What does a penguineapig look like? How do you decide?

Welcome to the imagination of Tika and Tata, two children’s book illustrators from Georgia. I recently caught up with them (via Zoom) to find out more about their work, and any tips they had for anyone wishing to break into the competitive world of children’s books illustration.

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Children's Book Illustrators Tika and Tata
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Children’s Book Illustrators Tika and Tata

Sisters, Tika and Tata, grew up in Georgia, a stunningly beautiful country tucked between the Black Sea and the Greater Caucasus mountains in the far east of Europe. With a reputation for delicious food, colourful, historic cities and a diverse landscape, Georgia lies at the crossroads of Europe and Aisa. It’s also one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world. I need to visit!

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I first came across the sisters’ work when I was given a copy of ‘The Adventures of Bearwolf’ by D.C. R. James, a fabulously funny children’s book. It’s a series of modern myths, with some important lessons to impart and enchanting illustrations by Tamar Bobokhidze, or Tata as she is more commonly known.

From a young age, the sisters shared a passion for art, especially drawing. “We spent all our free time sat by a table drawing everything that was around us, even the characters from the Brazilian telenovelas (soap operas).” Tata explained.

Children's book illustrator, Tata
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above: Tata, at home in Georgia

 

Tata went on to study art at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, where she took a multimedia art degree, followed by a masters in ceramics. It was while at the academy that she started working freelance with a friend on a variety of projects including illustrations, logo design, graphic design, and book illustrations.

However, it was only when one of them moved to Italy that the sisters discovered the wonderful world of children’s book illustrations.

Tika, having taken art as her minor at university, was working as a graphic designer and illustrator. She moved to Florence in 2016 with her Italian husband and was immediately struck by how different Italian children’s books were from the ones she’d grown up with. “Back home in Georgia,” Tika told me, “our books rarely had illustrations and those that did were pretty ugly and unimaginative. In Italy, children’s books couldn’t have been more different. They’re so colourful and children here clearly get so much joy out of just looking at the illustrations even before they’ve read a single word.”

Children's book illustrator, Tika
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above: Tika in the garden in Italy

 

Tika and Tata both started working as children’s illustrators, first separately and then together.

Tata having travelled extensively is now living back in their hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia and Tika now lives in Puglia, Italy. Despite living in different countries – they’ve not seen each other since November 2019 – they’ve not found working remotely an issue.

“At the start of a project, we might spend several hours brainstorming together. We have similar tastes and styles and colour preferences. Our ideas come from everyday life. So far, it’s worked well. We currently have eight different projects on the go!” Tata explained.

Tika continued “It’s exciting to see the characters come to life as we mix our imaginations together. They’re often a representation of ourselves in some way, be it the clothes a character wears from our own wardrobes or my glasses or one of my hats.”

Their illustrations are created using a variety of media. The first step is usually drawing a pencil sketch by hand before scanning it and adding colours and shading in Photoshop. Sometimes hand-drawn textures are added in digitally too.

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Tika and Tata’s top tips for becoming a children’s book illustrator

Daniel, the author of ‘The Adventures of Bearwolf’, and Tata started working together having found each other on Freelancer.com, a platform where freelancers and people looking for freelancers connect. However, having worked many years as freelancers, Tika and Tata are now represented by The Bright Agency, a UK based agency representing illustrators and authors in children’s publishing and beyond. Here are the sisters’ tips for breaking into children’s book illustration.

1. Develop your style

It’s important that you draw as much as you can while developing your own style. If you are aiming at the children’s market you need to think as a child. Consider how to give information to a child. Translate your drawings into their language.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that it’s usually the parents who are buying the books, at least for younger children.

Children's book illustrations
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2. Do your homework

Study the work of other successful illustrators by looking at books both historical and modern. Ask yourself which illustrations stand the test of time? It’s also important to keep an eye out for current trends, not just in illustration styles but colours too. Colour palettes go in and out of fashion. Children’s book fairs are a great place to discover new illustrators and new trends.

3. Get your work seen

Publish your portfolio on your own website and promote it via social media. You should also take your portfolio to the book fairs to show it to publishers and agencies.

Children's book illustrations
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4. Build your network

Book fairs are also great places to build your network so don’t forget your business cards as well as your portfolio. You should remember though, as Tata told me “Publishing houses don’t search for artists. It is all done through agents.”

5. Enhance your portfolio

Never stop working on your portfolio and developing your own style. The sisters love travelling and, just as I do, are always on the lookout for artistic inspiration on their travels.

To go back to my initial question, how do you decide what a penguineapig looks like? Tata knows, but you’ll have to buy ‘The Adventures of Bearwolf’ by D.C.R. James to find out.

Follow Tika and Tata on Instagram.

Follow D.C.R. James on Instagram and Facebook.

Children's book illustrations
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