Moomah the Magazine
Meet the Artist: Zachariah Ohora

Meet the Artist: Zachariah Ohora

- Tracey Stewart

Nothing serves as better motivation to becoming an imaginative storyteller than the desire for your kids to just go to sleep already! My tales of talking mice and purple-eared bunnies scurry off into my children's dreams as they drift off to sleep. I often fantasize that an illustrator would be there to capture all of the characters in sketch form for our future books together.  

If you could have anyone illustrate the stories you tell your kids, who would it be? My choice would be Zachariah OHora. I love his colors, his line, his expressiveness and the way he makes you love a character at first sight. It also helps that in person he is a warm and funny guy, who is an excellent father and teacher. The total package. 

Zachariah's second picture book, No Fits, Nilson, will be released June 13, 2013, by Dial books (an imprint of Penguin). This sweet tale of a girl named Amelia and her best gorilla friend, Nilson, features some typical child-like behavior, as Nilson is prone to some gorilla sized fits. “All it takes is a tiny bump . . . and Nilson throws the biggest, most house shaking-est fit ever!!" 

In the lead up to Father's Day, and the release of his new book (inspired by his own experience with kids and fits), we caught up with Zachariah to discuss fatherhood, artistic parenting, and how he juggles it all without throwing a fit himself! 

You have said that No Fits, Nilson is based on parenting experience with your eldest son and his “gorilla like fits”.

What was one of the worst fits he ever had and how did you deal with it as a parent?

There have been many "gorilla like fits" to draw from. One of the worst that comes to mind was a grocery store trip that ended with Oskar covered in sticky popsicle juice, a layer of crushed orange cheese puffs over that, an abandoned cart full of groceries, and me, pinning him to my side because I have Teddy in the Bjorn on my chest. Oskar is screaming like he's being kidnapped, all limbs flailing. People won't even make eye contact with me.

Then I had to pay for the popsicles and cheese puffs we had opened and pretend that the full cart which was also covered in melted popsicle and orange cheese puff dust wasn't ours.  The best part was that I had to run back in and pull the diapers and wipes out of the abandoned cart.

Somehow they still let us shop there.

The book shows some of those supermarket fits (a scene we're sure is all too common to parents). Do you ever just cave in to your child's fits, just to get them to stop?

I used to. I've found that if I make the snack options the same every time, they get used to the routine and only ask for one of those options. I also try to give them their reward after they have been on their best behavior instead of the second we step into the store.  They are a little older now so some things are kind of a sport.

They know I'm not going to let them get Coco Puffs. But they are going to ask every time we pass them by. It's a half-hearted ask at this point and I usually just laugh as I toss in a box of Grape-Nuts.


You now have more than one child. How do you handle the situation when one child is throwing a tantrum and the other is behaving perfectly?

Put a doughnut in the well-behaved kid's hand and watch the other one snap out of it instantly! Congratulations! You are on your way to raising two well behaved diabetics! 

Seriously though, they do see-saw quite a bit. Oskar is old enough now that I can reason with him. But I found that it's almost impossible to reason with a thirsty child.

When in doubt give them some water. They don't recognize the signal that they are thirsty and eight out of ten times that solves it. Just don't tell them they are thirsty. Hold it in front of them and give them a Gorilla Eye Lock.

As an artist and a father, do you find that you do more artistic activities or not-so-artistic activities with your children?

I do art activities with my sons on a fairly regular basis. More often if it's near a holiday or if there's something I want to play around with, like papier-mâché. They love to draw next to me when I'm working. But they also want to do other not-so-artisitic stuff like wrestle and throw balls around.

I try to be conscious of the human tendency to do the opposite of what you are forced to do all the time, so I try not to put too much emphasis on art stuff. And they are great at reminding me that there's other stuff I should pay attention to as well. I'm not a sports guy but when your son is getting ready to play T-ball and asks you "Where is my football glove?" It's like Oh Yeah! Let's let this painting dry and go play some catch!



The boys go to preschool down the street five days a week. We trade off spending the afternoons with them, and then we all eat dinner together. We both cook, so we take turns doing that as well.

After we do the whole bedtime routine we usually go back to work until 9pm or 10pm. Then we watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad or something until bedtime. Quality time for ourselves is the thing that suffers the most: we do see A LOT of each other, but we are trying to make more plans for more date nights, and we've been doing some date afternoons.

Date afternoons are great! Having a couple drinks in the afternoon feels like you are getting away with something. Plus we get home in time to put the kids to bed and still have the rest of the evening to ourselves.


How is your approach as an artist similar to your approach to parenting?

Both jobs are the best, most rewarding, jobs. On good days, it doesn't feel like work at all. On bad days they are both the hardest jobs ever. With both it takes being flexible, adapting to each situation and handling rejection.

Making art and parenting are similar in that you have to keep growing and learning. The second you think you have something figured out, it changes, and you realize you don't know anything!

Tell us about your studio. What is your absolute  neccessity for an effective working environment?

My studio is the middle bed room on the second floor of the house. There are probably as many picture books and toys in it as there are in Oskar and Teddy's room, so there's a lot of incentive for them to bust in.

Headphones are a must to get anything done. That and scheduled trips for the boys to the library during conference calls.It's fun to get hugs from the boys when they come home from pre-school around noon. I'm usually in need of a break by then anyway.  But if I'm under a tight deadline I have to barricade the door and turn up the tunes.


We see many different animals in your books and illustrations, often as the main characters. Why do you choose animals for your illustrations and how do you choose which animal you will use?

I've always drawn cute little animals. They used to just be little jokes or cute things for my wife, Lydia. But they finally became what I did in my illustration for a living.

Animals are great stand-ins for people, you can add lots of personality and do things that people can't or shouldn't do. I'm not really into putting messages in my work, but there's a reason that so many fables and folk tales are animals. They act as a magnifying glass. 

Kids don't see themselves as separate from animals as we adults do. They accept them as people too!




zachariah's FAMILY PORTRAIT:

... and some More adored work.

Zachariah doesn't just do children's books, he's also an accomplished illustrator for editorial, books and advertising.  Here are some of our favorites.



Click Here to purchase No Fits, Nilson >>
click here to learn more about zachariah on his WEBSITE, fuzzy town >>

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Recent Comments

Jeff O'Hora said…

I am oft amazed at Zachariah’s creativity, imagination and gift as an illustrator and a translator of the subtleties of life, especially as it speaks to children and the child in each of us. And I feel both a sense of humility as well as overwhelming sense of pride. grin

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