How did you decide to become a children’s writer and illustrator?
After working in the field of architecture for a few years I realized it was not very fulfilling. With no formal art education and a huge leap of faith, I started Wanart in 2003 with an initial focus on designing and manufacturing my own greeting card line. When I first started Wanart, I was working at a 9am-6pm job at an architectural firm. I would spend the night/early morning hours on my own business with only a few hours of sleep in between the two “jobs”. I did this for two years before I quit my full time job to pursue my own business full-time. I spent the early years taking lots of continuing education classes, taking odd jobs here and there, reading lots of marketing books, teaching myself design programs like Photoshop and Illustrator, and lots of drawing, relying on nothing but hope and passion to keep me going most of the time. I continually put myself out there and exhibited my products at trade shows all over the country such as the National Stationery Show and the New York International Gift Show. Between the trial and error (and tears!) were some small successes and then my major break came when I met the art director from my first publisher, Blue Apple Books, in 2008 at a gift show. The art director told me they had seen my cards in stores, had been following my work, and even had some of my cards in their office. This led to the publication of my first book Greetings from Kiwi and Pear which was based on one of my best-selling greeting card lines. While working on this book I had an epiphany that I was doing exactly what I was born to do. Almost 10 years later, I’ve now had over 20 books published and I’ve worked with publishers such as Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, and Scholastic. It’s a dream come true.
When did you start writing and illustrating children’s book?
I did not start until I was approached by the art director of Blue Apple Books in 2008. This is when I took one of my greeting card lines featuring monkeys travelling the world and turned it into a book.
Where do you get your inspiration for your books?
My childhood, things that make me laugh or smile, and japanese pop art.
On average, how long does it take to write and illustrate a book?
The timeline varies from book to book and each book has its own challenges. I also let ideas simmer in my brain for a long time before I put things down on paper. Generally, board books can take me 1-3 months and picture books can take 6 months to years.
What was your favorite children’s book while growing up and why?
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, the poems and drawings were quirky and fun yet they taught us many important life lessons. That book is still as refreshing to read as an adult as they were when I was a child.
Who’s your favorite children author and why?
Eric Carle, the imagery in his books are so bold and iconic and the stories are simple and timeless.
Were you always a good writer and illustrator?
I have been drawing as long as I can remember. Writing came much later and it’s still something I am working on improving all the time.
What advice would you give kids struggling with writing?
How can they improve with their writing?You can learn so much from just reading a lot. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Just get your ideas on paper as you can always polish it later.
What advice would you give kids who wants to be an illustrator like yourself?
Draw everyday. Although I did not have any formal art training, having a greeting card company was the best education I gave to myself as I had to put out new greeting card collections every year so it forced me to not only draw a lot but draw things that people might buy. The more you draw the better you will get. Keep a sketch book handy to jot down and all your ideas and doodle.
What are the steps you take in creating a book?
It varies depending on the type of project I’m working on. I’m usually bouncing between board books and picture books that I’ve written to illustrating other authors’ picture book texts. A lot of my early book ideas were inspired by my greeting card designs. “You Are My Cupcake” is based on a line of my New Baby cards and “My Lucky Little Dragon” is inspired by my line of my zodiac animals cards. With my board books it usually starts as a concept with some simple text and doodles. Here is the concept sketch when I first came up with the idea for “You Are My Cupcake” back in 2009:
After this phase, I will do more detailed sketches to size, scan, and take it to finish using programs like Illustrator or Photoshop.
For picture books with a central character I may do character studies first like this one from “The Whale In My Swimming Pool”:
With picture books I also like to create a visual storyboard with thumbnail sketches like this one from “Sleepyheads”. This helps me plan the general layout of each page and text placement without having to worry too much about the details at this point. I also jot down any other ideas or questions to think about I may have for each page.
Generally, the books that I write myself start with a concept, then I write the words, and then I draw the pictures. As I’m writing the words, I have pictures in my head. When I start drawing the pictures, the text may change. It’s a constant dialogue back and forth between words and pictures. Sometimes, actually, most of the time, it feels like a chaotic process but somehow it all works out beautifully in the end!
Out of all the books you created, which book is your favorite one and why?
“You Are My Cupcake” is probably my favorite as the success of that book has enabled me to keep creating books.