Illustrator Interview: Sergio Bumatay III (Part 2)

Saturday, August 28, 2010
It says "Part 2" up there in the title because this is actually my second interview with Sergio Bumatay III, Filipino artist, graphic designer, and illustrator. Thank you, Serj! You can click here to read my first interview with Serj. =D In the first interview, I asked him about his influences and his creative process and I hope that serves as a good introduction to his truly amazing work.

For this interview, Serj and I focused on his illustrations for the Philippine National Children's Book Award-winning picture book Tuwing Sabado, which was written by Russell Molina. (Click here to read my interview with Russell Molina and here to read about Tuwing Sabado and the Philippine National Children's Book Awards). For this interview, Serj also gave a tour of his studio (which he calls his play room)!!

Hello again, Serj! =D

What did you most like or find most interesting about Tuwing Sabado?

Aside from the big surprise towards the end, the story is interesting because everything is well put together: the joys of counting as play is integrated and it echoes through the poetic style of the narrative. Counting was also significant in the father's poignant situation. I also wanted to capture that essence in my illustrations.

What effect or impact were you aiming for when you were working on the illustrations for Tuwing Sabado?

I wanted the visuals to look easy and stark, to draw the readers to the story. My initial study for the layout was very claustrophobic, as if the visuals as well as the text were enclosed within a box. Within the challenge of maintaining the suspense of unveiling the story's plot, I could only focus on the characters and their personal moments as found in the story. The characters' images were inspired by birds, particularly the puffin, to symbolize freedom. The characters look colorful, soft, and happy and yet there is a bit of sadness that can be perceived through their simple eyes.

Were there specific challenges to illustrating Tuwing Sabado? How did you overcome those challenges?

The major challenge was deciding on how to render it: whether realistic or whimsical. I ended up choosing the whimsical style to soften the mood of the story; I felt the issue being tackled connoted a very serious tone. Rendering it whimsically also created a timeless mood and setting. Another challenge was how to depict the father's clothes without giving the clues away. I thought that if I was going to depict the clothes that were worn here in our country that would have destroyed the twist, since the book would be read mostly by Filipino children. The uniform is so identifiable that everyone can understand what it means. So I thought putting him in a universal and classic "uniform" would perhaps do the trick.

I really appreciated that about Tuwing Sabado! It has a pretty serious theme that was balanced by the whimsical illustrations.

What does your National Children's Book Award mean to you?

The NCBA is a recognition of the hard work and dedication I place in each children's book that I illustrate. It is an inspiration for me to work harder and it reminds me that there are really so many possibilities in my chosen field. It makes me feel proud and pressured that my work as an artist too is very important and special.

What is your typical workday like?

I work most of the time during afternoons until midnight, sometimes earlier, if I don't have errands at home. Home matters/errands usually take up my mornings. I usually don't like routines, sometimes I break it up by going outside. Whenever I sketch or think a lot of things, I go to other parts of the house, since my room is claustrophobic as it is.

Do you have any rituals while working on illustrations? (For example, music you listen to while working, or favorite snacks while working, etc.)

Music does make a big difference in the mood, it keeps me up. I mostly listen to local pop music, though I also have varied interests. While working on illustrations, I don't really have a special ritual. But when I'm thinking of concepts, compositions, or thumbnails, I'm most productive when I'm lying in bed or sometimes before I sleep.

How would you describe your studio?

The place is a very small room, quite claustrophobic actually, because of the stuff I have accumulated: books, art, art materials, and other curios. Most often it is cluttered, especially when I have several deadlines at a time. The room isn't my dream studio yet, as our house is still in progress. I would have liked it to be more spacious, with lots of natural light, and well organized. I used to love the scene outside my window: the big acacia tree and open space was inspiring. Now the tree is gone and a new house filled up the space.

Here's a peek into my two and a half meters by four meters humble play room.

This is the right side of my humble room, where my drawing and painting table is, and a big shelf full of books and some toys.

