Dow Phumiruk Ng – Illustrator Interview

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I’ve known Dow a couple of years on line, and she is one of those people with whom I have interacted with such frequency that I feel we have already met in real life. And, yay for my first Thai illustrator intevreiw. Thailand is a nation in which I had a wonderfully warm experience, and I would love to go back. 

Dow’s debut picture book as author is coming out next year, and this Friday for PPBF, I am reviewing her first picture book as illustrator — Maya Lin, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey.


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

[DP] Author and illustrator, heavy on the illustrator. A doodle or sketch can prompt a story idea, but words first to create the story.

In times when I’ve tried drawing first, my writing ends up awkward. It feels the same as when I draw something complicated without reference and then get stuck. I find myself trying to work backwards by enlisting the help of passerby family members to get that body part just right – but then I can’t get them posed like the people in my drawing (they look like they are one round 6 of a game of Twister)! For me, the text first works best!

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[DP] I was born in Bangkok, Thailand. We moved to the Chicago area when I was almost three. After that I lived in Texas, New Mexico, and have since settled in Colorado, where my husband grew up.

My birth country is an obvious influence on Mela in the Jungle, my first book project as an author (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018). It’s my own Thai fable. I loved incorporating information about Thailand in the author’s note. My home life was so different from the lives of people I saw in mainstream media. The new commitment to diversity in children’s books is something I never imagined. It makes me happy to embrace this push wholeheartedly. All children need to see themselves in stories so we don’t feel like outsiders in the country we call home. I’d love to redraw all the fairy tales with Asian main characters!

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[DP] As a kid, I loved arts and crafts but never thought of it as a career choice. My mother strongly influenced me into a career in medicine (she was a nurse). It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I rediscovered art and even longer before I felt comfortable calling myself an artist. My children were my inspiration. In 2011, I joined SCBWI. Our local Rocky Mountain SCBWI chapter is strong, and we have had some seriously excellent illustrator faculty that helped me learn the ropes. By August 2011, I purchased my Wacom tablet and fell in love with working digitally. Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency offered representation after seeing my portfolio at RMC-SCBWI conference in 2015, and she secured my first contract with Christy Ottaviano Books shortly after I signed. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, by Jeanne Walker Harvey, was released last month. I have three more books coming out next year.

[JM] I know you have your first book as an author coming out next year. Tell us a little of how Mela in the Jungle came to be.

[DP] I thank SCBWI for this book. I wrote the story to enter the SCBWI On-the Verge Emerging Voices Award contest that was established to promote diversity in children’s books – and won! Sue (Planet Kindergarten books) and Martin Schmitt are the founders of this award. A few years later, an editor from Sleeping Bear Press (whom I had met at our local conference) picked up the manuscript. Ziyue Chen, a past SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship winner, is the illustrator! I love seeing the work of other artists, and it is fascinating to see how she is developing the art for my story. I can’t wait to share that next year!!

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

[DP] I am most comfortable and speediest with digital work. I have a folder full of scanned textures that I pull from to add interest to my digitally created work. One day, if time allows, I hope to have the time to revisit traditional media.

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

[DP] I can’t share contracted work, but I whipped up a little something just for you! Of course, it serves double duty as an illustration I will submit to SCBWI’s Draw This artist activity. I have fun doing those, as they are monthly – not too demanding! Anyway, this one will be for the prompt “splash.” 

[JM] Wow, thanks for sharing Splash with us. What does your workspace look like? 

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

[DP] Flowers in the Attic and the rest of the series by V. C. Andrews in middle school. I can’t remember buying anything but comic books before then! However, as a young child, I spent lots of time at the Skokie Public Library and our elementary school library. I loved Amelia Bedelia books and Mandy by Julie Andrews. Cinderella art by Mary Blair mesmerized me. I also checked out arts and crafts books frequently.

[JM] I loved Mandy, too! What artwork do you have hanging in your new home? 

[DP] My girls and I really enjoy art. My middle daughter especially creates intricate paper cut art and collages whenever she has free time. So, between their pieces and mine, we have lots of stuff on the walls!

 The buffalo is one of my earliest watercolor pieces, and the paper cut collage is my middle daughters and recently took Best In Show for an art show we enter through my husband’s company!

[JM] Which writing/art groups or organizations do you belong to, and how has this helped you?

[DP] SCBWI changed my life. I had limited interaction with professional artists and authors before this. I was awestruck at my first local conference, finding myself surrounded by creative people just like me! Pretty much everything I know about the business and the basics of illustration I’ve learned through SCBWI gatherings. I also joined my first critique group after meeting local artists through SCBWI. This organization has been invaluable to me.

In addition to SCBWI, I participate in a couple of online critique groups, and KidLit411, Storystorn, and ReForeMo. These are full of great resources, community, and support!

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

[DP] I have few. My top two are: Rocky Mountain National Park, since I live in Denver and can easily get there, and the Bluffs Regional Park that backs to my home. The Bluffs aren’t fancy, but there are pretty views and usually wildlife. We hop up for a walk almost every day (because I sit all day drawing or studying). 

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

Mila – brother’s cat

[DP] I love animals, but cats have a special place in my heart. I don’t think I’ve been around dogs enough to fairly compare, though! The problem, though, is that my family members are allergic to cats. Now I am a doting long-distance auntie to my brother’s cat, Mila (Thai name: Meerap, with means “has luck”). 

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

[DP] I talk to myself a lot (especially when stressed!), my closet often looks like a tornado hit it, and I’ve met Adam Ant, back in the day.

[JM] What was your first paid job out of high school?

[DP] I worked at a hip clothing retail chain at our local mall out of high school. But the job I want to tell you about is after that, when I was a waitress at a Japanese restaurant during college. My husband worked for a Japanese company at the time, so he and his coworkers were regulars. Soon he built up the nerve to ask me out. The rest is history!

Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices? I go through spurts every few months. Lately it’s been an apple a day. And salt and vinegar chips. For drinks, I have a morning cup of coffee, then iced tea, then Diet Dr. Pepper keeps me going in the afternoon. Once in a while, I’ll have coconut juice (it’s mostly sugar!).

I love your art for Maya Lin, which you will see in my review on Friday, and I can’t wait to see Mela in the Jungle next year.


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15 Responses to Dow Phumiruk Ng – Illustrator Interview

  1. Squeee! I’m so glad you interviewed Dow! In addition to being one of the most talented and creative people I know, she is also one of the nicest. I swear when they were handing out qualities at birth, they unfairly gave all of them to Dow.

    Loved the painting demo…but the most priceless part of this interview is “I met Adam Ant back in the day.” LOL! Fun!

    Thank you, both!

  2. Dow Phumiruk says:

    Joanna, thank you very much for taking the time to interview me and for letting me go on and on about myself here. It seems surreal when I look back at your interviews with other guests – I’m happy to be in such great company. Your work in sharing with the children’s book community and with children in the library is so very appreciated!

  3. Patricia Nozell says:

    Wonderful interview & look forward to the review on Friday.

  4. Erik - TKRB says:

    An awesome interview – it was neat looking at Ms. Ng’s process! 🙂

  5. Tina Cho says:

    Wonderful interview, getting to know Dow. I think her book is beautiful, along with her other art.

  6. I loved this interview and the opportunity to see Dow’s painting demonstration. The final outcome is exquisite. She is so talented. And, I loved her illustrations in Maya Lin. Congratulations on your upcoming book. And, it sounds like her entire family is creative!

  7. Dow Phumiruk says:

    Patricia, thank you for reading through and for your kind words. So happy you enjoyed Maya Lin!

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