1. Why were you excited to take on this project?
Because the story is wonderful. I also love drawing marine life and underwater plants.
2. How long does each illustration take to plan, sketch and create? What is the process like?
It really varies … there are illustrations which, from the moment I read the section, I already picture exactly how it will look in my head. And then there are illustrations which demand more time and take longer for me to ‘crack’ and turn into interesting visual ideas.
3. Do you see a Jewish value behind this tale? If so, what is it?
The values of generosity and open heartedness are key to the Jewish tradition of charity and of giving either discreetly or openly.
4. Are your illustrations for this story inspired by any other stories? Who are your artistic inspirations generally?
The illustrations are inspired by Eastern traditions, particularly art from India. I knew I wanted to create a character who is visually distinct from typical heroes in stories, someone who comes from a different, faraway place, whose appearance evokes deserts, noisy markets and interesting smells.
5. Which Jewish stories, or secular children’s books, did you love as a child?
I adored books as a child -and I still love children’s books now. When I take my kids to the children’s library, half the books we return home with are for me. I love reading to them, and poring over the illustrations too. This makes it hard for me to select any one book as a favourite, but I can say that it’s really important for a story to have a deeper meaning, which is one of the things that first drew me to Nuri.
6. Can you offer tips or words of wisdom for aspiring illustrators/artists?
It will sound banal … but the best advice I have received is just to follow your dreams. And if you want to be an illustrator or an artist then simply be one. Even when there isn’t a job as an incentive, start small and just make work. There are so many social platforms where you can share your work. And when something is created with love and passion for the subject it is immediately apparent in the work and eventually it will reach wherever and to whoever it needs to get to.
7. Congratulations on your recent awards for The Very Best Sukkah! How are your illustrations for this book similar and/or different to those for The Very Best Sukkah?
The illustrations for the story of The Very Best Sukkah (like those created for Nuri and the Whale) were inspired by traditional art, in this case Ethiopian – although the story takes place in Uganda. For Nuri, I created the illustrations digitally but the technique used to create the illustrations for Sukkah were quite different. For those illustrations I decided to create lino prints. The technique is laborious, but I really like it and it gives a different dimension to the illustration.
8. Where do you stand on the ‘Own Voices’ debate? For a Jewish story, do you think it’s important to have a Jewish author/illustrator? Could this story have been written and illustrated as well by a non-Jewish author/illustrator?
I think this story could have been written or illustrated by anyone who connects with it and believes in the values of giving and generosity. I think we need greater diversity of characters in books. Everyone needs to see themselves represented and be able to identify with characters, and no one should be excluded from the all-important space of children’s literature. My decision to create Nuri with dark skin was significant and really had an impact. I received so much feedback from mothers whose children related very strongly to the book because it featured a character that resembled them, something that they don’t see much in the books they read.