As Kintaro released our first book for children, “Yokka wants a tattoo”, we caught up with the book’s author and illustrator, Emiel Steenhuizen. Below, he discusses his journey from tattoo artist to published author, his passion for tattoo art, and the creative process of writing his first book.
Hey Emiel, thanks for sitting down with us to discuss your new book! Firstly, could you please tell us what the story’s about?
Yokka is a story for kids about coping with grief. Ever since I became a father, I’ve wanted to write a book that I could pass on to my own kids, and what better way to do that than by sharing my love for tattooing? So, I decided to write a story that shows kids how tattoos can help us remember loved ones. It’s about a girl, Yokka, who sadly loses her beloved pet bird, and how she copes with this through the magic of tattoo art.
How did you first get into tattooing?
I went to art school to become a film director and took up tattooing as a way to make some extra money at the weekends. But, as it turned out, I have a real talent for it! Since then, I’ve worked in tattooing around different studios in Amsterdam for a bit over a decade and a half, and everything I’ve learned has gone into this book. My technique is very influenced by folk art in the European tradition, but I’m also inspired by more “naïve” styles.
The book’s illustrations are very striking – are they inspired by your work?
Definitely! I worked really hard to recreate that “tattoo feel” in the images, using only analog methods – such as traditional materials like Indian ink, and some less traditional methods like coffee stains. But it took me a while to get the style just right. When I showed kids the initial drafts, their main feedback was that the outlines were too hard, and some of the characters were almost too “tattoo-like”, so it took a lot of finessing: in the end, I had to redraw the whole book about three times to get it right!
How did you initially promote the book?
For the first print run, I decided to go down the crowdfunding route – so I put a funny video about the project on a site focused on supporting artists in the Netherlands called voordenkunst.nl. Initially, the site thought the amount I was asking for was a bit optimistic, but in the end, we managed to break our funding target within three or four days! Honestly, I never expected so many people to be interested in my story, but it’s such a thrill to be able to share it with everyone. As a thank you to donors, I produced a range of merchandise, including signed copies of the book, prints, and temporary tattoos, which were unexpectedly popular! I’ve even had clients asking for tattoos of the characters from the book, which is the ultimate compliment!
How did you come to work with Kintaro?
I first met André (Founder of Kintaro Publishing) at the “Order Tattoo Jam” event in Amsterdam, and I was intrigued by the wide array of fascinating books on his stand. A couple of calls later, and here we are! It’s such a delight to partner with someone who has such a clear passion for the art form, combined with a deep understanding of the marketing and distribution side. It’s the perfect platform for sharing Yokka with a whole new audience, and it really feels like the book has found the perfect home!
You can order Yokka wants a tattoo, in Dutch and English, here.