Gross As a Snot Otter: Discovering the World's Most Disgusting Animals

Hey, everyone!

Jess Keating here! I’m hanging with Mr. Schu today to share something very special, and very…slimy… with you. I’ve got the title and cover reveal for my next World of Weird Animals book! Are you ready? Brace yourselves, it’s a real doozy! 

John Schu: THANK YOU, Jess! You're the best! Katrina and Sarah, thank you for answering Jess Keating's questions. I learned a great deal.

Introducing GROSS AS A SNOT OTTER: Discovering the World’s Most Disgusting Animals. 

To celebrate, I’ve rounded up the wonderful art directors behind the covers and design for all four books in the series, so we can get an inside look of the work and fun that goes into creating something eye-catching, exciting, and beautifully weird. Allow me to introduce you to Katrina Damkoehler and Sarah Hokanson! They are book designers (and all around brilliant women), who work to make books beautiful, and it’s an honor to chat with them today! Let’s get this (dung beetle) ball rollin’!

My first question is for both of you. As creative, book-loving people, how did you first get into graphic and book design? What element of the job is most interesting to you?

Katrina: I studied children’s illustration at Pratt Institute, so I’ve always had a particular interest in visual narratives and children’s books. My first job out of art school was as Art Assistant at G. P. Putnam’s Sons. The amazing Art Director there, Cecilia Yung, gave me plenty of opportunities to observe and participate in the different stages of a book’s development. I soon realized that I absolutely loved having a say in the early planning stages—where you start to visualize what the final book could look like, who your audience is, and make decisions about colors, fonts, and illustration style to appeal to that audience. My focus really shifted from illustration to design and art direction during those years.

Sarah: Both of my parents were artists and they made their living as illustrators. I grew up in a home full of art and books as my parents did a lot of illustrations for book covers. So, as a kid I grew up knowing a lot about book publishing. I remember my sixth-grade teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said I wanted to be an art director! My teacher asked me if I knew what an art director does. I said sure! Look inside our math book, an art director decided how the text and drawings should be put together and what they should look like. This to me sounded like the ultimate fun puzzle! And as an art director I could hire my parents! I eventually went to art school and studied graphic design. After graduating, I moved to New York City and landed an amazing job designing children’s books! I have now discovered that I not only enjoy designing the pages of books but, I also love working with illustrators, authors and editors on developing and telling stories thru illustration.

Katrina! I firmly believe that our covers are a huge part of why readers notice and love the series so much – thank you! Since we began with Pink is for Blobfish, the eye-catching design of the World of Weird Animals series is something that stands out on every shelf. What was the creative process for coming up with that first book and cover?

Katrina: This was a fun one to work on! I always begin a new project by reading the manuscript, and pulling together a mental list of “keywords” that describe the text. For Blobfish, some of those keywords were: gross, funny, slime, cool, shocking, accessible, gender-neutral (even though the title had ‘pink’ in it!). Then I begin to apply those same keywords to the design choices, making sure the imagery looks and feels similar to the written content. My brain kept going back to 90’s Nickelodeon gross-out humor—“Ren and Stimpy”, “Real Monsters”, “Double Dare”, GAK (!!)… Those influences, which felt similar in tone to the text, led to the neon color palette, the awesome illustrations by Dave Degrand, the messy title font, and the blobby shapes in the layouts.

Fun fact for readers, when I wrote Gross as a Snot Otter, there were several animals that we had flagged as potential cover models! It was through collaboration and brainstorming that we landed on the snot otter! 

With this in mind, here’s a question for Sarah: Our Cute as an Axolotl cover is (of course), the most adorable of the bunch, while the latest Gross as a Snot Otter features what has to be one of the slimiest creatures on a book cover. Can you tell us a little bit about what goes into finding the perfect cover model? What are the characteristics you look for when using ‘real-life’ models (human or axolotl!)

Sarah: Axolotls and Snot Otters are truly very different animals! But, they both look great on these covers! When we first saw the cover photo of the Axolotl we knew immediately that it was our cover photo. We needed the image of the Axolotl to be looking out at us, they had to be incredibly cute and the photo had to fit into Katrina’s fun established design for the series. Finding a snot otter photo that fit these same three criteria (incredibly gross not cute!) was much harder as there are not as many photos of snot otters out in the world! Too gross I guess! The great photo that we luckily found and ended up going with was so gross that is was hard to look at sometimes—that’s when I knew we had our cover photo—when the image really captured the grossness of snot otters! A great cover image not only needs to convey what the book is about but, it also needs to capture your attention and ultimately make you want to pick-up the book and read it! 

Another one for both of you! As an author, every so often I will encounter a book so wonderful, I have this fleeting moment of “I wish I’d written that!” Have you ever experienced anything similar from a book design front? Or do you have any books from your childhood that left an impact on you in this sense?

Katrina: This is such a hard question! There are way too many beautiful or smart books out there to pick a single one. I often see other designer’s work and want to curse them for their genius.

Sarah: As a kid, I loved the picture book The Story of Ferdinand by Monro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Ferdinand is my benchmark for a great picture book. After reading a picture book I usually ask myself was it as funny, heartfelt and as beautiful as Ferdinand? My son is deep into reading the Harry Potter series. So, as a family we are immersed in all things Harry Potter! I recently saw a boxed set of all the books and was blown away by the beautiful design of how the spines come together to make the Hogwarts castle. Really lovely!! The big illustrated editions of Harry Potter are amazing too. 

And last one for both of you: what is something that you’d like young readers and artists to know about your job? Any words of wisdom for someone looking to become an artist or graphic designer?

Katrina: I would tell any young person who loves art to keep going with it—see how far you can take it. Put your best work in a portfolio and show it to people, and learn to listen critically to their feedback. Go to art school if you can. If not, KEEP WORKING and KEEP SHOWING YOUR WORK TO PEOPLE. There are countless industries you can go into as a professional graphic designer or artist. You might not end up rich, but you will never be bored!

Sarah: I will echo Katrina here. If you love making art keep doing it! Especially if it brings you any sense of joy. Making art can be very hard but, keep at it if you love it! There are so many opportunities for careers in the arts. For graphic design in particular there are many industries from film to fashion to advertising and television just to name a few that graphic designers can be found. Find your passion and keep at it! 

Thank you again so much for sharing your knowledge and passion with readers today! And on a personal note, thank you for designing a series of books that has exceeded my hopes at every turn! We book lovers are so happy to have you bringing your artistic vision into the world!

Readers, I hope you love Gross as a Snot Otter as much as we loved making it!

Look for Gross As a Snot Otter on October 29, 2019. 


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