February 27, 2024

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Climate change can be a worrying topic for anyone, but it can be downright scary for children. To help educate young people, the New York Times Climate Desk published a guide entitled “Bad Future, Better Future,” which includes ways they can help the environment.

To make the subject a little more accessible, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, a visual journalist at the graphics desk, did hand-drawn illustrations using a type of watercolor called gouache. In an interview, she discussed the inspiration and intent behind the pictures. Her easily edited answers are below.

How did this story come together?
I was working on a heavily illustrated piece that showed how children wearing masks returned to school and how classrooms would change. The visual style was different, and Climate Desk editor Hannah Fairfield said she was interested in explaining something similar to kids to help explain climate change. We started to realize some ideas to find out what would work well in this format. We came up with this idea: what would the future look like if we did nothing and we would continue on the path we are going now? And what would it be like if we made all these changes? We basically got a children’s book.

How did you try to make art accessible to children?
We definitely wanted to keep the graphics warmer, friendlier, more playful and make them a fantasy world while still illustrating serious concepts.

As a news organization, we wanted to be true to the reality of things. Working with watercolors gave us the freedom to make fun illustrations. We worked with our great reporter Julia Rosen who invited the language for the age group we are targeting, which is between 8 and 14 years old. Claire O’Neill, the visual editor at Climate Desk, has shaped the visual and visual of written content, and Aliza Aufrichtig, a digital designer, built a unique interactive scrolling framework that made this format possible.

Are you not only a designer but also an illustrator?
Actually, I’m more of a 3D animator and have looked at a lot of new technologies over the years. But in my spare time, I’m more of a traditional animator and illustrator – I do this for fun when the kids go to sleep. I haven’t been able to do that for my work in the New York Times until now.

I understand that to create these illustrations, you painted every part of your body – head, arms, legs – then scanned them and put them all together.

Although I love to illustrate, personally I am not the strongest illustrator. I actually find it difficult to draw a character and imagine how they will all fit together. I paint with gouache on watercolor paper. Then I scan it and build it in Photoshop. I’ll cut out the head, I’ll cut out the body, and I’ll put them together. Basically, they’re just little Frankensteiners.

Was this a passion project for you?

Much of my personal work is in wonderland. I am obsessed with folklore so a lot of the things I draw are related to folklore or women’s issues. It’s kind of in a different world. This is definitely a work of passion. The number of hours I’ve spent doing it exceeds anything I’ve worked on. This was some kind of building in the background as I was working on more serious Covid-related pieces. While climate change is scary, this is a visually happy place.