I scan textures, Photoshop them, and print them out. I cut up old book jackets, sewing patterns, even old paintings — as far as I am concerned, everything is game collage-wise. I also like to use china markers and pastels. They give things a painterly feel, which is always the feeling I go for.
On future projects, are there other types of media that you'd like to explore?
I'd really like to do a fully painted book. I like to do tiny gouache paintings in my free time. I haven't gotten yet to a book which I think would suit it properly but I am stewing over a couple ideas!
We are interested in hearing about your upcoming picture books. Can you share any details?
Well, I am working on my second book with Little, Brown that is tentatively called Saturday. It's about how a little girl and her mother spend their Saturdays and the hijinks they get up to. I can't wait to share more on it soon!
Do you have any mentors from your days as a student?
Yes! While I look up to nearly every teacher I had as a mentor, I am really close with my Picture and Word professors April Prince Jones and Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges. Judy Sue was my first illustration professor (she told me sophomore year to try out collage!) and April has supported me a lot with my writing. I got a chance to see them at my launch party and I was so happy to have them there. They really encouraged me to do Omu as my final project and really helped boost my confidence as an artist/writer. I didn't really think there was a place for me in publishing but they helped me to see things differently. I am so grateful for them both.
Who or what inspires you in your creative work?
My favorite painter hands down is Jacob Lawrence and his tenet that "when the subject is complex, simplicity is the only way to treat it" has been on my studio wall since college. I think that quote extends beyond art and applies to life. Whenever I am having difficulty art-wise I read it out loud. It really encourages you to get at the heart of things and rid yourself of anything else. And I mean, he really lived by that message. He has a playful style, but he is able to paint not only beautiful city scenes, but also difficult ones that tackled topics like segregation. No matter what he did, he did it with the least amount of elements required. His work is deceptively simple and spectacular overall. I am also a big fan of Aminah Robinson, Stuart Davis, Romare Bearden, Faith Ringgold, and of course Keats!
What was a favorite book from your childhood? Do you still own it?
I grew up right across from a library so a lot of books I loved I didn't own, but out of the ones I had it was Froggy's Snow Day. Froggy wants to play in the snow but his mom says he can't until he is dressed properly. But every time he insists he is dressed and is out in the snow, his mom reminds him that he forgot a certain article of clothing. He then has to go back in, take everything off, and come back out. When he is finally dressed properly with nothing missing (it takes him a bit!) he is too tired to go outside. It's a fun read and it was fun to read out loud. I wasn't too nice to my copy though and it's covered in marker . . . I promise I am a lot kinder to my books now :) Like any kid, I loved being read out loud to and so books that lended themselves well to that were my favorites.
Do you keep an on-going sketchbook?
Sadly not at the moment . . . I think the last sketchbook I filled was a year ago. It's been a bit hectic, but I want to start a new one soon. A consistent sketchbook practice is important.