I feel like I have known Sylvia for eons. She is in so many of my favorite picture book groups and challenges, always interacting with others, supporting and encouraging. I love her sense of purpose and momentum, always moving forward, trying new things. What a cool multi-cultural background she has to draw from, too. I am thrilled to introduce you today to Sylvia Lu.
[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?
[SL] Illustrator, and wannabe author-illustrator. I’m working on several of my own stories but they are not published yet.
[JM] What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?
[SL] My parents are originally from China and immigrated to the United States, where I was born. When I was five, our family moved to Caracas, Venezuela, where I lived until college and where my parents stayed for 23 years. So my work habits come from a fairly strict Asian immigrant upbringing, but my love of bright colors, contrasts, and hints of chaos come from growing up a third culture child in Latin America.
[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.
[SL] The schools I went to did not have strong art programs, but I was lucky to have several adults encourage me early on. My mother signed me up for oil painting classes when I was around 10. My 7th grade English teacher, Janet Steinmiller, noticed my doodles in my journals and installed me as the yearbook designer, cartoonist, and artist for the next three years. I credit her for giving me a love of illustration and indelible memories of rubber cement. Here’s a drawing I did when I was 13:
When I went to college, I almost majored in art, but my practical side won out, which led to law school and a decade-long career as a marine conservation attorney. Art during those years was a hobby, but I continued to take classes at night, including a children’s illustration class taught by author-illustrator Nina Laden.
[JM] I would love to know more about your work in marine conservation, but on with the blog focus! What have you done/are you doing to grow in your craft?
[SL] Since quitting the law and moving to Virginia, I’ve taken more art classes, exhibited my work, and taken online courses in children’s illustration taught by Mark Mitchell and Will Terry (links are to my reviews of their classes). I also paint and illustrate as much as possible. I really enjoy Alison Hertz’s daily doodle challenge. A recent doodle on the inner workings of my brain:
The most exciting thing I’m involved with now is the Nevada SCBWI mentor program, a six month program starting in October where illustrator David Diaz (he won the Caldecott for SMOKY NIGHT) will be my mentor. I will meet with him in person at two writer/illustrator retreats, in October and April, and work with him remotely in between.[JM] Yay, I loved my time on this program last year.
[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[SL] I used to love oils for their subtleties, but I switched to acrylics when my children were born. Now I’m exploring digital painting and collage and having a great time.
[JM] What does your workspace look like? (Photo if you like??)
[SL] Ha, like the rest of my living space – a complete and utter mess. I know where everything is, but my habit of wandering off holding a brush, a Wacom stylus, or kneaded eraser means I often waste time looking around the house for those items. My studio where I paint and draw is also a guest bedroom, so the bed is my flat storage space for works in progress. My computer and Wacom tablet live downstairs in our family office.
[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?
[SL] My work process is very streamlined because I’m impatient. I will do several rough thumbnails to work out a composition, that may look like this:
Then I will go straight to a sketch like this:
I realize this is not the usual way of developing illustrations, but I find that I don’t focus until I think I am doing a final draft. If it doesn’t work out (and often it doesn’t), I will redo the final sketch until I am satisfied. After scanning the sketch, I clean up the lines and color it in Photoshop:
My latest work is an illustration of a kraken done collage style. I started out with a rough sketch:
Which I refined:
Then I cut out tissue paper and glued them on paperboard to make the background:
I scanned pages from a Sinbad story from an old, out-of-copyright (1912) children’s book I have (I picked up about eight volumes of this series in a used book sale). I put all the pieces together in Photoshop and played with the coloring of the kraken, the hues and saturation of the waves, and came up with this:
I belong to an online illustrator’s critique group, and I will often run my pieces by them and get their advice.
[JM] How does law tie in with illustration/writing? 🙂
[SL] Knowing the law has made me aware of copyright and intellectual property issues. Hopefully it will also help me when it comes time to negotiating a contract with a publishing company!
My career in marine conservation has influenced my art, but that’s mostly my love of oceans rather than of the law.
[JM] How do you approach the marketing/business side of the picture book world?
[SL] I maintain an active blog, Sylvia Liu Land, and am involved in several kidlit communities such as 12×12. I haven’t published a picture book yet, but when I do, I hope these platform-building and networking activities will help me get the word out. At this point though, I’m more focused on making art.
[JM] What authors and/or illustrators influenced you growing up?
[SL] M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali were the first artists that fired my imagination. Growing up, I was exposed to the usual suspects like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak and loved reading Mad magazine and comics. When I had children, I learned about many of the amazing illustrators working today. Some of my favorites are David Wiesner, Lane Smith, Sophie Blackall, and Ed Young.
Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What word best sums you up?
[JM] If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go?
[SL] Hawaii, anytime. I spent a summer there in law school and loved the clash of cultures and island vibe. I didn’t even mind the overly touristy spots though the local culture was much more interesting.
[JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?
[SL] Dark chocolate is always my go-to snack, for any reason.
[JM] Cats or dogs?
[SL] Cats, but my family is allergic to them so I can only admire them from afar.
[JM] If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, with whom would that be?
[SL] David Wiesner. I love his wordless and near wordless books.
[JM] I’m a Wiener groupie, too. Where can we find/follow you and your work, Sylvia?
[SL] You can find me all over the web. Come visit and I’d love to meet you (virtually): my portfolio (www.enjoyingplanetearth.com), my blog (www.sylvialiuland.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/ArtbySylviaLiu), Twitter (@artsylliu), Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/sylliu), and Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/sylvialiu) .
[JM] Thank you so much, Sylvia, especially for sharing so many examples of beautiful artwork with us. Your style would go so well with some of my endangered species books! To your continued success!