This is the left side: more books. The colorful artwork at the back is my award-winning poster for UNESCO.

The three sculptures at the right were supposed to be studies for Tuwing Sabado, but I decided to make a few more as "stand alone" toys instead. The one in the middle is another experimental sculpture.

Books, books, and more books. I love to collect these 3D viewers, so far I have seven pieces and they never fail to amaze my niece and nephews.

These are the books I use for inspiration:

1. American Era Photographs 1900-1930: A Philippine Album by Jonathan Best
2. Nora's Stars by Satomi Ichikawa
3. Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams by Diane Waldman
4. A to Z Picture Book by Gyo Fujikawa
5. Araw sa Palengke by May Tobias and Isabel Roxas [Note from Tarie: This is also a recipient of the Philippine National Children's Book Award!]

Actually most of my books are very interesting, but the ones on this list are the first in mind whenever I'm thinking of a concept for a new project.

My painting/drawing desk. Sometimes, when it gets too cluttered or I'm doing large artworks, I paint on the floor or outside the house.

Little altar where I place all things of goodness.

Serj, thank you SO much for answering my questions and for showing us your play room!

Author Interview: Russell Molina

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'd like to introduce all of you fabulous readers to Filipino children's book author Russell Molina. Russell has just won two - TWO!! - Philippine National Children's Book Awards for penning Tuwing Sabado (Lampara, 2009), a picture book about a unique and touching father-son relationship, and Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub (Bookmark, 2008), an excellent biography of the founder of the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. (Click here to read reviews of the books.)

I hope you enjoy reading my interview with Russell below! I think you'll find his thoughts on writing children's books inspiring. I sure did!

Hi, Russell!

Why do you write children's literature?

I have so much respect for children. I think they are the most original and most creative thinkers in the world. They are never afraid of challenging convention and breaking rules. Every single day, I strive to be like them -- be child-like in the way I approach life. I think you get truly insightful ideas just by seeing the world through their eyes. Stories are conversations and they are my way of making a connection. I write children's books to take in some of that child-like magic and energy.

Children are also the toughest critics. If they hate something, they rarely hold back. So asking them to spend a couple of minutes just to read your story can be a tall order. That's a good motivation -- knowing that you have a tough audience that is hard to please. That is why whenever I start to write for them, I think of two important words: SO WHAT? Once I'm ready to answer that question, that's the only time I start to dive into my story.

Hear, hear!

Can you please guide us through your writing process? What happens after you ask SO WHAT? and dive into a story?

I do not really follow a system when I write. Different stories, especially when research is involved, present different processes. What is crucial for me though is the thinking more than the writing. The most challenging part is the moment when you let the ideas simmer inside your head. Some call it the incubation period.

For me, I always think of the characters first. I do not even begin to explore the whole plot or paint an ending if I know I don't have the characters' profiles right. I think about what they look like, what they eat, what they wear, how they respond to certain situations, how they talk -- details like these are very important in giving depth to your characters. They become real. They become believable. And children respond better to real characters with real emotions. Sometimes my characters write the story for me. If you really know your characters well they will dictate the plot and even the ending of a story.

I also write for a real person. I do not just write for 6-12 year olds. I write for a boy in our neighborhood. I write for this little girl in the playground. I write for the little Russell inside me. Together with knowing your characters, you also need to know your audience well. You can only capture the humor, the language and their sense of play if you anticipate how they would respond and react to your words. If you know your character and your audience already, everything will fall into place.

What inspired you to write Tuwing Sabado?

I've always wanted my stories to open new doors for children. I see my books as avenues through which children can discover new things about their country, their culture, their environment and in a large part about themselves. In Tuwing Sabado, I presented a concept of a family that is beyond the ordinary. I think the whole idea of a Filipino family is now evolving. Even family structures, roles and relationships are changing. So there is really no one way to paint a picture of a happy home.

