Illustration Inspiration: Kataneh Vahdani, Creator of Kat and Juju
The Children’s Book Review | July 15, 2020
Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also saves fallen baby birds and rescues them. Together with her students, they have raised over 13 fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.
I make art because…
I believe with visual storytelling we can inspire and heal the world.
I was born in Iran and my major was Mathematics, but I always used to draw. Reading children’s books and watching animation was my only way to feel truly free and connected. I was told being an artist wouldn’t allow me to have a stable career, so I got my degree in math. But when I moved to America with my mother and little brother (with only a couple of suitcases), I decided to take the risk and follow my passion.
The journey was not easy, but it taught me how to be a warrior and to never give up on my dream.
Kat and Juju (the first book of the series). It’s about a shy introverted kid named Kat who does things her very own way. Many times, she doubts herself and it is hard for her to connect with other kids. But one day, when she meets a gregarious egg-shaped bird friend named Juju, everything changes. Juju’s personality is contrasted with Kat’s. He is confident, outgoing, and very upbeat. Juju tries to help Kat connect with other kids but still remain true to who she is. He doesn’t want to change Kat but instead, he wants to help her find that inner strength within herself.
I had a lot of fears growing up and I looked the other way and I tried not to face them. But later in my life, these fears became insecurities and turned to severe anxiety.
Juju was a wild bird that I rescued. My strong mother and Juju both taught me how to love unconditionally and let go of my fears.
Later in my life, I saw the same fears in my students and my goal was to help them realize that their fears are valid, and it is ok to be afraid, but they also should know they are stronger than they think. That’s when I decided to create the story of Kat and Juju.
Art medium used…
Ink and watercolor mixed with digital texturing.
I first start by asking myself these questions and try to find honest answers:
“What do I want to share with the world? Why do I want to share this story? How can I give it an identity but still makes it relatable? How can I inspire others?”
After finding all these answers, I begin by writing down my story beats and at the same time sketching them as small thumbnails in my sketchbook. I illustrate my story beats by creating clear compositions and try to think of the best way I can direct the eyes of my readers/audience and share a clear visual story. Afterward, I draw bigger compositions and use ink and watercolor on paper. I scan these images and then work on them on my computer and add extra colors and textures.
I am inspired by…
Nature, everything that surrounds me and life in general. I believe storytelling should come from an honest place, a true source, pain, struggle, happiness, love, and the overall lessons we have learned along the way. That’s how it can become more relatable and empowering even for young kids.
I try to also get inspired by listening to people’s life stories, reading, and most importantly, getting connected to my inner child.
We all have stories; we just need to find our way to help them be heard.
My favorite place to create & illustrate is…
When I try to find my story ideas, I like to be invisible so I choose locations where I can find peace and quiet. I have a favorite spot at CalArts, the university that I used to attend and where I later started teaching. It’s a hidden spot where rarely anyone visits.
I also like to sit by old giant trees and just listen to them, or I find a corner in my office and stare at a blank wall. Sometimes my story ideas come to me while showering or driving on a highway.
But when I want to illustrate and start to thumbnail my compositions and characters, I like to be home in my room and lay on the ground. This is how I used to draw as a kid and it still works for me to this day.
My most used art supply or tool is…
A small sketchbook and black ink brush.
In my life, I learned the hard way that it is better not to have idols because they will disappoint you. So, I have those who have inspired me:
Hayoa Miyazaki, Shel Silverstein, Picasso, Peter H. Reynolds, and my spirit mentor who is not an illustrator, but he truly inspires me: Mr. Fred Rogers.
All-time favorite children’s book I didn’t illustrate…
The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein.
A literary character to create art with…
Anne Shirley. Her colorful personality, imagination, and compassion for nature is truly inspiring.
Currently working on…
Story beats of Kat and Juju Book #2 of the series. I am also directing my original feature animation movie. I cannot share or announce anything at this moment, but I hope I’ll be able to share some exciting news with you soon.
For more information about Kataneh Vahdani, you can visit:
Written and Illustrated by
Publisher’s Synopsis: An unlikely duo star in a charming story about being different, finding courage, and the importance of friendship in the first book in a new series from an award-winning animation director.
Kat likes doing things her very own way, but sometimes she doubts herself. So when a bird named Juju arrives, Kat hopes he’ll be the best friend she’s always wanted. He’s outgoing and silly and doesn’t worry about what others think—the opposite of who she is. Bit by bit, with Juju’s help, Kat discovers her strength, and how to have a friend and be one—while still being true to herself.
“This debut gently encourages personal growth while reinforcing the value of being different.” —Kirkus Reviews
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Two Lions | July 1, 2020 | ISBN-13: 978-1542043281
Enter for a chance to win a copy of Kat and Juju, by Kataneh Vahdani!
Three (3) lucky winners receive:
- A copy of Kat and Juju
Giveaway begins June 30, 2020, at 12:01 A.M. MT and ends July 30, 2020, at 11:59 P.M. MT.
This giveaway is now closed.
Thank you to all who entered!
- NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER TO WIN.
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- Three (3) winners receive:
- A copy of Kat and Juju
- A copy of Kat and Juju
- Odds of winning will depend upon the total number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.
- Winners will be selected at random on or about August 4, 2020.
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- Prizes courtesy of Two Lions.
Discover more illustration inspiration and books like ‘Kat and Juju’ by Kataneh Vahdani, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with Birds, Courage, Friendship, Kataneh Vahdani, Picture Book, and Self-Worth.
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