Thursday, February 04, 2010

Natascia Ugliano, Illustrator of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet

I am very pleased to be participating in the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! Features on winning authors and illustrators are being posted on blogs all over the web this week; click here to see the entire schedule and links to all participating blogs!

The assignment I was happy to accept was to bring you a profile of Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Jacqueline Jules' Bible story series. The third book in this series, Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, was named a 2010 Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers category, and will receive a silver medal. Check out a profile of the book's author today on ASHarmony, blogged by my friend Betsy Lipp.

I cover Sydney Taylor Book Award news frequently, so you may already know that this literary prize recognizes the best Jewish books for children and teens each year. It is the only book award that focuses solely on Judaic children's literature. It's named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family books, a series that marked a turning point in the genre of Jewish children's literature. For official info on the award, visit

Natascia Ugliano (as pictured here in the adorable self-portrait she uses on Facebook) lives in Milan, Italy. She has worked as a scenographer and costume design assistant in theater and cinema, as well as doing illustration. She has won quite a few literary prizes in Italy, and her work on Kar-Ben Publishing's Bible story series has been recognized by the Sydney Taylor committee in the past, with a silver medal for Sarah Laughs in 2009 and with Notable Book status for Abraham's Search for God in 2008.

I was not able to reach Natascia directly in time to interview her for the blog tour, so I spoke instead to Joanna Sussman at Kar-Ben Publishing to get her take on the artist's work.

Joni, how did you originally discover Natascia Ugliano's art?

As a publisher, I receive communication and marketing information from many artists and artist representatives. I saw a sample of Natascia’s art just as I was beginning to look for an artist for Jacqueline Jules’ Bible series, and I thought Natascia’s beautiful, richly colored art would be a wonderful fit for these stories. As there was not much action in the first couple of stories in this series – Abraham’s Search for God and Sarah Laughs, I wanted an artist who could still create lush beautiful art with a lot of detail that was lovely to look at and would help propel the stories forward despite the lack of action in the plots.

What makes Natascia's art a good fit for Jacqueline Jules' Bible story series?

Illustrating Bible stories is tricky in that many of these Bible characters are well known and readers may have preconceived notions of what they ought to look like. Were they dark or light skinned, curly haired or straight-haired? And how does one illustrate God or God’s spirit? I thought Natascia’s art had great thoughtfulness and spirituality to it and she also had the ability to capture the landscapes of the various Bible stories. As Natascia isn’t Jewish, we review especially carefully all elements of the art in these stories to make sure it has a Jewish sensibility; the Jewish vs. Christian visual interpretation can be quite different. Natascia does a wonderful job of bringing the Jewish Bible to life.

Can you reveal any behind-the-scenes secrets about Natascia's art?

We’re just completing work on the most recent title in this Bible series Miriam in the Desert,(coming Fall 2010) the story of Miriam’s leading the people through the wilderness and the introduction of the boy Bezalel, who becomes the artist who crafts the Holy Ark. The tricky part in working with the art for this story was deciding how the Ark should look because, of course, nobody knows what the original Ark of the Covenant looked like – was it plain or elaborate? Did it look like the one in the Indiana Jones movie? How big was it in proportion to the people? Both we and Natascia did a fair amount of research and we went back and forth on several designs before deciding on one that we thought would work.

[art from the forthcoming Miriam in the Desert]

Natascia lives in Italy and Kar-Ben is based in Minnesota, USA. In the modern world of publishing, does this create any barriers or difficulties? Or have electronic communications truly made it irrelevant where your colleagues live?

The digital revolution has been wonderful in terms of broadening the range of art from which publishers can now choose. It’s made the work of artists from all over the world easily accessible, and we think the larger variety of art styles really enhances our library of titles. Natascia was among the first foreign artists we worked with and our relationship with her has been so delightful and positive, we’ve gone on to work with quite a few other foreign artists, including Gosia Mosz, Hungary, (Hanukkah Moon); Valeria Cis, Argentina (A Tale of Two Seders); Cecilia Rebora, Guadalajara, Mexico (Tower of Babel); Jago Silver, United Kingdom (Nachshon Who Was Afraid to Swim); and Israelis Ksenia Topaz (Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig), Avi Katz (Boy From Seville), and Pepi Marzel (My First Hebrew Word Book), to name a few.

Are you planning to have Natascia illustrate any other Kar-Ben books besides this series?

Until now, Natascia’s been busy with the four books in this Bible series, but I would love to have her illustrate other stories for us as well. She is just finishing the art for Fall 2010’s Miriam in the Desert.

Joni, thanks for being part of the blog tour, and congratulations on Kar-Ben being recognized once again by the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee!



Jacqueline Jules said...

Thanks for the interesting and informative interview. I am grateful to Natascia for creating such beautiful and spiritually uplifting art for the Bible series.
Jacqueline Jules

Phyllis Sommer said...

a great interview with really nice insight into how the illustrator can bring a book to life. i love this series, so thank you!!!!

Anonymous said...

What a great perspective you have shared with us. For many bibliophiles, we are impacted by the art but may not have given much consideration to the illustration process. And I have certainly never thought about it from the point-of-view of the publisher. I learned a lot -- thanks!!!

Jess Horwitz said...

Thanks for a great interview, Heidi and Joni! It's definitely an exciting time when new, original illustrations arrive here at the office!

And extra thanks to Heidi and the Sydney Taylor committee for arranging this fun and enlightening blog tour!