Taeeun Yoo: Winner, 2010 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award
Acceptance speech, April 28, 2010
First of all, I would like to thank the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, the Committee members, and the New York Public Library for this great honor.
Three years ago, I received Alison McGhee's beautiful poem Only a Witch Can Fly. I love nighttime stories, and all of the elements in McGhee's story such as the young witch, the dark cat, and the night landscape with moon were very enticing. Yes...I wanted to draw all of them.
When I start a book, no matter how great the story is, I feel lost. Looking at a blank sketchbook page feels like standing in the middle of a foggy forest having no idea where to go. The only thing that I can do is take the first step and begin to walk. I doodle and make random notes. I play with any idea that comes to mind. I look at my favorite books and at exhibitions or sit outside watching people on the street. I take my sketch book where ever I go and allow daily life to give me ideas. While working on Only a Witch Can Fly, I kept my eyes open as I went pumpkin picking with my sister, watched my friend's black cat, saw a little girl pouting on the street, found a dinosaur costume in a store, enjoyed the view from a restaurant placed on a mountain. I collect all of these ideas and fill my sketch book with drawings. This part of the process is like solving a puzzle. I lay the drawings on the floor and move them around until I begin to see that some of the drawings could become illustrations. I choose and revise those illustrations putting them in an order. Now is when the fog slowly lifts and I begin to see a path in front of me more clearly.
Once I see this direction, my work becomes a little easier and I can walk with less fear. I draw and draw until I am happy with the story the images are telling. As I work on carving and printing each illustration, the fog is almost gone and I am enjoying my walk in the forest while looking at the trees, stream and birds just as the young witch flying on her broom enjoys the river, the moon, and small mountains in the night landscape. We are not lost anymore.
Each book takes me along different paths. If I am lucky, it is an easy stroll but that does not happen very often. I have learned that the most important thing is there will always be a way through the forest and I will arrive at a joyful place I never imagined at the start. I thank Alison for such a wonderful story, a story that allowed me to walk to such a special place.
On this journey, there are many people who worked with me and encouraged me. In particular, I would like to thank my editor Leslie Budnick and my art directors Jean Feiwel and Rich Deas for their invaluable advice and effort on this book. And a thank you to my lovely agents Holly, Emily, and Elena for all their wonderful support. Also, I am truly fortunate to have my dear friends Shadra, Lauren, Jonathan, Choi and Injoo with whom I can share all of my doubtful and wonderful working moments. Finally I would like to thank my family, especially my father who supports me by buying multiple copies of my books, one for the bedroom, one for the living room and one for the car. Sometimes when I am stuck, my father calls from Korea and offers to brainstorm with me. Many times the conversation ends with a silly laugh, but I have to admit that sometimes a good idea starts from that silliness.
Thank you so much everyone.