Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Katy Tanis
|© Katy Tanis|
Feb. 5, 2021
We are excited to feature author-illustrator Katy Tanis and her recent board book, LOVE IN THE WILD (Mudpuppy, Jan. 2021). Enter to win a portfolio review or dummy critique!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
All my paths in life have been long and winding. It seems like a sort of obvious place to have landed looking back on what interested me, but it took me a long time to get here. The short answer is: I love research and figuring out creative ways to share information with people. After college I worked in fashion doing textile and surface design. I was very lucky and landed a dream job with Tea Collection, where I got to travel all around the world and learn about different crafts, cultures, and ecosystems. We shared what we learned through children’s clothing design. I was most excited by the research and storytelling aspect of my job and had been learning about children’s books on the side. I realized creating picture books was most in line with my passions.
Congrats on your board book LOVE IN THE WILD! Tell us about the book and what inspired you.
A few years ago my younger cousin came out as trans. I wanted to paint him an animal painting to celebrate his news. I started researching LGBTQ+ behaviors in animals and found it so fascinating. I painted him the rainbow pride lions which became the cover of the book. I kept reading about same-sex behavior and different gender expressions in animals. When Dog Eared Books in San Francisco’s Castro District asked if I’d be interested in doing an art show, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to share some of the fascinating stories I was reading about. Leading up to the art show I shared stories and art on instagram for the 100 Day Project under the hashtag #100daysof❤️intheanimalkingdom.
|© Katy Tanis|
I thought the concept would make a great children’s book, but hadn’t given much thought to the structure or format. I was very lucky because the art director at Mudpuppy saw my instagram posts and contacted me about turning the project into a board book. This was kind of perfect for me, because I am really driven by concept, but can think of 100 ways to approach any project. So it’s great to work with someone who can provide me with guidelines to work within as I developed the project. I love working with the team at Mudpuppy (I also do puzzles with them), they are always open to my nerdy ideas. They are great collaborators. The text is short because it’s a board book, but I spent a lot of time researching the behaviors in the book. Make sure to check out the supplemental PDF for more details on the animal behaviors on Mudpuppy’s website: www.mudpuppy.com/LoveInTheWild
Tell us also about your recent book, I Am the Jungle.
This was an exciting book for me because the animals in the book were all native to the central African jungles. A few years earlier I had spent time in Uganda and Rwanda so I was able to use many of my own photos for inspiration. That trip also gave me a stronger understanding of those ecosystems. I learned about many new-to-me species I could use for background animals. So it was fun to be able to tie that all into the book.
I haven’t had the opportunity to draw many humans for professional projects, so I was a little nervous about that. It was a good project to push me out of my comfort zone. I actually found it really fun imagining the personalities and style of all the different children in the book.
Was your initial road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Very long and winding. I wrote my first book (still unpublished) for the cousin I mentioned when he was still a toddler. He is now in high school and starts driving this week! Like so many new authors, I wrote that book without knowing anything about the industry. I wasn’t sure what to do with my book after I wrote it, so I took a writing and illustrating children’s book course through City College of San Francisco and started attending SCBWI events. My first SCBWI event was a bit of a rude awakening about how much I still had to learn.
|© Katy Tanis|
My aunt/personal editor kept telling me to start “collecting rejections” as if that was just one of the steps on the road to publication. When I imagined it that way, it was a lot less intimidating. And I collected my fair share of rejections. I know a lot of authors keep track of those numbers, but I am not that organized. I’ve gotten a lot of them! I did find my agent on my first round of agent queries, which seems unusually quick. But then my road in between signing with an agent and my first publication seemed to be longer than most. So I think even if people get lucky on one part of the journey, another aspect takes longer.
|© Katy Tanis|
What projects are you working on now?
I have a manuscript and dummy that is on submission now, so fingers crossed on that. I am juggling four other manuscripts, I hope I can get them ready for submission throughout the year. As I mentioned I never seem to be able to do anything in a straight path, so I jump back and forth between projects, which is probably not the most efficient way to work.
|© Katy Tanis|
I am currently in a Biology Masters program through Miami University and the Wildlife Conservation Society. I am focusing on how we can use children’s literature to better connect our youth to the natural world, so they are better prepared to treat it kindly and protect it. I have created some curated book lists on ecological topics which you can view here: https://bookshop.org/shop/DaughterEarth. I also illustrate a variety of other products like puzzles, games, greeting cards, and quilting fabric. So I am always juggling a bunch of things.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring author-illustrators?
I never listen to my own advice, so not sure it would do the younger me any good. I once saw an interview with Gretchen Ruben where she said, "some people don't like to be bossed around, even by themselves on their own to-do lists." I felt so seen.
|© Katy Tanis|
My aunt read somewhere and shared with me “Successful people know what is good enough.” I regularly remind myself of that, and believe it to be true. But I struggle to actually apply it to my own working habits.
The best advice I have for aspiring authors and illustrators is: read, read, read. Read a lot of the books for the age group you want to write for. Make sure you are reading books that have been recently published. Find a good crit group you can meet regularly with (online or in person) and once you find one keep showing up. It can take awhile to find the right group. I joined quite a few until I found a good match.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I am an oversharer so there probably isn’t much. Unlike many writers, I was not an avid reader as a child. I had undiagnosed ADHD and struggled with reading. I preferred creating my own imagined adventures and stories.
Where can people find you online?
Katy Tanis lives on a spit of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Barnegat Bay. Her career began in the fashion industry, traveling around the world to meet artisans and learn about woodblock printing in Kyoto, graffiti in Berlin, ceramics in KwaZulu-Natal, kantha embroidery in Bangalore, and so much more.
She is pursuing a Masters of Biology from Miami University in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Her work focuses on unusual and lesser known animals, evolution, and biogeography. Her first two books as an illustrator, I am the Jungle and Animal Olympics, came out in 2020. Her debut book as an author/illustrator, Love in the Wild, came out in January 2021.
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