Illustrator Interview: Ariel Pang

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ariel Pang is my new favorite children's book illustrator! Ariel is from Taiwan and her works include:

Fox Hatches the Egg

Barky the Dog Sheep

The Lion Who Wants Curly Hair

Black Spoonbills Come for Winter

Mongoose, Mongoose, Stop! Don't Run.

The Outfoxed Fox

P is for Pumpkin

As you can see, Ariel's illustrations are just the cutest things. Bright, colorful, and playful. They are reviving. I'm really happy to be featuring Ariel and some of her works on Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind.

Read on for my conversation with Ariel...

Who are your favorite artists, graphic designers, and children's book illustrators? How have they influenced your work?

I got influenced by many artists through time. But there are two artists who influence me the most. They are Bobby Chiu and Davy Liu. Bobby Chiu has this broadcasting thing named Chiustream on the Internet where he interacts with other artists in the world through his broadcasting. He shares his philosophy of how to be a good artist, and he pushes everyone to reach their limit as an artist. He really spreads his passion to everyone and that really inspires me.

Both Davy Liu and Bobby Chiu are the artists who influence me the most mentally. And that helps me keep creating my art. As a freelance illustrator, it is very hard to keep myself intense when working for clients. Art is a long career and sometimes it is very easy to get lost along the way. Both of them share lots of ideas for artists on how to keep on track. I find it really inspiring and helpful.

What are your other inspirations?

Anything can be my inspiration. I like to keep my mind curious, and I try to experience new things in life. As an artist, I believe how much knowledge is in your mind is how much you can express in your art. So I’m still trying to read more, experience more and observe more to fill out my creativity database.

Can you please guide us through the creative process you use for illustrating children's books?

Every time I start a children’s book, I design the character first. I will draw as many characters as I can until I find the one I like. Then I’ll start the interior pages' sketches.

Usually the story is divided into phrases for each page, and I sketch many small sketches called “thumbnail sketches”. This stage helps me to build up ideas and composition faster. (See the three images below.)

After the thumbnail sketch stage, I pick one sketch that I like, and enlarge it by Xerox machine or scan it into my computer and enlarge it. The thumbnail sketch looks rough and simple when enlarged, so I trace it onto tracing paper and start giving it more detail. I might do this process several times until the sketch’s size is large enough to go to the final. (See the image below.)

(Below are the traced sketches.)

Last, I make a mock-up that we call a dummy book. I put all the sketches together like a real book. This helps me to view the flow of the pictures. In this stage, I show this dummy book to many people and ask their opinion. I like to show my dummy book to others without telling them the story first. If they can get the basic story just by reading my images, then I know it is right. (Below is a dummy book.)

Before I go to the final coloring, I do a black and white value study, to be my reference. I find this stage very important as the value study is the guide for me to follow when I do the coloring. Once I tried to skip this stage and jumped to the coloring, I got it all messed up and had to go back to do the value study and start all over again. So no matter how rushed the time is, I always do the value study first. (See image below.)

You are the illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Taiwan. What is that like? What kind of work do you do for this role? What are some of the activities of the illustrators in SCBWI Taiwan?

To be the SCBWI illustrator coordinator in Taiwan is not easy. As SCBWI is originally from the U.S., the language difference blocks most of the local illustrators from SCBWI. When we first started it, some artists even thought that they needed to speak English to be able to join our events. And because of the language difference, it is very hard for us to convince people to join SCBWI.

So after years of trying, we started SCBWI Taiwan in a more local way. We take the ideas of how the SCBWI works in the States and make it our own way. I think it will help the entire market develop. The things we do now are regular illustrators' critiques or gatherings.

We have a fan page on Facebook now, and we are trying to build up a market guild for illustrators. For example, the price guild line, the contract example, etc. In Taiwan, the system for publishing is not as organized as it is in the United States. Also in Taiwan, we don’t have any art schools with departments for illustration majors. So the majority of illustrators are self-taught. But most of them don’t have enough knowledge to know how to deal with contracts or negotiations with clients. The most common problem we see from the illustrators is they don’t know how to protect their rights. As the illustrator coordinator, I try to come up with ideas of how to gather more artists into our group, and I try to know what they need and how we can provide for them. Our goal is to gather all the talents together and help each other and push each other to grow. I’m glad to say that more and more people know SCBWI Taiwan, and they are very active on our fan page on Facebook.

Whoa. It sounds like SCBWI Taiwan has been through a lot and is doing really important work. Great job, Ariel!

What other projects or products have you illustrated for children?

I've illustrated many other projects for children, such as the poster for a children’s play, and many package covers. I also make my own products for one of my books, Barky the Dog Sheep.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my own book now. But it is not for children. It is mostly paintings from my travel experiences. It will be a small gift book that you can write notes in and it has my illustrations and my own words. I have had two of this kind of book published and they are all from my travel experiences.

Below is “Free” based on my experience biking around Taiwan.

This one is “Da Sola in Italia” and it’s based on my travel experience in Italy.

Ariel, thank you very much for sharing so much about your work!

Let's end this post with one of Ariel's personal favorites, which is a commission piece she did for a gallery. It's my favorite from Ariel actually. Just look at all that detail and whimsy. So inspiring. :o)