Today’s Style Crush post is a bit unusual because it came about by swooning over the outfits in a children’s book, When Aidan Became a Brother, by Kyle lukoff and illustrated by @kaylanijuanita. Then we started following the instagram account for Kaylani and were blown away by all of their incredible art and fantastic sense of style expressed through the characters she creates. The families Kaylani draws are THE most stylish families we have ever seen! Picture book characters can absolutely be style icons! We reached out to Kaylani to do this interview, which is partially shared below and shared fully in our stories and on website.
Pronouns: she/her and they/them.
All of the characters you draw and create are some of the most fashionable people we’ve ever seen in children’s books! What’s your inspiration for all of these outfits?
I think a character’s clothes and bedroom should tell a story. I usually consider aspects like hobbies, habits, and personality in reference to the overall book and plot. Sometimes, a picture book manuscript will only describe someone as “a teenage girl with headphones.” So I’ll give that teenage girl a back story, like, maybe she enjoys punk fashion, and she also has an appreciation for classical string instruments. Then I build their aesthetic around their personal story.
In this case, the “teenage girl with headphones” could wear lots of layered baggy clothing with platform boots; she’s in her high school band so she’s always carrying a big cello case and a messenger bag. Her headphones are tangled because she’s so busy practicing music that she doesn’t take the time to untangle them, which shows her confident care-free attitude. In fact, she’s so confident that she’s dyed her hair bright pink, but that was a few months back, so her roots have grown out a bit, which is still a cute look. I have that process for every character I draw, which is probably why I draw so slow…
Do you have a favorite character so far? If so, who is it, and what makes them so special to you?
My favorite character I’ve created is my own; her name is Galaxy. Galaxy is the main character from a picture book I wrote and illustrated in undergrad. Her hair is made out of space and around her head orbits tiny planets and stars. I’m really excited about bringing her to life with the publication of this book! I’ve pitched Galaxy’s story to so many people, and the story itself has been reworked a lot over the years. I was about 21 or 22 years old when I created her, and now I’m about to turn 27 while also working on finishing grad school. It feels like she’s growing with me and I can see that when I look at all the past revisions and iterations of the story. It just sold a year ago and now we’re in the stage of drawing the interior art. Hopefully, Galaxy can debut her amazing galactic hair in 2021!
How did you know you wanted to be an artist? And what keeps you going as a creative person?
I’ve always drawn, that’s been the most consistent aspect of my life. By the time I was a teenager, I realized that art was what I was most passionate about. But I didn’t know I’d be a freelance illustrator for kids lit until I was a few semesters from graduating. Learning has kept me going. When I learn about a new concept, it’s easier for me to explain it or understand it through illustration.
Who are some of your own personal fashion icons?
Which artists inspire you the most?
I have so many, most of them are contemporary illustrators. I’m always looking at art online and in books. But, growing up, I watched a lot of Studio Ghibli, and I’ve always loved the cluttered detail and whimsy in Miyazaki’s concept art. I enjoy Rebecca Sugar because the world and aesthetic of Steven Universe encompasses millennial anime nostalgia in an accessible and inclusive way. Ian Jones-Quartey’s O.K. K.O makes me feel a similar sense of nostalgia. I’ll always be inspired by a beautifully illustrated matte painting for an animation set or environment.
What is bringing you joy right now?
Making delicious food and successfully baking from scratch. It makes me feel like I’m doing something magical. I also really enjoy it when I come up with a fruitful idea. I have a LOT of throw-away concepts, so when I have one that’s worth working on it makes me feel very excited.
Is there anything else you want to make sure we share about you and your work?
I feel emotionally chaotic; sometimes, my mental health is always up and down. But I am continually working on myself, and art is one of the many ways I cope. I hope healing, enjoyment, and love are felt through my art.
Kaylani Juanita is a Black biracial femme artist born and raised in California. Her work strives to center Black voices and representation in efforts to combat misogynoir and antiblackness. Kaylani’s worked on titles such as MAGNIFICENT HOMESPUN BROWN, TA-DA, and A HOUSE FOR EVERY BIRD. Most recently, she won a Stonewall Award in 2020 for her illustrations in WHEN AIDAN BECAME A BROTHER. Currently, she is attending graduate school at UC Davis for a Master’s in design. One of her many dreams is to become a college art professor who uplifts and empowers future generations of Black, Brown, and lgbtq+ artists.