Pajama Press

Interview with Karen Patkau

Posted on October 1st, 2012 by pajamapress

K.PatkauKaren Patkau is an award-winning artist and illustrator of children’s books. Written by Alma Fullerton, A Good Trade is a deceptively simple story about a special day in the life of a little boy growing up in Uganda. Karen joins us today to answer some questions about her work on the book.  

The text of A Good Trade is very brief, even minimalist. Do you find that an advantage as an illustrator, because it gives you a lot of room for interpretation, or is it easier when more of the story is fleshed out in the text?

I loved the brief, but powerful text of A Good Trade. Rather than giving me a lot of room for interpretation, it clearly defined what content had to be included in each illustration to tell the story. I was allowed more freedom when visually embellishing the story.

What was your favourite part about illustrating Kato’s story?

I tried to echo the message of this story with simple and bold illustrations. I developed a digital collage technique for the text that I really like. I used to do traditional collage and still like the strong use of colour, shape, texture, and pattern. Illustrating Kato’s story, in this way, was a very fulfilling experience.

What was your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge was keeping the children, especially Kato, slightly abstract yet recognizable throughout the illustrations.

A Good Trade is a story of hope and gratitude, but it doesn’t ignore the realities of civil war and hardship in Uganda. How did you approach this balance in your art?

I approached the contrasts in this story in a straightforward way. I needed to show the magnificence of the African landscape, as well as the hardships of poverty and horrible reminders of war. I needed to show the exuberance of the Ugandan children and Kato’s beautiful spirit—his hope, joy, resourcefulness, and gratitude; despite their daily struggles.

Digital art is still a fairly new medium, especially in literary picture books. How do you find people respond to this style of art? Do you think it will one day be as mainstream as, say, watercolour illustrations?

I think the quality of picture book art is determined by the creativity and skill of the illustrator rather than the medium. During picture book presentations that I give, both young and old are very curious about my digital technique and process. Digital imaging is now an established method for anyone studying illustration. So yes, I do think it will become as mainstream as traditional mediums such as watercolour.

You can learn more about Karen at