Happy #Ballet Book Birthday to Forster & Siadat’s MY DADDY CAN FLY with 8 Qs for illustrator Jami Gigot

It’s a wonderful #ballet Book Birthday blog celebration for

MY DADDY CAN FLY, written by American Ballet Theater principal dancer, Thomas Forster–with Shari Siadat,

and Illustrated by Jami Gigot. (Random House Studio).

I am so excited to dive into these questions with illustrator Jami Gigot. She is not only a fun and fabulous illustrator, but works as a lead texture painter and digital artist on feature films.

Welcome to the blog, Jami.

Illustrator pals –and Librarians, ballet lovers, and young readers everywhere!

–This is for YOU:

Q 1.  How did you approach the illustrations in MY DADDY CAN FLY? Did you play classical music? Did you do any research during the process? Do you have a background in dance?

Jami Gigot: Thanks for having me as a guest today, Erin.

The research for MY DADDY CAN FLY was so much fun! I was given a few incredible photos of Thomas Forster dancing as inspiration. Thomas is a ballet dancer and co-wrote this story with Shari Siadat. I also looked at a lot of videos online of both children and adult ballet dancers. Often I would watch the videos in slow motion so I could analyze the motion bit by bit and sketch out poses. I found it incredibly interesting to study ballet this way and I have so much admiration for the commitment, strength and grace of the dancers. They are amazing!

And yes, I often had classical music from various ballets on in the background setting the mood for my illustration. Near the end of the project, I got some inside help from some of the wonderful team at ABT, The American Ballet Theater, who helped ensure my poses on the end papers and inside spreads were correct and true to form.

Interior art by Jami Gigot from MY DADDY CAN FLY, written by American Ballet Theater principal dancer, Thomas Forster, with Shari Siadat. (Random House Studio)

In terms of a background in dance, I took ballet and jazz dance classes as a child but now I dance mostly at home grooving to some rock n’ roll or Motown, or on the occasional night out.

Rock on! ; )

Q 2.    Do you have a preferred medium? What did you use for MY DADDY CAN FLY and STARBOY?

Jami Gigot: In school, I studied film and 3d animation, and while I did do some life drawing and classical drawn animation, I am mostly self taught when it comes to illustration. Over the years of working in film I moved from animation towards digital texture painting, so working digitally is what I feel most comfortable with and I often use a stylus to sketch and paint directly on the monitor.

Interior art by Jami Gigot from MY DADDY CAN FLY, written by American Ballet Theater principal dancer, Thomas Forster, with Shari Siadat. (Random House Studio)

That being said, I really love working with traditional art mediums, so usually my work is a mix of traditional pencil sketches and paint that is scanned in and assembled in photoshop along with my digital work. MY DADDY CAN FLY was mostly digitally painted and I used washes of paint that I scanned to overlay on top for added texture.

“Gigot’s gorgeous mixed-media illustrations bring the story to life… Regardless of children’s knowledge of Bowie, the message of an outsider who finds his way will resonate and delight.”

School Library JournalStarred Review

For STARBOY: Inspired by the life and works of David Bowie (written and illustrated by Jami Gigot , Henry Holt and Co.) one of the challenges was how to visually represent the music (or what I refer to as “star chatter”) throughout the book. I knew right away that I wanted to use bold pinks, purples, and some swirls and painted stars, so I painted those with watercolor and gouache. I also made several galaxy paintings (a few with my kids too!) and used those throughout the book to give more life and texture to the illustrations. If you would like to try making galaxy paintings yourself, please check out this video I made for Bibliovideo! 

Interior art by Jami Gigot, from STARBOY: Inspired by the life and works of David Bowie (written and illustrated by Jami Gigot , Henry Holt and Co.)

Q 3.    Author Thomas Forster talks about some of his favorite books in this article. What are some of your favorites?

Jami Gigot: For picture books, some of my favorites are I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen, THE FOG by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak, and SWATCH by Julia Denos. For novels, I like reading all sorts of genres, but a couple of books I read recently that I really enjoyed are KLARA AND THE SUN by Kazuo Ishiguro and THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig.

Written and illustrated by Jami Gigot (Albert Whitman)

“Gigot demonstrates that resourcefulness and love go a long way even if time and money are short.”

Kirkus Reviews

Q 4. It seems like all of your books thus far –including Mae and the Moon, Seb and the Sun, and Imagination Vacation–share a common theme of creative exploration. Has this been a common theme in your own life too?

Jami Gigot: That’s a great question! Absolutely. I enjoy pushing myself creatively because its stretches a part of my brain that seems to love the exercise. I love trying new art techniques, or trying to revise a story in a new and interesting way. Creative exploration can be challenging, but I try not to be too hard on myself and enjoy the process of creating even if the end result isn’t what I expect. Part of the fun is seeing where a project ends up! And if I’m really not happy with something, I am okay with scrapping it and trying again. I also like spending time doing creative things that aren’t just book related. Currently I am knitting a hat and taking a pottery class. 

Q 5. How has your experience working as a digital artist on such feature films as Avatar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Ant-Man and the Wasp –influenced your process or your illustration work?

Jami Gigot: I can hardly believe it, but I’ve been working in film for nearly 20 years and have worked on more than 30 motion pictures. I see picture books as very similar to film in that they are both a sequence of images that are edited together to tell a story. And I am grateful that my experience in film has given me a certain intuition when it comes to composition, layout, design and pacing which translates very well to children’s books.

Interior art by Jami Gigot from MY DADDY CAN FLY, written by American Ballet Theater principal dancer, Thomas Forster, with Shari Siadat. (Random House Studio)

Q 6. What inspired you to make the leap from film animation to children’s book illustration?

I actually still do both! I have a day job working as a lead texture painter. What that means more specifically is when they shoot  film in front of a green screen, I work with a team to digitally create the objects, characters, vehicles, environments or whatever might be filling that space. While I love working on films and being part of a creative team, I haven’t been involved with the writing or original idea of the films I have worked on, and I’ve always had a little voice in the back of my head wanting to write and create my own stories.

When my kids were little I started reading a ton of picture books and really fell in love with them. I wrote and illustrated a little book inspired by my daughter which eventually became my first picture book, MAE AND THE MOON. I loved the process so much and found picture books to be the perfect medium to combine my love of art and story. I have been working on them ever since.

Mae and the Moon, written and illustrated by Jami Gigot (Chicago Review Press-Ripple Grove Press)

Just Starting Out?

Q 7. Any tips for would-be children’s author/illustrators just starting out?

Jami Gigot: If you are passionate about creating and enjoy the process of making picture books, just stick with it and keep going! It’s important to keep practicing and commit some time to your craft. I have a lot of pretty ugly drawings and drafts, but it’s important to recognize that that’s an important part of the process to get you where you want to go. I would also recommend finding a small critique group of fellow writers and/or illustrators that you can share with and get honest feedback from. Most importantly, write from your heart and tell the story that only you can.

Q 8. What do you most love about being a children’s author/illustrator?

Jami Gigot: It makes me incredibly happy when children get excited about reading and making art, and my hope is to create books that give a child a laugh, or a moment of thoughtfulness, a creative push, an important truth, or a reflection of themselves. Also, this industry is so lovely and full of inspiring and creative people that support each other and that is a wonderful thing!

Many thanks again to Jami Gigot for joining us today.

You can learn more about her work at jamigigot.com

and following her on Instagram: jamigigot

Twitter: @jlgigot

And Tumblr: jamigigot

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