by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.
About Mits Katayama
Mits Katayama infuses his drawings—even this self-portrait—with evocative detail.
Charming, Quirky Details Enrich
Mits Katayama started drawing as a boy and now, seven decades later, he's still illustrating publications like Parenting Press's new What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention (Without Hitting Your Sister) and the recently published "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, wagging tail 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 Depression-era 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 he discovered that painting names on helmets got him out of such less pleasant other assignments as KP.
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 Japanese, 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 Seattle's Garfield High School and the Edison Technical School (now Seattle Central Community College), Katayama started out in late 1940s as what was then called a commercial artist.
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. He began work for Parenting Press in the mid-1990s, after crossing paths with Press publisher Carolyn Threadgill twice: both worked for Harriet Bullitt's publishing company in the 1980s, Katayama as a free-lancer doing illustration and graphic design for Bullitt's "Pacific Northwest" magazine and Threadgill as director of Pacific Search books. Later, they worked together in North Seattle Community College's public relations office.
Besides the "What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents' Attention (Without Hitting Your Sister)", written by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, and the "Self-Calming Cards," written by Elizabeth Crary of Seattle, Katayama has illustrated such Parenting Press publications as the four-book "Feelings for Little Children Series" series, where children and their pets grin, grimace and dance through happiness, anger, shyness and silliness, "Help! The Kids Are at It Again", "Unplugging Power Struggles" and the "PEP Talk" quarterly for parent educators.
Katayama is a charter member and past president of the SPGA/Seattle chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild. He was also active in the now-defunct Seattle Art Directors Society and has taught at Seattle Central and the School of Visual Concepts. A resident of Seattle's Graham Hill neighborhood, he is a member of the Japanese American Citizens League. He and his wife are the parents of three and the grandparents of one.
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