ILLUSTRATOR: April Chu
AUTHOR: Emily Jiang
BOOK TITLE: Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments
GENRE: Nonfiction Picture Book
PUBLISHER: Shen’s Books
BUY LINK: To be released Spring 2014 through http://www.shens.com/
1) What were you like as a kid? Did you always like to draw?
When I was growing up, there weren’t any children close to my age in my neighborhood. I come from a small family and have one sister who is seven years younger than me. So before I started school I didn’t really have other kids to play with. But lucky for me, I discovered something that I love to do very early on in my life. I think I fell in love with drawing the first time I picked up a pencil. So I spent many hours of my childhood watching cartoons, creating stories, and drawing. My mom always likes to tell the story that when I was a toddler, she could give me a piece of paper and some crayons and I would be entertained for hours. Once I started school, I was definitely that kid with her backpack, binders, homework assignments, and notebooks covered in doodles. I went though a ton of puffy paint, Sharpies, and Wite-Out.
2) How has your work been influenced by your childhood?
Even though I didn’t have other kids to play with, I don’t ever recall feeling bored. Since I had such a crazy, active imagination, I always had something to do. Hopefully I haven’t completely lost that sense of imagination as an adult and it is reflected in my illustration work.
3) How did you get started illustrating books?
After being in the architectural profession for many years, I realized that I wanted to do something that gave me more freedom to be creative and whimsical. So in 2009 I enrolled in a children’s book illustrating course at UC Berkeley Extension and I instantly fell in love with the combination of storytelling and art. But it wasn’t until January 2012 that I decided to pursue illustration professionally.
4) What were the challenges you faced with the first book you illustrated?
I’ve heard from other illustrators that creating a picture book requires a tremendous amount of work and time, but nothing could prepare me mentally or physically until I went through it myself. After I finished the last piece of final art for my first book, I felt like I just crossed the finished line of a marathon! A big challenge for me was pacing the work and staying focused. I made the mistake of saving some of the most complicated, difficult illustrations until the very end when I was starting to feel really burnt out. It would have been wiser to tackle the more intimidating illustrations towards the middle of the process. Also I wished I would have been more diligent about taking breaks. It was hard for me to step away from my work especially on a deadline, but in the end I think it would have helped my productivity and increased my energy levels.
5) What is a typical workday for you as an illustrator?
I try to get going by 7:30-8:00 am. I usually dedicate the first couple hours of the day to marketing, which may include updating my website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I am definitely more productive during the middle of the day so I try to keep to a 10-6 work schedule…unless of course, I have a deadline coming up.
6) What is your illustrating process?
Before I do any sketching at all, I will read a manuscript over and over many times just to brainstorm ideas. This step is important to me because this is when all the initial images and emotions I get from the story start forming in my head. I also start doing research and compiling photos. Sometimes researching on the Internet may not be adequate. For example, for my first picture book, Summoning the Phoenix, I visited a local Chinese youth symphony that allowed me to take photos during their practice. I was able to get a firsthand look at how the musical instruments were played, what they sounded like, and what they looked like in real life. All those elements were crucial in shaping the final artwork. So after I have all of the research and brainstorming completed, I start on the rough thumbnail sketches. I will most likely refine those sketches a few times before I begin on the final artwork.
7) To what extent do you use a computer in your illustrating process?
I sketch out all my illustrations in pencil first. Then I scan in the image and do all the color work on the computer.
8) Who are your favorite illustrators?
There are so many! But just to name a few: Chris Van Allsburg, Shaun Tan, Brian Selznick, Jack Kent, and Renata Liwska.
9) How do you get your illustrating jobs?
My first book illustration contract for Summoning the Phoenix came about because the author Emily Jiang picked up my postcard from the SCBWI LA Conference last year and thought that I would be a good fit to illustrate her book. Luckily, the publisher agreed. For my second book contract, I met Marissa Moss, editor-in-chief at Creston Books, at her children’s book party two summers ago. At the time she was looking for an illustrator for a manuscript she had just acquired. She sent me the story to see if I would be interested. The fictional story titled Village by the Sea is comprised of beautiful, minimal text and strong imagery about a family living in a fishing village. Once I read it, I accepted the offer.
10) Describe your workspace.
Super cluttered! I have my drawing desk, computer desk, large format scanner, and printer all crammed in one small, windowless office area in my house. I know…sounds dreadful. In the future, I definitely plan to move my workspace to a larger studio with nice large windows that let in copious amounts of natural light.
11) How has social media helped you?
Social media is an effective and affordable marketing tool and it is also a convenient way for people to view my portfolio. It’s one of the main ways that people interact and stay connected nowadays. I have learned to embrace it and have fun with it too. It’s always a pleasant surprise when someone I met through Facebook or Twitter contacts me and sends me a nice comment about my illustrations or upcoming books. It just goes to show how important it is to get myself out there via social media because I never know who is going to be looking at my artwork.
12) What are you working on now?
I am currently finishing up the final illustration work for my second picture book, Village by the Sea. The book will be published by Creston Books and released Fall 2014. I am also starting to work on some more personal pieces for my solo art show next year and I am developing some of my own stories.
13) What plans do you have for the future?
Continue illustrating! I would also like to write and illustrate my own book one day.
14) How can we find you? Please provide your public links: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
You can find me on my website, Facebook and Twitter!
SYNOPSIS: This fun, educational picture book combines poetry and prose to introduce the reader to the modern day Chinese orchestra which is comprised of twelve main musical instruments: the erhu, yangqin, dizi, sheng, xiao, suona, pipa, guzheng, ruan, muyu, paigu, and other percussion instruments. The whimsical poems and illustrations convey each child’s emotions and experiences while practicing the instruments and preparing for a concert. The nonfictional text describes the unique appearance, distinctive sounds, and historical significance of each instrument.