The inspiration for Katsumi Komagata’s first set of folding picture cards came when he noticed his three month-old daughter’s eyes intently following a stripey blouse that her mother was wearing. Since then he has produced a range of games, cards and books that, he says, “appeal to both adults and children, where the parent can enjoy and wonder at the book as well.” His books encourage what he calls “true parent-child communication” and this, he says, helps to explain why they are intended to fall “half-way between an adult’s and a child’s interest, in terms of contents and design”.
Komagata has worked as a graphic designer in both the US and his home country of Japan (where he set up his company, One Stroke, in 1986) and since the early 90s has exhibited his picture books in France and Switzerland but, to date, is little known in the UK. His delicately tactile publications, while initially intended to stimulate visual awareness in children, are also lovingly crafted art-books: while designed to be read to inquisitive youngsters by parents, they employ an artist’s understanding of colour and texture, the precise folding and die-cutting techniques of a craftsman and an understanding of three-dimensional design.
The books are also highly tactile (many different papers can be used within a single publication) and Komagata has worked on several projects for visually impaired children where stimulating a sense of touch is integral to learning. In both Folds and Planes and in Leaves Komagata made the choice of texture as important as colour. In the former, an evolving textured leaf shape shown on white paper is set against a strongly coloured background. Both books also incorporate braille into the texts with Komagata researching their production by spending time at a blind school.
Komagata’s books often tell of journeys made by animals (there’s the salmon swimming up river, the chick following the setting sun, and the cat’s uphill meander through a forest, for example) or of emotions. In Tears, a tale about sadness, a child argues with a friend and sheds a tear that promptly goes on a journey of self-discovery. For Komagata, however, there’s more to this than simple storytelling. “The books are more about circles of life than journeys – teaching a child about life in general,” he says.
Over the last ten years, Komagata has been working closely with French booksellers and exhibitors, Les Trois Ourses, who have helped stage many of his shows in France (where, outside of Japan, his following is greatest). LTO also organise the workshops that Komagata runs for children. Like his books, he’s an advocate of interaction and prefers the workshop or exhibition environment, where children can connect directly with his books, to the atmosphere of the bookshop.
Most of his books will retail in the UK at just under £20 (see www.formandcolours.com) and it’s likely that a design-conscious audience will be as interested in them as new parents have proven to be. And while they may be desirable art objects, Komagata is more philosophical about what his books can do. “Adults need to stop being so busy and experience books with their senses, eyes and touch, rather than just seeking out information in them.” Go on, treat your inner child.