I also wanted the story to provide a voice for those children who have suffered discrimination. I hope children affected by this fear of judgment and rejection would pick up this book and realize that they are never alone in this world and that there is nothing wrong with being different. I hope they find solace in the fact that a parent's love really knows no limits.

What about Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub? You chose a wonderful way to write the biography of Dr. Fe del Mundo. Where did you get the idea for the story?

I believe children do not really distinguish books based on labels like non-fiction or fiction. When it comes to picking books, I think their rule is simple: Will I enjoy this? That's my premise in writing this story. By blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction, I can present Dr. Fe del Mundo's life-story in the most enjoyable manner. Instead of just doing a list of accomplishments, I wanted her experiences to be relevant to the young readers. That is why I took on a more personal approach by using a child as my storyteller.

How does it feel to win two National Children's Book Awards?

Initially, I felt extreme pressure. An award does that to a writer sometimes. Whatever you write post-award will now be judged against that new standard. Whenever you write something new, you'll have that nagging voice asking "Is this worthy of an award?" So instead of being confident, you become a little insecure with your craft. But I guess that's the whole point of the 1st National Children's Book Awards -- not to write for awards but for the reader's enjoyment. By creating a list of good reads (with no ranking), a new yardstick has been created with the young reader's need back in focus.

It is such an honor to be a part of the 1st National Children's Book Awards and I hope that my books will be instrumental in inspiring other writers to take that leap and weave more magical stories for children.

Thanks Tarie!

Thank YOU, Russell. And congratulations on your awards!

More on Grace Lin

Thursday, August 19, 2010
Over at Color Online today I posted a Women Writers of Color feature on Taiwanese American children's book author and illustrator Grace Lin.

Grace Lin and her work are always so charming you can never overdose on Grace Lin interviews. Make sure you also check out this recent interview of Grace at the Smithsonian's BookDragon blog, and my own interview with her here.

And this video interview of Grace is for your viewing pleasure:

Dan Santat, baby!

I'm a fan of Thai American children's book illustrator Dan Santat. The man and his work are SO FUNNY. For a proper introduction, watch Mr. Santat's video portfolio below:

A Friendly Reminder

Friday, August 13, 2010
To all Asian children's book writers and children's book writers of Asian descent:

Have you been working on your manuscripts for the Scholastic Asian Book Award, hmmm? I sure hope so!

Remember. . .

The Scholastic Asian Book Award will be given each year to an unpublished manuscript in English (original or translation), set in Asia and targeted at children ages 6 to 12, written by a writer in Asia or of Asian origin. The award-winning manuscript will get a prize of S$10,000 and a plaque, and will be considered by Scholastic Asia for publication. The first and second runners-up will each get a plaque and be offered advice by Scholastic Asia on editing their manuscripts to submit for publication.

Entries for the inaugural Scholastic Asian Book Award must be submitted by December 31, 2010 at 5 p.m., to the National Book Development Council of Singapore.

Now go, write! I can't wait to read the winning story. Who knows, it might be YOURS. =D

Call for Papers: Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2011

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
I was sooo EXCITED to read this news from the Singapore Book Council:

We invite writers, illustrators, preschool and primary school teachers, publishers, libraries, literary agents, distributors and retailers, translators, technology solution providers, and other media professionals to take part in this festival.

* Deadline: November 30, 2010
* Geographical coverage: Worldwide
* Content: on Asia for children
* Accepts (genre): papers
* Contact:

The festival aims to:

i) Provide the world’s children with quality Asian content for education and entertainment.

ii) Foster excellence in the creation, production, and publication of children’s materials with Asian content in all formats and to facilitate their distribution and access, first in Asia and then to children worldwide.

Types of sessions possible:

a) Workshops (60 mins. or 180 mins.)

The purpose of a workshop is to provide the opportunity for participants to learn by doing and reflection.

b) Roundtable Discussions

The purpose of a roundtable discussion is to maximize dialogue around a particular idea or project.

c) Paper Sessions (typically three papers will be grouped together)

The purpose of a paper session is to provide presenters with an opportunity to present the main ideas and conclusions of their work, whether these are theoretical, programmatic, or the results for a study of any kind.

d) Interactive Dialogues

The purpose of an interactive dialogue is address a specific topic or problem in a format meant to stimulate focused dialogue.

