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Interview: Isobel Te Aho-White talks about Takahē Maths

Isobel Te Aho-White, the illustrator of Takahē Maths, talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about the book.

Takahē Maths uses a friendly writing and illustration style to captivate a young audience while teaching maths and conservation. I was really intrigued by the more holistic approach to education in this book, and thinks its a great premise to teach kids where ways of learning overlap.

What inspired you as you illustrated this book?

I work in several different illustration styles depending on the audience, and had been wanting to develop this illustration style more, using bold shapes, colours, and geometric pattern work for a younger audience. Hand-drawn patterns is something that carries across all my illustration styles, and I’m inspired by overlapping Māori design with botanical and figurative imagery to show the intersection of cultural narratives my from experience as someone who is of both Māori and Pākehā decent.

What was your routine or process when illustrating?

I start off with a very rough storyboarding phase to quickly jot down my first impressions of the text as I read it. I think it’s important to get that recorded as the first impression is the most visceral and energetic. Over the next refinement stages, this sometimes changes as I think of new things to add, but I try and keep the first impression strong throughout the process. I will then look at reference images for poses, plant detail, and colour. This project was more abstracted visually, so I didn’t use very many reference photos.

What do you hope children and families will take away from the book?

The idea is to have fun while learning! I think the writing and illustration style is very inviting and I hope that in reading the book together, young families will enjoy some interesting discussions.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Overlapping forest and industrial noises.

What did you enjoy the most illustrating this book?

Working with this colour palette and drawing so many cute takahē faces!

Where are you happiest with a pencil or paintbrush in your hand?

On the couch in my living room with my headphones on, a blanket, and a cup of tea nearby, late at night.

What illustrated book did you read as a child that had a profound effect on you?

Graeme Base - Animalia. So captivating, and so many things to look at.

Can you share a piece of good advice you've received about illustrating?

My good friend Darcy always gives me good advice about switching off and taking a break. I should probably listen to him one day.

What advice do you give to illustrators starting out?

Draw what you enjoy the most, so that you can carve out a niche for yourself and find work that keeps you inspired.

What kind of things do you draw just for fun?

Mushrooms, bugs, kowhaiwhai.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I am working on more children’s books and resources in anticipation of Matariki being a public holiday in 2022!


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