What have I been up to?

Hello everyone! I finally wrapped up all the illustrations for my upcoming picture book Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine written by Laurie Wallmark and published by Creston Books. The book will be released on Ada Lovelace Day (October 13, 2015), which is an international celebration of girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM). Ada Bryon Lovelace was an English mathematician who lived in the 1800s and is considered to be the world's first computer programmer. This year also marks the 200th anniversary of Ada's birth year. I'm very excited to bring attention to such an amazing historical figure.

While I was diligently trying to finish my deadline for the Ada book, I also attended many book events for In a Village by the Sea. Yes, I had a busy summer so far...and it's about to get busier. Here are some photo highlights from the events.

David Schwartz, Georgia Lyon, Muon Van, me and Julie Downing holding copies of our books in front of Folio Books after our Artistry of Children's Storytelling Panel.

David Schwartz, Georgia Lyon, Muon Van, me and Julie Downing holding copies of our books in front of Folio Books after our Artistry of Children's Storytelling Panel.

Muon Van and me signing copies of our book at the ALA Conference in San Francisco.

Muon Van and me signing copies of our book at the ALA Conference in San Francisco.

The Creston Books Crew at the ALA Conference in San Francisco. From L to R, Muon Van, Darlene Beck Jacobson, Julie Downing, me, and Robin Newman.

The Creston Books Crew at the ALA Conference in San Francisco. From L to R, Muon Van, Darlene Beck Jacobson, Julie Downing, me, and Robin Newman.

Me and Emily Jiang signing copies of our books at the Lee & Low Books Booth.

Me and Emily Jiang signing copies of our books at the Lee & Low Books Booth.

Goodie bags at the Creston Books after party.

Goodie bags at the Creston Books after party.

Window display at the new Laurel Book Store location in Downtown Oakland. Our event was on one of the hottest summer days in the Bay Area.

Window display at the new Laurel Book Store location in Downtown Oakland. Our event was on one of the hottest summer days in the Bay Area.

Story time at Books Inc. in Berkeley.

Story time at Books Inc. in Berkeley.

Santa Cruz School Visit

Last Friday, Muon and I had our first author/illustrator school visit for In a Village by the Sea. We had so much fun presenting to the students at Westlake Elementary and Gateway School in Santa Cruz. Both schools greeted us with so much enthusiasm and energy. All the students were wonderful listeners and participants. We were even asked what is our favorite flavor of ice cream and what is our favorite fish!

Here are some of the photo highlights from each school:

In between our school visits, we signed 125 books at Bookshop Santa Cruz. 100 Lucky students got to take home a signed copy of In a Village by the Sea!

Thank you to Kathy Ritchie at Bookshop Santa Cruz for coordinating this event and thank you to the lovely faculty and students from Westlake Elementary and Gateway for inviting us to speak at your schools!

Starred Reviews for In a Village by the Sea!

It's always a great feeling after spending months in your art cave to finally release your book out into the world. It's an even better feeling when your book receives a warm welcome! I am absolutely delighted that In a Village by the Sea has received 2 starred reviews!

"The illustrations, with strong references to Chinese pen-and-ink landscapes and Japanese woodblock prints of the sea, will draw readers to this book again and again." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Read full review at Kirkus.

"Van’s circular, incantatory writing closes in on the house (“In that house,/ high above the waves,/ is a kitchen”), where a woman cooks, a dog explores, and a baby rests. Skillfully using a variety of visual perspectives, Chu’s delicately detailed and colored illustrations invite close study; the fishermen’s nets have a gauzy translucence, and papery garlic bulbs, veiny basil leaves, and softly glowing lanterns are all drawn with naturalistic care. As Van directs readers down a hole in the corner of the room, the story shifts into fantasy—beneath the floorboards, a cricket paints a majestic picture of a stormy sea, in which a fisherman (previously seen in the opening pages) longs to return to the woman and child in the hillside home. A lovely, resonant portrait of family life that hums with quiet magic." - Publishers Weekly (starred review) Read full review at Publishers Weekly.

