Salina Yoon – Illustrator Interview

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salinaI am an antarctic-sized sucker for penguins and I fell deeply in love with Salina’s Penguin and just had to interview the creator!

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[SY] I am an author/illustrator, and I usually begin with very rough thumbnail sketches. In fact, they are so rough that most people would probably think they’re just scribbles. And they are! But it helps me to write the story. I write with sketched scenes rather than words because it’s easier for me to visualize the story.



I need to see the entire book on one sheet of paper. It is easier for me to see how it paces, and if I’m building to a satisfying ending. Each spread of a book is a puzzle piece. Without seeing them all together, it would be hard to put the pieces together. As such, I often cut the thumbnails into pieces and see if I can rearrange them to make a better fit. Sometimes a piece is replaced with a revised thumbnail. The beginning stages of my picture books are often very cut-and-paste. I keep a set of scissors, tape, and notebook paper in my bag at all times—so I can take my work with me anywhere I want to work.

This shows my slightly more refined thumbnails, but they always remain small. I like to work small because it is easier to compose the picture.


Here is another example, from Penguin and Pinecone. I scanned the original thumbnails and typed out the text. You’ll see how closely some of the art stayed to the original sketches in the final artwork. Below, comparisons with the thumbnail sketch and final artwork from the book. The thumbnails are about 2” wide, but the actual art is about 18” wide.


[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[SY] I’ve been enjoying working digitally for the last few years, but this doesn’t mean the art style stays the same. Sometimes I will draw with pencil, scan it in, and color on Photoshop. (Art from Count My Blessings, One Through Ten, Penguin Putnam)


Other times, I will illustrate with Photoshop and Illustrator using a mouse: (Art from Pinwheel, Little, Brown)


Or, just Photoshop, using a digital pen tool: (Art from Penguin and Pumpkin, Bloomsbury)


Sometimes I keep it really simple: (Art from Tap to Play, HarperCollins)


Or go more detailed: (Art from Kaleidoscope, Little, Brown)



The medium and style I choose really depends on the project. I think like an art director, and consider what style would best be suited for the project I created.

[JM] Salina you are the author, illustrator and format designer of over one hundred and fifty novelty books for children, how do you keep up with this? Do you still do school visits, book tours, book launches?

[SY] Most of the books I’ve done are just 10 pages. 10 pages of art goes by pretty fast if you know what you’re after! My picture books take me longer, so I can keep up the pace with about 3-4 picture books a year. But when I was doing just the novelty books, I was able to create (and more importantly, SELL) between 10-12 books a year. I kept them small and simple. I still do school visits when I’m asked, though I haven’t advertised this fact in public. My publisher does send me to various events (conferences, book festivals, and tours) and I’ve done many local bookstore events and participate as SCBWI faculty when I can, but I often don’t do a formal book launch. I have to draw the line somewhere!

[JM] Many of your books have flaps, die-cuts wheels and more. Do you create a prototype each time, or is having it as a 2D design enough?

[SY] If it has an interactive element, I almost always build it in order to work out the mechanics, and for the publisher to be able to hold it in their hands. But most importantly, the dummy is used to price it out. Here are some samples of dummies I’ve built:




[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[SY] This is the room where I build my dummies, lay out work, package work, and wrap birthday gifts. (large tables come in handy for all sorts of things!)


This is my office studio where I do my computer work, or drafting.


[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[SY] Not all artwork “hangs” in our house. Sometimes, you might find something in the corner, … and growing.


Or art can be painted on the ceiling. (by artist husband Chris Polentz)


Five Fun Ones to Finish                                                                                                 [JM]  What’s your favorite park in the world?                                                                   [SY] Balboa Park in San Diego, for its beautiful historic architecture, and Yosemite Nat’l Park, for nature’s architecture.

[JM] Cats or dogs?
[SY] I’m a dog person, who doesn’t have a dog, but I have a wooden cat sitting on a chair that sits high on my wall.


[JM]  Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[SY] I have “phone anxiety.” Please don’t call me. 🙂 No, seriously.

[JM]  One word to describe yourself?
[SY] Innovative.

[JM]  Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[SY] Mocha with Mexican chocolate and whipped cream on top

SY PB strip3

Salina is on Facebook,
And her website is:

Oh my gosh, I really hate speaking on the phone too! This was a fabulous visual into your work, Salina, many thanks! To your continued success!

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17 Responses to Salina Yoon – Illustrator Interview

  1. Salina’s enthusiasm for creative work is amazing and infectious! I highly recommend signing up for any of her workshops should you be so lucky. Such a tidy workspace is a bit intimidating, but I understand the need for order if Salina is churning out so many high quality books! Love Bear and Penguin’s garden!

