Let’s Talk Picture Books: Let’s Talk Illustrators #224: Kalila J. Fuller

I recently had the opportunity to speak with illustrator Kalila J. Fuller about her illustration process for finding my dance, written by Ria Thundercloud. It’s always tricky to illustrate someone else’s story, but you wouldn’t know it when chatting with Kalila, who does it beautifully and (seemingly) effortlessly. Enjoy our conversation below!

About the book:

At four years old, Ria Thundercloud was brought to the circle powwow, ready to dance in the special jingle dress her mother made for her. As she grew older, she danced with her brothers all over the Indian Territory. Later, she Ria she learned more styles: tap, jazz, ballet, but she still loved the expressiveness of indigenous dance. And despite feeling different as one of the only Native American kids in her school, she always knew she could dance to cheer herself up.

Follow along as Ria shares her dance journey, from dreaming about her future to performing professionally, accompanied by eye-catching illustrations depicting her as she brings her graceful moves to life.

Look under the dust jacket:

Let’s talk about Kalila J. Fuller!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of finding my dance? What were the first images that came to mind when you saw Ria Thundercloud’s text?

KJF: The book’s art director, Mary Claire Cruz, contacted me through my website. At the time, she was just doing a little local editorial work right out of college, so seeing her email show up in my inbox was really exciting. The first image that came to mind after reading one of the first drafts of Ria’s story was the postcard where she describes all the places she traveled to dance. I thought it would be great to show a visual montage about her travels, inspired by montages from the Indiana Jones movies.

LTPB: Can you talk about your research process for this book? As an illustrator, how did you work to accurately portray Ria’s life and passion?

KJF: I originally asked Ria if she felt comfortable sharing family photos from her childhood with me so that I could represent her and her young siblings as accurately as possible. I also saw a lot of powwow dance videos on Youtube. I really wanted to convey movement both in the body and in the clothing of my drawings. That’s a big visual theme of the book, movement, and I really wanted that to get through to the reader.

LTPB: What was the most difficult thing for you in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

KJF: The hardest part was actually capturing Ria’s image and then repeating it over and over again at different ages throughout the book. When it’s a character that you develop in your mind, I feel like it’s a lot easier and you can tweak it a little bit, but I really wanted Ria to recognize herself in her story on every page. I think that was the most rewarding part, which was hearing what Ria said when she saw that it was all over. I felt so honored to visually showcase her live story on the page in a way that made her proud and felt represented in the images.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations for this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

KJF: I primarily used a digital process to create the illustrations for this book. It’s been my medium of choice since college. I used to use mostly mixed media (ink, alcohol/paint pens, colored pencils, etc), but due to my colorblindness when using digital media or more accurately, the eyedropper tool really streamlines my process when it comes to color. My process is pretty much the same, whether it’s editorial ads or full color book illustrations. The only difference is the number of iterations of the sketches.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

KJF: Oh, I have some exciting projects in the works. Nothing I can talk about yet, but if you keep an eye on my socials I’ll be sharing some stuff there as soon as I can.

A million thanks to Kalila for taking the time to answer a few questions about this beautiful book! finding my dance post TODAY from Penguin Workshop!

Special thanks to Kalila and Penguin Workshop for using these images!

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