Thank you Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly!

Lights, Camera, Action!

A few weeks ago the wonderful folks at ASUS North America asked me to film a video where I demonstrate how to sketch on their VivoTab Note 8.  Since I have never actually drawn directly on a tablet before (you can read about my actual illustration process on Lee & Low’s Blog), I was a bit anxious!  And it’s always weird to have someone look over your shoulder as you are working.  And it’s even weirder to have someone film it.  Ah…talk about pressure!

Before the day of the shoot, I had to make my house look presentable because it was sort of in a complete mess.  Luckily most of my art shows had come to an end and I had most of my artwork readily available to hang on the walls so my place looked less like a pigsty and more like an artist’s studio.  Although I didn’t have time to organize and clean my desk, as you will be able to see in the video.

Next comes the difficult decision of what to draw.  After playing around with the tablet and figuring out the pressure sensitivity, I decided to sketch a scenario with 2 of the characters from one of my illustrations.

And here is the final VivoTab Note 8 sketch!

For those of you wondering, the program I used was Microsoft Fresh Paint, which is a free app.  My final thoughts on the tablet is that it has good pressure sensitivity and since it’s so portable, it would be perfect for illustrators on the go.  I think it’s great for jotting down ideas or conceptual sketches.  I am sure there are infinite ways to use the tablet that I have yet to discover!  For more information on the specs, click here.

I had such a fun time filming the video!  To see the full video and get a glimpse of my workspace, here is the link:

…and that’s a wrap!

Spring Spirit 2014, here I come!

The SCBWI Spring Spirit Conference will probably be the only SCBWI conference I will be able to attend this year so I hope to make it a good one!  I am really looking forward to meeting my editor, Louise May, from Lee & Low, listening to all the wonderful speakers, reconnecting with some old friends, and of course, making some new ones.  This will be the first conference I will attend as a published illustrator, which is pretty darn cool!  I am making sure I have everything packed away for tomorrow...

Please stop by the display table to pick up a few bookmarks and postcards, and to check out my debut book!

New Year, New Artwork

Happy New Year everyone!!!  I apologize for neglecting my little blog here for the last several months.  Between the holidays and working overtime on the final artwork for my next book, Village by the Sea, time seemed to have flown by.  I seriously cannot believe that 2013 has come to an end.  Like many other folks, I like to take this time to reflect on the past year and think of all the things that I am thankful for.  So yes, it’s about get a bit sentimental up in here.

While 2012 was an exciting year marked by the start of my journey into the children’s book illustration world and landing 2 book contracts back to back, 2013 was definitely the year of the behind-the-scenes hard work to make those 2 books come to life.  I once read in another illustrator’s blog that creating a picture book involves blood, sweat, and tears.  That may be a slight exaggeration but after finishing the illustrations for my first book, Summoning the Phoenix, and currently still trying to wrap up the illustrations for my second book, I can say with confidence that that is not too far from the truth.

In 2013 I also learned that the children’s book industry can be full of unpredictable yet exciting changes.  The most exciting publishing news for me in the past year was the announcement of the acquisition of Shen’s Books, my original publisher for Summoning the Phoenix, by Lee and Low Books, a wonderful children’s book publisher that focuses on diversity.  Summoning the Phoenix will be the first new title under their new Shen’s Books imprint.  The acquisition was announced in Lee and Low's press release and an article in Publisher’s Weekly (I'm mentioned in both, yay!).

I am a firm believer that all good things require plenty of time and patience…and children’s books are no exceptions.  With that said, another change is that both of my books have had their release dates pushed back.  Summoning the Phoenix will now be available in Spring 2014 and Village by the Sea will be available Spring 2015.  I will keep everyone posted on the actual release dates very soon!  All in all, I think these changes will ultimately have positive impacts on both books.

