This week we are celebrating the work of Kristyna Litten in our Artist Spotlight series and she gives us a fascinating insight into her working process.
Your work has featured on all manner of projects from well known television advertisements to picture books and beyond. Is there a specific type of project you most look forward to working on?
I think any project that feels like it might be a bit of a challenge, is always something that gets me excited to get cracking on with. Working mainly on picture books that have long deadlines, its great when quicker job come through to mix up the pace. I love doing character design work for clients like Aardman. Especially when pitches are successful, it's nice for me (as someone who works in a studio on my own) to feel like I’m working as part of a much larger team, at least for a little while. Seeing my designs being brought to life by the model makers, directors and animators still gives me a thrill.
Character designs for Zewa, commissioned by Aardman Animations.
Do you have a favourite part of the creative process when working on a picture book?
For me it absolutely has to be doing the ‘thumb’ layout for a book. I love the process of gathering all the information I have in a sketchbook and designing how I’m going to put the world and characters together on a spread. My usual process is to take a large A2 piece of paper and draw all 32 pages, so that I can see them all side-by-side. This way I can see if the page designs have a nice variety to them as well as if they work alongside each other coherently.
Another way I plan out the layouts of a book (particularly if it is for a book I am writing as well as illustrating) is to make a small concertina book and draw the story out. For me it is just a tool to help me get a good sense of pacing, but actually these little “books” are often the things I treasure the most once finishing a picture book. I think the one I made whilst writing Ziggy and The Moonlight Show has to be my favourite.
Are you an avid sketcher in your free time? Where and what do you most enjoy sketching?
I am always envious of those people who carry sketchbooks and produce the most beautiful drawings on the go. I’ve tried drawing on a train or on my lap, and apart from being extremely distracted, my drawings would look beyond “quirky". More often than not I treat sketching as a wind-down as opposed to a warm up, and for me I have to be somewhere calm, cosy, and quiet - that isn’t my desk. When it’s dark, like it is at the moment, I might grab the iPad and stretch out on the floor. But when it’s nice, I love to be outside, and it’s where I get most my inspiration.
Though I also think my relationship with sketchbooks has changed over the last few years. There is far more writing, small sketches and notes.
You work in lots of different materials and mediums, is there anything you haven't tried yet which you would like to?
I have a habit of picking up time consuming hobbies. Punch needle being one of them. But I’ve always enjoyed applying my characters and style to something different. Apart from being therapeutic, its just nice to learn a new craft, without the pressure of it being perfect. I would really like to get back into lino and screen printing again though.
What are your top three pieces of creative equipment?
I still draw everything by hand, so I couldn’t do anything without black ink, chunky soft pencil crayon, and a scanner. All the elements I draw then get scanned in and composed in Photoshop including creating textures and patterned papers. I absolutely hate throwing paper away too so I have quite a collection of these papers, which I try to re-purpose. They come in handy for when I fancy doing a bit of collage. The textures make great patterns for people's clothes.
We spotted The Mouse's Apples on Milkshake TV, you must have been thrilled. Do you remember the feeling of first seeing one of your books in a bookshop?
Even after 10 years, it still feels bizarre. I don’t think I can actually recall the exact moment, but I do remember my local bookshop asking me to draw some of my picture book characters on the wall. They were right next to some incredible drawings by Chris Riddell, which was a little overwhelming. That and my first book Chicken’s Can’t See In The Dark being read on Cbeebies Bedtime Story by Simon Pegg.
Do you enjoy being part of the illustrator community online? Which elements of social media do you find most useful and are there any pieces of advice you would give to fellow illustrators to get the best out of the various platforms?
I think its important to be part of a community but, I’m sure most illustrators would agree that social media can be great at times but also be equally as anxiety inducing. Social media is so vital in this day and age, it’s great to have an extra avenue to show work, promote books and other projects. And for many of us who don’t share a work space it in some respects can act as an online studio, where we can get and give feedback and support. But on the other hand it can be overwhelming. What to share, when to share and just seeing the sheer amount of content out there, I think we can feel a pressure to share something so we don’t disappear and feel irrelevant. I’m actually enjoying listening to other illustrators talk about their work, rather than seeing so much finished visual content. It's reassuring to hear other’s creative journeys or how they have overcome familiar issues in our work life.
What are you currently working on? Can we have a sneak peek?
I’m not quite sure what I can say about what’s physically on my desk at the moment, but I can say I have a few books coming out next next year, one of which will be my first ever non-fiction book (Which I’m very exited about) and the other being a picture book about an Anglerfish who wants to read her book in peace, called Hooked On Books, (Written by Margaret Chui Greanias). I also recently finished illustrating a gardening book written by No-dig legend, Charles Dowding, which will be out in January. Oh! And I’m also working on a couple of sequels...