Thursday, October 03, 2019

Interview with illustrator YINFAN HUANG

Let’s celebrate Yinfan Huang’s debut as a picture book illustrator: THE COUCH POTATO has just been published! Written by Kerry Lyn Sparrow, this book is laugh-out-loud funny and sure to be a big hit with children. 

The story begins: “It didn’t belong there. No one knew where it came from. But there it was.” How does this family handle the appearance of a potato in their living room?  “Sparrow and debuting Huang cleverly and inventively reaffirm a universal family truth: never underestimate how a little annoyance can quickly escalate into a laughably big deal.” Publishers Weekly

Continuing my series of interviews with illustrators from The School of Visual Arts, I hope you enjoy this "talk" with Yinfan about the creation of her delightful book!

It is exciting to hear about an artist's journey to publication. How did THE COUCH POTATO get started? 
My agent recommended me to the editor of Kids Can Press, who was looking for an illustrator for the manuscript of The Couch Potato. And everyone thought it was a perfect match - the story is funny and quirky with dark-humor, which is exactly my style!

What was your favorite part of working on this book?  
Doing character studies! I love drawing people and their expressions. And it’s a very interesting and unique book - I love the fact that the main character, Mr. Russet, is a stay-home dad, and the mom, Mrs. Russet, is a working mom. This is not mentioned in the text, but you can see that from the visuals and subtext. I love that the book challenges gender stereotypes. 

And the most difficult part?  
Researching/drawing all the “messes” in a creative, not disgusting way!

When the author and illustrator are two different people, people often wonder if you had contact or communication during the making of the book?
I didn’t have any contact with the author during the creation of the book, which is normal. I communicated directly with my editor, who shared my artwork with the author during the late stage, and she was very pleased!

Where do you live and what is your studio like? What are your art materials?  
I live in a small studio apartment in Manhattan. Fun fact: I just got a small couch for the first time in my life and now I can’t fit my work desk in my apartment anymore! So I work at a co-working space now. I’ve been working a lot on the computer these days, and working outside of home helps me to concentrate, so the situation is perfect for me.

and after!

For The Couch Potato, I used color pencils to create my art, plus some gouache and watercolor, and then I assembled everything on the computer.  I’m not sure what I will do when I work with color pencils and paint again but my materials are very portable so I’m sure I’ll find a way to do it. 

What were you like as a child?  Did you always draw and paint since you were very young?
Yes! Ever since I was very young, I liked to draw and paint. In one of my earliest drawings when I was 5 or 6, I created this picture for a class assignment “When I Grow Up", of me painting as an artist! 

Here is another picture, "My Friend".
And I created my first “book dummy” when I was seven years old. It’s called “The Adventure of a Kitty Cat.” It was a hilarious story about a lazy kitty who tries to grow fishes out of a tree. (I think I’ve always had a unique sense of humor.)

When did you decide you wanted to do children's books?
Growing up in China, I didn’t have much access to children’s books, let alone picture books. I first started to think about creating children’s books when I finished college in China. I started to read many foreign picture books which I found at second-hand bookstores, and they opened up a whole new world to me. I wanted to create my own stories but I didn’t know how. I didn't really take a step until later when I decided to move to the US to study illustration.

Did you have some rejections along the way? What have been some of the ups and downs?
Oh yes. I didn’t get to do my first picture book, The Couch Potato, until many years later, after changing my school, my career, and my country. I did have the opportunity to illustrate two middle-grade novels for a Chinese publisher after coming to the US, but I was really determined to get into the American children’s book industry. It was so competitive, and I knew I had to get an agent. I sent out many emails to different agents to get representation, and I got so many rejections. Because I started out as an editorial illustrator, I considered myself more of an illustrator rather than author/illustrator, and I had not yet finished a complete dummy before this first book! It was not a smooth journey, but it's all worth it! 

Is there anything you learned back in class that has particularly stayed with you?
I think seeing the dummy books and sketches of actual picture books from you and the visiting artists were very helpful. I also enjoyed hearing your own experience working with different publishers and editors throughout the years - all these little tales and details made me feel close to the publishing world.
I also attended the SCBWI winter conference after taking your class. It was actually my second time at the conference. Nothing came out of the first one, but I decided to give it another try and prepared my portfolio with new work I’d developed throughout the year. Luckily, this time my agent (Sean McCarthy Literary Agency) found me at the Portfolio Review - so it all paid off in the end!

Do you have any special words of advice or encouragement for illustrators/writers starting out now?
Go to conferences and workshops, and connect with fellow illustrators/writers.  Don’t give up!

To see more of Yinfan’s work go to her 
And her shop:

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