Jia Liu – Illustrator Interview

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Jia Liu

Here at Miss Marple’s Musings, I do my best to include book reviews and interviews that reflect the fabulous diversity of our world. I am thrilled to have my first artist on the blog from Inner Mongolia.






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

I am an author/ illustrator. The most beginnings of my stories are always  several sentences, after that some very simple images will appear in my mind. Instead of recording my thoughts  immediately, I will repeat the words in my mind again and again until I am very familiar with them, then I will write them down and work out the whole story.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                [JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

I am from Inner Mongolia, China, where I grew up with my brother and we had a lot of fun in our childhood. We had a goat Baibai as our pet, we always played in the nature and look for Baibai’s favorite grass. Now I have become a storyteller, if I look back, I find what I experienced when I was a kid formed who I am now. I lived in Beijing for five years for my college. Beijing is a city where I can absorb a lot of information and get inspired. I found my interested in children’s picture books there and started to learn writing and illustrating picture books.

[JM] I had the privilege of travelling on the Transiberian Express in 1989 from Beijing to Moscow. We skirted around the edge of Outer Mongolia. Boy, Outer and Inner Mongolia are places I would love to visit. My fist picture book is about a little nomad boy in Mongolia and a Bactrian camel. Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

My mom found my interest of art when I was very young. She said I always drew on the ground with a stick by myself or copy the illustrations in the my text book. I started to go to children’s art center for art classes when I was 9 years old, I learnt Chinese painting and calligraphy for many years as interest. In high school I decided to go to art college instead of regular college, then I got into China Central Academy of Fine Arts, where I found the picture book is something that I want to create with my art.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

I work with a lot of mediums, such as gouache, watercolor, pencil, printmaking, digital… my favorite is printmaking. I really like the texture and the unexpected side of printmaking, what I got was not always what I assumed, and I always get surprised by the “happy accident” during printmaking.  When it comes to illustrate picture books, I always try out different materials to find out which one fit the story, I think story is the most important part in picture books, technique should serve for the story. 

 [JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe a work in progress, and the process of creating them?

For a picture book story, normally I would draw a thumbnail storyboard, then some character study before I go to the detailed sketch. After the sketch is done I go directly to color finals (Here are images to show the process of Terrific Tongues). I use to draw pencil sketches and color sketches before I go to final, but now I skip color sketch, I feel I can control color better now, go to color directly is more exciting and can always surprise me.

Terrific Tongues Thumbnail

Terrific Tongues Character Study

Terrific Tongues Detailed Sketch

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

I think it was “Tales From The Thousand And One Nights”. I really like story books when I was a kid and I wanted to buy a lot of books, but my mom always encourage me to trade with other kids for reading more books, so I read “Grimm’s Fairy Tale”, “Andersen’s Fairy Tales”, “Aesop’s Fables” and a lot of other stories by exchanging books with my friends.

[JM] What does your work space look like?

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

These works are from my friends and illustrators I like, some of them are mine, and some of them are the samples I made for my students when I teach that art classes.

[JM]  What obstacles have you had to overcome to pursue your dream?

I think it was the tuition for studying in the U.S., and left my family, came here by myself. I always miss my family, but I think I made the right choice.

[JM]  Oh, that’s hard. I did the same thing. I am glad you have joined our wonderful kidlit community here in the US

 Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world

Bryant Park. One of my favorite bookstore Kinokuniya is right by Bryant Park, every time I go to New York, I will go to the bookstore and hang out with my friend in the park.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

Dogs, but cat. I got my cat Kiki because I was afraid of mouse. But I really like her now because she is a cat with dog’s personality.

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

I’ve only got half eyebrows and I need to draw the other half every morning.

[JM]  What was your first paid job (besides babysitting)?

My first paid job was the teaching assistant in a children’s art center in Beijing. I started as an assistant there and gradually started to design and lead my own classes. I really like teaching and got a lot of inspiration from it. Most of the stories I wrote were from my teaching experiences.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

Both hahaha.

Jia, thank you so much for sharing a little of your creative journey with us. I wish you great success with your U.S. debut books in 2018 by Boyds Mills Press, TERRIFIC TONGUES, by Maria Gianferrari, and YOU CAN’T HURT ME, NO, by Leslie Staub.






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4 Responses to Jia Liu – Illustrator Interview

  1. I love seeing the progression of Jia’s work process from thumbnails to finished piece for Terrific Tongues, which I can’t wait to read! How brave of her to venture across the globe on her own to start a new life. Looking forward to seeing more of her work in future books!

  2. Great interview, Joanna!! I feel very fortunate to be working with Jia on Terrific Tongues. Her art is so vibrant and whimsical and just amazing!!

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