by Elizabeth Crary, M.S.
Self-Calming Cards illustrator Mits Katayama, a self portrait
Mits Katayama started drawing as a boy and now, seven decades later, he's still illustrating publications like Parenting Press's new Self-Calming Cards.
Detail, especially the detail that creates nuances in emotional situations, continues to fascinate Katayama. It is such an important part of his work, he says, that he adds the clenched teeth, crossed eyes, and dozing smile almost automatically—he simply doesn't create emotionless characters.
Besides the facial expressions and body language that Katayama portrays, even his smallest images are rich with detail: the child rocking in his chair at the table, the puppy and kitten nosing each other, the scowling self-portrait a girl is crayoning. But each image is evoked with nothing more than a few simple lines and bright colors.
Encouraged by his immigrant parents and a teacher in his three-room elementary school, Katayama has spent his entire career with pencil or paintbrush in hand. When he went into the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he was a radio operator—but found that his background got him volunteered for such jobs as painting rooms and names on helmets!
Reared in Pacific, a truck farming neighborhood south of Seattle, and then in Sumner, Pierce County, Katayama has spent his entire life in the Northwest. Like many of Japanese heritage, he was interned during World War II—in his case, at the Minidoka Relocation Center near Twin Falls, Idaho. After three years there and a short post-internment stay in Nyssa, Oregon, he was able to return to the Seattle area. A graduate of the Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College), Katayama started out in the late 1940s as what was then called a commercial artist.
Mits Katayama, described in the Graphic Artists Guild history as "one of the hottest illustrators in Seattle" in the post-war era, infuses his drawings with evocative detail.
In that era preceding computer-generated type and art, Katayama created the illustrations and lettered the text that filled print advertising, point-of-purchase displays, brochures and other marketing materials. For decades he has also designed logos and illustrated books, magazines and catalogs.
Besides the Self-Calming Cards, written by Elizabeth Crary, and a children's picture book written by Eileen Kennedy-Moore and to be published in spring 2005, Katayama has illustrated such Parenting Press publications as the Feelings for Little Children Series, where children and their pets grin, grimace and dance through happiness, anger, shyness and silliness, and Help! The Kids Are at It Again: Using Kids' Quarrels to Teach "People" Skills.
He and his wife are the parents of three and the grandparents of one.
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