I have infinite things in my life that I am thankful for!  I would like to express how grateful I am to Renee Ting, Emily Jiang, and Marissa Moss for giving me the opportunity to work on my first 2 picture books.  I’ve realized in the last 2 years after countless hours at my desk and in front of my computer, being an illustrator is not only a solitary line of work, but also marked by many ups and downs.  So a big thank you to everyone who has dropped me a nice note, asked me for advice, given me feedback, or simply stopped to say "hi"...I truly appreciate it!  It’s a great reminder of why I love illustrating in the first place.

Last but not least, I am thrilled to finally be able to share a couple sneak peeks of the interior artwork for Village by the Sea.  I will be revealing more closer to the release date.


I am really looking forward to what the New Year will bring...I know it will be a magical one.  I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous, and creative 2014!  Cheers!

Studio 11A

Recently I got asked this question: “Do you feel your architectural degree has helped your illustrations?”

Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer that question adequately.  I agree that personal and educational experiences definitely shape a writer or illustrator’s work but I’ve actually never really thought about the correlation between my architectural background and my illustration work.  Well, except for the obvious and direct one – I do often include cityscapes and buildings in my artwork.  But besides that, everything else seems so different.


With that question in mind and all the excitement over back to school week, I started reminiscing about my college days.  And that inspired me to rummage through my closet and dig up some old projects that I haven’t looked at for years.  I found an old portfolio that included every single assignment from my first studio course at UC Berkeley.  The class focused on freehand drawing which is a basic skill needed to convey an idea in architecture, even though most drafting is done on the computer nowadays.  Using pencil, ink, and charcoal and without the aid of a ruler, we had to draw buildings on campus, still life, collages, and much, much more. The experience not only refined my drawing skills but also taught me about compositions, thumbnails, perspectives, scale, tone, design, line weights, how to handle constructive criticism, and deadlines.  Sometimes a drawing was due in 3 days and it literally took all 36 hours!  But even with the intense schedule, it was by far my favorite class in college.  So the answer is yes, this class along with other studio classes in my architectural training definitely influenced me as an illustrator.  One can even say that it gave me a great “foundation” for my current illustration work.  Haha, I knew I could work in a cheesy architecture pun!

So here are some drawings from the time in my life when I thought I was going to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright.  I wish I had these scanned in...the image quality would be much better!


One of our final projects was to draw a desk, lamp, and coat.  But for some reason I decided to be a rebel and draw a piano instead.



I have spent the last several months (including many weekends and nights) working on the artwork for my first picture book, Summoning the Phoenix.  The last few weeks have been especially intense because it was my final push to wrap up the project and that’s why I haven’t posted anything in a while.  But now I can happily announce that I have FINALLY FINISHED!!!!  WOOHOO!!!  And yes, it feels sooooo good to cross the finish line.  All the image files have been sent off to the publisher and now I am just waiting to see the proofs. 

But before I go into further detail about my experience, I would like to thank Renee Ting at Shen’s Books and Emily Jiang, the author, for giving me the opportunity to work on this wonderful book.  I worked extremely hard to bring Emily’s words to life and I cannot wait to see the final book which will be released September of this year.

Now back to my lessons learned.  As I filed away all my research material, wiped the graphite off my desk, and vacuumed the eraser crumbs from my floor this morning, I had time to reflect on my first picture book experience.   And here are a few things that I learned:

1) Creating picture books is tough work.  I may be stating the obvious here but until I actually started working on a picture book, I didn’t truly understand how tough it really was.  This book in particular required a lot of research since it is nonfictional story about rather obscure musical instruments.  I had to make sure that all the musical instruments and how they were played were accurately depicted.  The story also involves thirteen students, many audience members, and one conductor.  It was challenging but important to keep all the characters consistent throughout the book.  To sum it up, many of the illustrations took waaaaaaaaay longer than I had anticipated.  And towards the end I could feel myself getting pretty burnt out which leads me to my next point…

2) Don’t save the most complicated, difficult illustrations until the very end.  The last illustration I worked on is a concert scene with a 36-piece orchestra and a full audience.  I knew that it was really going to knock the wind out of me so I thought it would be a good idea to save it until the very end when I was already pretty worn out from working on the rest of the book.  Hmmmm…not a good idea.   It would have been much wiser to start off with easier illustrations to build up my confidence and then tackle the more challenging ones towards the middle of the process, and then finish once again with easier ones.

