Let’s Talk Picture Books: Let’s Talk Illustrators #229: Kailin Duan

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with Kailin Duan about her illustrated book Nine Color Deer, translated by Jeremy Tiang. the story in nine color deer it was adapted from a thousand-year-old Buddhist tale found on the walls of the Mogao caves in China. The Kailin narrative stays true to these paintings, emphasizing the importance of being kind and courteous and even going so far as to have artwork that evokes the same style as the original cave images. Come see Kailin’s process to interpret this ancient with a modern look!

About the book:

nine color deer It begins deep in the Kunlun Hills with a legendary deer whose fur has nine colors. One day he hears a cry for help and rescues a drowning man. When the man asks how he could repay this kindness, Nine Color Deer simply requests that the man never reveal his whereabouts. But will this promise survive the bounty offered by a King and Queen seeking deer magic for his kingdom?

Let’s talk Kailin Duan!

LTPB: Where did the idea of nine color deer And how did you first hear about the mural at Mogao Caves in Dunhuang? Why did you choose to tell this story?

KD: I found a book on the Dunhuang Rock Paintings in my school library and it blew my mind. I made some quick sketches and realized that I could learn a lot from them. I was particularly drawn to the story of the nine-colored deer because a mystical deer whose fur contained nine different shades sounded very beautiful, and of course this is a classical Chinese story, so I started thinking about how I could represent it in my own way. . The result is this book.

LTPB: How did you add your own unique touch to the imagery and story based on the mural? Did your illustrations change as you studied the source material?

KD: I really like the naive style of early cave paintings, and also the unique weathered look and muted colors that appear over time. I tried to replicate these qualities and based on this, I put together the images and colors from the picture book to tell this story. The elongated human figures and clean lines create a stylized feel, while the rough textures and solid color palette give a solemn yet flowing atmosphere. I expected these images to look simple, but full of transformation.

For the story, I wanted to add a sense of love, hope, and peace to the original, so I had Nine Color Deer and his little bird friend lead the rest of the deer to become watchful guardians of this land.

To begin with, I made some sketches on A4 paper, then went over these rough outlines repeatedly, until the silhouettes and outlines felt more fluid, creating a more designed feel. Once I was done drawing, I made some color thumbnails on my computer, to set the palette for the book.

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

KD: The hardest part was the first sketches, but the hardest part is often the most exciting. If you don’t conduct experiments like these, you’ll never know what delicious surprises await you.

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?

KD: For this book, I mainly used acrylics. I like that you can layer them or leave them quite translucent, and you can also create different textures by rubbing them with leaves, sponges, steel wool, etc. In places, I also used mineral pigments, which can create dense layers of subtle colors. When I was done, I scanned these images and adjusted them in Photoshop to get the best possible results. This is my first time working this way, and I am very happy with it. I use different methods and styles with different books, because no two stories and themes feel the same.

LTPB: What are you working on now?

KD: I have been planning a new picture book, also based on a Chinese folk tale. I really like these magical stories, especially when they involve nature and animals. I wish I had something to share, but right now I’m in the writing stage of the story. I’ll have to work faster. Let’s cross our fingers that everything goes well.

LTPB: If you had the chance to write your own illustrated autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it for and why?

KD: Beatrice Alemagna! I love her drawings, full of imagination and life. She can make even the most mundane things feel wildly exciting.

Many thanks to Kailin for chatting with me about this very special book! nine color deer Posted by Darling Levine earlier this fall!

Special thanks to Kailin and Levine Querido for using these images!


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