Satoshi Kitamura’s picture book debut with Angry Arthur, won the Mother Goose Award for the most exciting newcomer to British illustration in 1983. Since then, Satoshi has illustrated over 20 of his own books and many more in collaboration with internationally renowned authors Hiawyn Oram, Jon Agard, and Colin McNaughton. His distinctively hesitant yet wonderfully expressive line is now familiar to generations of children. This year, Scallywag Press are reissuing two early works, Captain Toby and Lily Takes a Walk. Satoshi describes their creation here.
I started my career illustrating Angry Arthur, written by Hiawyn Oram. We collaborated on some more books before I began to write texts myself. Captain Toby and Lily Takes a Walk were two of the earliest books that I both wrote and illustrated.
At the time I lived in a big house in west London with my friends Nick and Alison. They had children called Toby (about 4 years old) and Lily (a year and half). So, when I came up with ideas for a pair of books that had a boy and a girl character each, I simply named them after the children who were running about in the house. Also, I happened to know their grandparents, Ralph and Georgina, so I had them play a part in Captain Toby.
In this book I used both waterproof acrylic ink, and water-soluble fountain pen ink for lines. I added some water into the fountain pen ink to make it very weak. When water colour is painted along the lines, the ink dissolves slightly and makes the colour a little muddy. I liked the effects and used it for the clouds, the sea’s waves and the landscape. The clear lines are drawn in acrylic ink. The blue gradation of the sky in some of the pages is done by applying clear water with a brush as evenly and quickly as possible on the paper, then painting colours carefully from top to bottom. When I added a final vignette to each of the new 2021 editions, I had to think myself back more than 40 years to remember the technique I had used at the time.
One of the most important things about a picture book is turning the page. It might sound odd to you because you turn the page when you read a book anyway, but in picture books the simple act of turning the pages can be crucial. That is where the magic is! With words you have to describe or explain whatever is going on in the story but with pictures you only have to turn the page and you are taken hundreds of miles away in a split second. That is what happens when Toby is sleeping in the house on a stormy night, and when you turn the page. . . the house is in the middle of rough seas! The trick of visual storytelling is not simply how you draw the scenes but how you present them page by page.
Captain Toby and Lily Takes a Walk were originally published in 1987. I worked on them in the last year of my 20s. It’s a long time ago. But somehow the pair of books survived through the decades changing publishers every now and again. I am very pleased that they are back in print once again from Scallywag Press this year.
Alison, Toby and Lily’s mother, is an excellent editor although she was not the editor for these two titles. Nonetheless, she helped me a lot with the texts because I was a novice story-teller at the time, writing in my second language.
These two books are very special to me because they are associated with a family who I’ve known for so long. I also met the children’s other grandparents, Barbara and Richard, many times, and now Toby has a young daughter. So, I have known them for four generations.
The new edition of Captain Toby is published by Scallywag Press, 978-1912650743, £10.99 hbk. The new edition of Lily Takes a Walk will be published in September, 978-1912650682, £10.99 hbk, also from Scallywag Press.