If you wish to propose a presentation for this festival, kindly send a proposal to Please submit a two-page proposal in writing by November 30, 2010.

If you are curious about the Asian Festival of Children's Content, check out my blog posts about it here. I had a BLAST at the festival this year and I can't wait to go to next year's festival (May 26-29, 2011)! I'm also considering proposing a presentation on blogging about Asian children's and YA books. :o)

Guest Post from Daphne Lee on Malaysian Children's Literature

Saturday, August 7, 2010
Tarie Sabido: I have visited Malaysia only once, but I completely fell in love with the country and the people. HEAD-OVER-HEELS in love. So it's only natural that I am curious about the children's literature scene in Malaysia.

I invited Malaysian children's book expert Daphne Lee to guest blog today for Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind. I hope you enjoy her post below! Thank you, Daphne!

Daphne Lee: I was recently at my second son’s school to get his mid-year report. There were a few stalls selling books and I thought I would buy some Bahasa Melayu ones for him. (His class has a half hour every week when they read a story book in BM. There is also half an hour for a story book in English.)

When I think of Malaysian children’s literature, specifically children’s story books in Bahasa Melayu, I’m afraid that the phrase “dodgy quality” comes to mind. What I saw being sold at the stalls only confirmed this belief. The books (featuring local folktales or translations of Western fairy tales) were badly written and illustrated, and shoddily produced and packaged.

The low quality of most of the children’s books published in Malaysia seems to indicate that, by and large, Malaysian publishers aren’t too concerned about the standard of the children’s books they produce. Often they read like they have not even been edited. And some illustrations are so ugly, I have to laugh … it’s either that or cry.

However, I think things are changing. Publishers like Linda Tan Lingard are making a difference with their own deep love for children’s books, which translates into serious commitment and effort to produce beautifully written and illustrated books that Malaysian children can enjoy and, most importantly, see themselves in.

Linda is the publisher behind my imprint OneRedFlower Press, and she also works closely with Malaysian artist and picture book author/illustrator Yusof Gajah. Yusof’s books are published by Tan’s Gajah imprint. Linda also has the Kaki Komik imprint which publishes graphic novels. I’m publishing editor of ORF Press so I get to decide what gets published under that name. ORF’s aims is to publish picture books and middle-grade books with Malaysian content. In the future I hope we will also publish YA fiction.

I’ve also just signed on to edit for Scholastic Press (Asia), and this covers the Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian markets so the books I choose to accept for publication might have an Asian flavour but not necessarily a specifically Malaysian one.

However, whether they’re for ORF or Scholastic, I want to publish books that Malaysians can view with pride and children can read with pleasure. I am very psyched about it, but I do suffer from moments of doubt and anxiety, especially when I meet Malaysians who really seem not to give a damn about quality, who are more interested in using children’s books as a networking tool, to curry favour, or as a way to make a quick buck. (This is laughable. As a writer said at the recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore, “If we wanted to be rich, we’d have become dentists, not writers.”) It’s especially depressing when these are people who have the power to make a real difference.

For instance, there’s an exhibition on right now at Galeri Petronas called Words+Pictures=Books. It showcases picture books created by 10 Malaysian artists who were given five days to produce these books, from scratch. Yes, FIVE days, I kid you not. I won’t say much more now because I’m in the middle of writing an article about the exhibition. Suffice it to say that this is exactly the kind of project that Malaysian children’s literature doesn’t need: a rush job that obviously lacks proper planning, focus and purpose.

Still, what matters is that those of us who truly care about the direction Malaysian (and Asian) children’s books is headed continue to do all we can to uphold the integrity and quality of the genre. Giving encouragement and support to our writers and illustrators is important, and offering them honest and constructive criticism is essential to their continued growth.