3) Remember to take breaks!  This is a simple advice that I seemed to have ignored.  It was so hard to step away from what I was working on because I really wanted to get as much completed as possible all the time.  But seriously, a break here and there would have been kinder to my body, helped my productivity, and increased my energy levels.

Now it’s time to celebrate and relax for a little bit!!  Then I jump back to work on my next picture book with Creston Books, Village by the Sea.  But before I sign off, here is a little fun exercise and another sneak peek from my new book.

I had to make a slight change in one of my illustrations.  Can you spot the difference?



New Artwork from My First Book

Last week, I was featured on Kathy Temean's Illustrator Saturday blog post.  I am a huge fan of Kathy's blog!  I peruse it often when I want to find out more about other children's book illustrators and authors or just when I need some inspiration.  So when she asked me if I wanted to be featured on Illustrator Saturday, I was very honored and of course said yes right away.  In the interview I discuss my illustration process and I even reveal new artwork from my debut book!  In case you missed it, here it is:

Before I do any sketching at all, I will read a manuscript over and over many times.  Sometimes I even close my eyes and just brainstorm ideas.  This step is important to me because this is when all the initial images and emotions I get from a story start forming in my head.  I also start doing research and compiling photos at this point as I did for Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments.

Then I start on rough thumbnail sketches.  Since I have a hard time drawing at a very small scale, my thumbnails are usually at half size.


Next I refine my thumbnail sketches.  I know that for this particular spread, I wanted the background to have a grandiose feeling of wind, waterfalls, and mountains that was reminiscent of a traditional Chinese painting.  This was the imagery that popped into my head when I did my initial brainstorming.

Sometimes I have a couple of options with different compositions.

Once the final thumbnail sketch is chosen, I will work on the final, full size sketch.

I scan the image into my computer and color in Photoshop.  Here is a final illustration of a girl playing the guzheng from Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments (Shen’s Books, 2013).

For the rest of the interview (by the way, she asks some great, detailed questions!), please visit Kathy's blog.  She interviews a new illustrator every Saturday and she also posts news updates and other informative tips for writers and illustrators throughout the week.

My NEXT Big Thing

…is also my FIRST big thing!  Thank you to author Patricia Newman for including me in this global blog event that promotes the upcoming works for authors/illustrators.  This is especially helpful for a first time illustrator like me.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

I am illustrating a picture book called Summoning the Phoenix: Poetry and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments written by Emily Jiang.  Release date is later this year.

2) Did you do research for the illustrations in your book?

There was definitely a lot of research required for this book.  Musical instruments are so intricate and the way we play them is so specific.  Luckily for me, there is a local Chinese youth symphony that allowed me to take a peek into one of their practice sessions.  I learned so much that day!

3) What genre does your book fall under?


4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I can’t think of any particular actors since there are so many characters in this book.  However, I just watched Life of Pi and it was such a visually stunning, beautiful movie.  I would love for Ang Lee to direct the movie rendition of the book.  He would definitely add that touch of whimsy and surrealism to bring my illustrations to life.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

An introduction to the sights and sounds of Chinese musical instruments through the use of whimsical poetry (and illustrations!).

6) Who is publishing your book?

Shen’s Books

7) How long did it take you to create the initial sketches for the manuscript?

