Lisa Aisato on All The Colors Of Life

When was the first time you realized, drawing was important to you?

I’ve been drawing all my life of course, and my drawing has always been closely connected with literature. When I was a child my mother read aloud to me and my sister a lot and I was constantly drawing while listening to her. As an adult I frequently listen to audio books and podcasts while working. I think the fact that I continued drawing when most children quit, maybe around the age of 10, helped me develop my skills beyond the average. I remember I learned the word “illustrator” at the age of 13 and wrote in a school essay that I wanted to become one when I grew up.


What were the first people or objects you drew?

I’ve always preferred drawing people and faces. Inanimate objects and landscapes, etc. haven’t really interested me that much. Since a young age I’ve been fascinated by and had loads of fun depicting quirky, imperfect characters. I can draw inspiration from a person with a strange nose on a bus, someone with a funny body posture or a beautiful weathered old face. Not to make fun of anyone of course. I find these imperfections interesting and beautiful. Perfection is boring in my opinion. I liked playing around with different facial expressions as a child. Small changes to eyebrows and mouth can completely change a face! Also, I liked drawing scenes and characters from the stories my mother read to me. Tolkien and Roald Dahl’s books contain wonderful treasures for a child with a vivid imagination.


What are your favorite themes for drawing today?

Still people and faces out of the ordinary of course. I’ve had an illustration printed in the Norwegian weekend magazine Dagbladet Magasinet every week for 11 years so I’ve worked a lot with illustrating human relations, school, and childhood themes. In my own books and books I’ve illustrated for other authors, I like creating dream-like, sometimes absurd universes and characters, often from the perspective of a child. And humor is important—a children’s book should be fun and rewarding for the adult reader as well. In Norway, bookstores have a rigid age classification system for books. There should be a category for “all-ages books” as well. With my book Snokeboka (Snooping Around) I tried creating a book that praise all the quirks and imperfections we all have, and that would be fun for both kids and adults as well as inspire conversation between young and old. Also, I love drawing old people. They have beautiful faces! There is beauty in an old, weathered face, made by years of experience, of life, grief, and joy. There’s beauty in selflessness and a child’s face open with wonder. I’m fascinated by characters out of the ordinary. Like a cartoonist, I like to exaggerate interesting features and I try to make a drawing of a person tell a story of sorts.


Where do you get your inspiration for drawing? Do you like to spend time in nature or are you a good observer of people?

I have to be honest and admit that even though I live in the most beautiful archipelago in the southeast of Norway, I rarely spend time in nature. I’m blessed with a genuine love of my work so when given a choice I almost always prefer being in my studio drawing. Hopefully I’m a good observer of people, that’s probably the most important part of my work. I have to be able to depict human emotion and communicate subtle moods and atmosphere to tell a story with only a picture, and to add meaning and value to the text I’m illustrating.


In your opinion, what are the most interesting or fascinating aspects of being human?

That’s a big question! Maybe the rare occurrence of meeting an interesting person and be able to quickly peel away all the superficial layers we all have, and really meet the person, if you know what I mean. Actually, meeting children are often like that. So, hanging out with children, like I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot through my work, is always really rewarding and fun.


To you, what are the main differences between drawing nature and drawing humans?

There are artists creating amazing pictures of nature and landscapes, and of course you can tell a story through a nature motif. But to me I have to include humans in order to tell the stories I want to tell. To me, people are closer to home than nature. But I like to place people in nature of course, that can be a good way to add to the story. I love drawing forests and trees. We humans have a deep connection to the forest I think. Maybe it’s the childhood influence from J R R Tolkien :)


In your opinion, what is the most difficult human emotion to draw?

I guess it would be regarded as difficult to depict ambiguous emotions, someone afraid trying to conceal it for instance. But I’ve worked a lot with this, it often makes for the most interesting results. It’s generally a bit hard to draw just a quiet, satisfied mood. And overly joyful faces are difficult. Not in itself, but it can sometimes turn out boring, without nuances.


To you, what are the main differences between drawing children and drawing adults?

Hard question. Adults are perhaps easier to caricature and should be better equipped to accept having their features lovingly exaggerated. For children, it’s maybe important to show a more realistic diversity. To be honest it’s not such a conscious thought when I’m working, even though my illustrations and books seem to have a diverse collection of characters. Just like real life, really. Every child should be able to find a hero that looks a bit like themselves in children’s books.


What were the most fascinating aspects of writing and illustrating your new book All the Colors of Life, a book about life?

Since All the Colors of Life is a collection of my past illustrations and some new, the creation of the book really became fascinating when I realized I could describe a life course through pictures. Then it became a fun puzzle of sorts, selecting the right illustrations and working hard on keeping the text brief and concise, so that the pictures tell the story and the text simply holds the reader lightly by the hand throughout. The project became somewhat of a trip down memory lane for me which was a nice experience. And it was fun filling in and making the illustrations that were missing.


In your opinion, what are the most important ideas and inspirations children can get from pictures and books?

That there is an infinite number of realities and universes between the covers of books. Fantastic universes that children can dream themselves into. And other people’s realities they can gain a better understanding of. Perhaps that grown-ups basically are children as well, we’re just better at hiding it. That perfect is boring!