Omer Hoffman, award-winning artist, is the illustrator of THE SAGES OF CHELM AND THE MOON by Shlomo Abas (Green Bean Books). It’s a charming version of the classic tale. Omer’s art is a perfect pairing for the text. His illustrations reflect a traditional folktale style mixed with a bit of whimsy. Yet some of the illustrations, particularly a double page spread depicting travelers at night, have a deeply emotive quality. I was delighted to learn more about Omer and his work.
Omer Hoffman lives with his family in Israel.
How did you become an illustrator for children’s books?
I have been drawing most of my life, from a very early age. Much like in comics, I was fascinated by the idea of creating imagery and imbuing it with stories. After some period of time working as an animator (I found I wasn’t comfortable telling stories in that medium) I went on to study Illustration in Bezalel Academy for Art and Design in Jerusalem. After graduating, while working as a freelance illustrator and mostly producing art for Israeli newspapers, I was offered to illustrate a children’s book by Shoham Smit, a prominent author in Israel. The conceptual and artistic freedom the publisher gave me made the working process very satisfying, as I was able to infuse the images with my own story. I went on to illustrate eight more children’s books after that.
How did you connect with GREEN BEAN BOOKS for THE SAGES OF CHELM AND THE MOON?
The book was initially published in Israel by Agur Publishing for the Pijama Library, a foundation that publish and distributes free books among children in kindergartens in Israel. It was surprisingly well received, since a book about Eastern Europe Jews making fools of themselves some 100 years ago is not a something children are naturally attracted to. I am not sure how the connection was made, but I so know Green Bean Books published several books by Pijama Library, so maybe this is how the connection was made.
Your art has a whimsical feel. Can you tell me a bit about your process and choice of medium?
I like making myself laugh during the work process. It is my best motivation when illustrating just about anything, and it’s especially important when working on children’s books, when the work process tends to be long so I need to focus on one them. When approaching a new book, I like to find the humor in it, how I can make it funny even if it’s at the expense of the characters. In a way, The Sage of Chelm was a perfect fit for me.
When drawing, I like to keep my line art fresh and flawing. I draw sketches very quickly and use them as a basis for my finished illustrations. This way, I hope to preserve a sense of immediacy and movement in my work. I use Photoshop mostly to color and compose all the pieces I have drawn on paper with pencils, usually applying flat colors. But most of my work is done with pencils. I like to preserve the hand-made feel of the pencil, so I incorporate plenty of hand-drawn scribbles such as shadows, highlights, textures.
What kind of research was required to create the art for THE SAGES OF CHELM AND THE MOON?
I knew of the Sages of Chelm long before I read the text for this book. As a child I was introduced to this tale, and many other tales involving the Chelm Sages, by my parents. So the tone of the story was quite familiar to me and I easily connected to its theme and folklore. Since The Sages of Chelm is a sort of a period piece, I had to do a lot of visual research, looking for authentic clothes, people and architecture. However, searching for images from this particular time and place proved to be a demoralizing process. Because the Holocaust hit these particular communities in Poland so hard, most of the photos I found portray communities long gone so that gave them this morbid, dark sense. Those photos often carry titles like “Do you recognize this family”, or “The last known photo of this or that person”. I had to stop from time to time to focus on what I need to make this a fun children’s book. After I was done researching, I had to give myself some time off, to distance myself from all those visuals. I am still hesitant about opening my reference folder for this book.
Any projects coming up that you’d like to share?
Yes! The first children’s book I’ve written and illustrated has just been published, so naturally I am very excited about it. It is called “The Boy Who Mailed His Family”, published in Israel by Tal-May publishing house. As the name implies, it is about Yoav, a simple child who just wants to do his stuff, mainly draw, read books, watch TV, but his family won’t leave him be. They call him to supper, yell for not cleaning up the house, get angry with him for taking stuff. So Yoav is left with no options but to mail them all to the furthest place he knows of. It’s a funny book ( at least I hope so) that tells a familiar story from a child’s perspective, while making fun of parents, older sisters and dogs. I hope English readers will get to enjoy it too one day 🙂
If you would like to see more of Omer’s work visit his website at www.ohoffmann.com