This project has a very accelerated schedule, which is not the normal case for most publication contracts.  It took about 2 weeks from researching to completing my initial sketches.  And then I started on the final artwork.  In fact I am still busy working on them now.  So I don't have any cool artwork to post just yet.  No complaints from me though…it is not very often that an author or illustrator sees the final product in such a short amount of time.  It’s more exciting than anything else.

8) What about this book appealed to you so you accepted the illustration contract?

As a kid I always chose fictional books over nonfictional ones.  I think it was because I equated nonfiction with stuffy, boring textbooks.  However this manuscript is able to teach the reader about musical instruments in such a fun, unique way that it had me intrigued right from the beginning.  And the text gave me plenty of room to be extremely creative with the illustrations.  How could I say no?

9) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

There are very few picture books about Chinese musical instruments available and yet these instruments have such a rich history and have been around for thousands of years.  Who knows…this book might inspire readers to learn how to play musical instruments…or maybe even join an orchestra…

10) Any next, next big things?

Yes!  I am working on illustrations for another picture book published by Creston Books to be released in 2014.

Also, don’t forget to check out The Next Big Thing blog posts this week from Judy Goldman and Hazel Mitchell.



Do you recognize these musical instruments?

I have come to realize that one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects about working on a children's book is doing research.  Sure, there are plenty of information and images on the internet, but nothing beats seeing (or in my case, hearing) something in person.  And I knew I needed to do some serious research for the book I am working on with Shen's Books.

Luckily, the California Youth Chinese Symphony was generous enough to allow me to take a peek into their practice space while they rehearsed this past weekend.  I am so glad I made the trip to see them!  Not only did I get to see actual Chinese muscial instruments up close, but I also witnessed a talented, diverse group of young people dedicated to continuing a musical tradition that is thousands of years old.  It was super fun and also very moving.  In fact it was the boost of inspiration I needed to start sketching out ideas!

Below are a few instruments that are featured in Chinese music.  To get an idea of what each sounds like, visit the Calfornia Youth Chinese Symphony website.  Or better yet, catch them at their next performance!






I signed a contract with Shen's Books!

It's going to be a very busy end of the year for me!  But that is a great feeling...because I just signed my SECOND book illustration contract today!!!  WOOHOO!!!!  I won't go into too many details just yet, but I can say that this book will creatively introduce children to music and Chinese musical instruments.  I am super excited because music has always played an important role in my life.

Me playing the piano and wearing all denim. It was definitely the 80s.

Me with a tamborine, Ryan B, Ryan P, Dave, and Matt in a cover band. Anyone request some Pat Benatar? Gotta love 80s music!

The book will be published by Shen's Books and will be released early next year.  To find out more about Chinese musical instruments, check out these two youth orchestras in the Bay Area: Firebird Youth Chinese Orchestra and California Youth Chinese Symphony.

Happy listening!

A New Adventure with Creston Books!

I am officially announcing that I signed a book illustration contract with Creston Books!  YAY!!!  A special thanks to my friend Dan San Souci, because without him, none of this would have happened.  The book will be released in 2014.  I will post more details about it as I progress along.

Today I had my first meeting to go over page layout with editor-in-chief Marissa Moss, who is also a best-selling author/illustrator.  Marissa decided to start up Creston Books because she wanted a publshing house that is "author/illustrator driven, with talented, award-winning creators given more editorial freedom and control..."  She also emphasizes that she wants Creston Books to put out quality picture books with a distinctive look.  The debut list is set for Fall 2013 and she has a very impressive line up of accomplished and first time authors & llustrators through 2014.  Some of the very talented people on the list include Elisa Kleven, David Schwartz, Dwight Kuhn, Joan Lester, Denys Cazet, Stacey Schuett, Ashley Wolff, and Julie Downing.  Wow...what an amazing group!

There will be plenty of work ahead of me, but I can't wait to embark on this new adventure with Creston Books.  Time to sharpen my pencil and get started!