    • Salina Yoon says:

      Hi Julie!
      Thanks so much for your comments! I was so happy to have you at my workshop and talks. And I’m glad you understand my need for order!!! 🙂 It’s what keeps me sane!

  2. I’ve always adored Salina’s drawings for her Penguin books, but I have never seen her Froggy, Birdy, Ducky, Ladybug books before (yeah, I don’t get out much…). I *must* have them though. Love at first sight. They are too sweet! Hooray for finding two more people who also hate to talk on the phone (I’m trying to train my neighbor to text or email me…we both have lousy reception and her voice varies widely in decibels so I miss half of what she says. Ugh). 🙂

    My pressing question is: what is Salina’s secret for keeping a gorgeously neat house?

    Thanks for another fun interview, Joanna!

    • Salina Yoon says:

      Hi Teresa!
      Thanks for leaving a comment!

      There’s a good reason you haven’t seen the Froggy/Ducky book! That photo is just a handmade submission DUMMY! It’s not really published (it was used to sell the book to the publisher)… but this version was published instead: Here’s the link (below)… if you want to check it out. This one isn’t usually available at indie bookstores, or even the chains (primarily sold at Costco, I believe):

      Also, I often get a comment about my clean work space! I can probably do a whole blog post on that subject alone,…but let me try to explain. There’s a reason. My first “real” job was being a designer, later art director, at a small publishing company. I often juggled 8-12 projects at one time! The offices were cleaned every night like most professional buildings, so when I came to work in the morning, all was freshly vacuumed, the trash was emptied, and the surfaces were dusted. I’d get a cup of coffee, and jump in! Well… after 3 yrs of that, I decided to freelance at home (back in 2001). I grew accustomed to the clean, clutter free workspace. But I don’t have a nightly cleaning service—so that just leaves me.

      I can think more creatively in a clutter free environment–and it made me feel more like a professional, not an unemployed person! Sure, I may still work in my jammies on a cold day,… but my workspace still feels professional! I find clutter extremely distracting. But this doesn’t mean the rest of my house is clean!!! I wish it was. Truly do. But I have two boys who leave messes in their path… so it’s really just my personal workspaces that get well attended to.

      • Salina, thanks so much for your long, thoughtful reply! Your submission dummy for the Froggy/Ducky books looks more beautiful than actual published books; I will get the Jungle set but I do love the dummy. 🙂

        I don’t like clutter, but entropy seems to follow me wherever I go, so my whole house is a bit of a mess. My work spaces are much worse because I’m terrible at putting things back and cleaning up after myself. My two boys are mostly grown so I can’t even blame them. One day, I swear, I will have a space that is half as clean and neat as yours (which will be a huge improvement over what I currently have). *grin*

  3. Salina Yoon says:

    Just a couple of minor corrections in the above post… and I’m SURE it’s my fault, Joanna! Eep! Apologies!!

    The art sample of the crisscrossing leaves (with yellow background) is from Kaleidoscope (Little, Brown), and not Pinwheel.

    Also, the above sample of the Kaleidoscope cover and die-cut interiors is actually the handmade submission dummy, and NOT the actual book that Little, Brown published. The published U.S. version from Little, Brown looks different from this version, but this version was sold internationally to a few foreign publishers (Japan, UK, and one other I can’t remember). That is all. Thank you!!


  4. I am a huge Salina Yoon fan! Terrific interview – and terrific to see her wonderful process!

    • Salina Yoon says:

      Thank you so much, Emma! It was great to meet you in person at the L.A. SCBWI conference! You were in a toga… 😉 Great costume! (or… that could have been your usual evening attire! I don’t judge!)

  5. Tina Cho says:

    Great interview, Salina and Joanna! I like your comparison, Salina, of the thumbnail sketches like puzzle pieces. Thanks for sharing your process and congrats on all your successes!

  6. Wonderful interview — I love penguins and seeing Salina’s Penguin is a treat! (And oh my, that little house…) Great to learn some of Salina’s process. Thank you both so much!

  7. Akiko White says:

    Great interview Joanna and Salina! You have a wonderful workspace, I love the table with the large format drawers. Your books are amazing, thank you for sharing your process! It’s also nice to see Bear and Penguin enjoying the little house your husband made. 🙂

    • Salina Yoon says:

      Thanks so much, Akiko! I LOVE LOVE LOVE your space, too! It’s so different, but so unique, and so inspiring! Husband and I dreamed of converting an old barn, too, but the cost keeps that simply as a dream. Plus, no barns around here! 😉

  8. Erik - TKRB says:

    Cool! Great interview! 😀

  9. Pingback: PPBF: Penguin and Pinecone | bildebok from Cathy Ballou Mealey

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