Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Joyce Wan

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the New Year by catching up with the super star Illustrator Joyce Wan! I'm head-over-heels for her fabulously bold and mega-cute artwork! Joyce is an award-winning author-illustrator with over 20+ titles to her name, including Dream Big, which released last summer, and Sleepy Farm, which releases TODAY! (Hooray for Joyce!) She also runs her own stationery and gift business, Wanart, which sells products in thousands of boutiques, museum shops and gift stores worldwide. She currently live and works in Ridgewood, New Jersey with her husband and daughter. 
You can see more of her artwork here!

Yes, you CAN totally reach every mountain top!!!
Q: Your latest board book for Scholastic, Dream Big, is a sweet celebration of female trailblazers throughout history! (It’s so fabulous! Congratulations! Bonus: you can buy it here!) Give us the full scoop on Dream Big: how you came to be illustrating it, your teamwork with your publisher & what page is your favorite!

A: Thank you! I was inspired to write this book shortly after the 2016 elections, when listening to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, I was struck by this line: “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” I was also a new mom to a 6 month old baby girl at the time. I started thinking about dreams, the power of dreams, and how many of the world’s greatest accomplishments started with a dream and how I might want to convey that in book format. 

The book is written in a way so that it can be read as simple affirmations about dreams or one could delve deeper into the accomplishments of the trailblazers with the glossary in the back of the book as a starting point to learning more about these women. Although the book is about women, I do think it’s important for children, girls and boys both, to see examples of women demonstrating and being recognized for a wide variety of skills, abilities and accomplishments. The message in this book is straight from my heart to readers everywhere and I hope it helps to inspire the next generation of dreamers, darers and doers.

Due to other projects, I actually did not present a finished manuscript to my editor at Scholastic for Dream Big until a year later in the Fall of 2017. My editor loved the manuscript and asked me for an art sample to see what I envisioned since the concept was a departure from my previous work. I sent her a full color illustration of Amelia Earhart in the red airplane (as seen in the book) next to the words “DREAM HIGH” and everybody at Scholastic loved it.

While working on the book, I did a ton of research for the illustration part as I wanted to make sure I got the details right. I became even more inspired and my heart overflowed with gratitude for these women when I learned more about their lives, their accomplishments, and everything they endured for their dreams.

My favorite page is the Frida Kahlo spread. I had a lot of fun working on that one as it has a dreamy quality to it with the flora and fauna in her hair expanding beyond the boundaries of the pages of the book. 

Go wherever your dreams take you...

Q: Children’s book publishers have embraced the movement to inspire, create and support more diverse books for children in recent years. How do you see Dream Big fitting into that movement? And as a female Asian American illustrator, what new diverse stories would you like to see being published?

A: It’s such an exciting time to be working in children’s books and to be part of this movement. My editor and I made an effort to select a culturally diverse group of women for Dream Big. I also didn’t prominently display the women’s names on the pages as I wanted kids to see themselves in the pages of this book. 
Dream Big will inspire and empower kids to believe in themselves and their dreams by showing them people who look like them who have faced challenges, overcome obstacles and made a difference in the world.

I would love to see more books featuring diverse characters that aren’t explicitly about race. 

Ooo!!! Isn't Frida's page SO lovely!

Q: You are a master of illustrating board books, having created well over 20+ titles! (Now THAT’S super star!) What unique considerations are necessary when developing artwork for a board book? Tell us a bit about your approach—initial concepts to sketches to final artwork.

A: Typically, the board books that I both write and illustrate start as a concept first with some simple text and doodles. Next, I write a manuscript. Then I create a visual storyboard with thumbnail sketches of the pages. This helps me plan the general layout and content of each page and text placement without having to worry too much about the details at this point. Then I draw larger, tighter images to trim size. The concept may or may not include special novelty features like flaps for a lift-the-flap book or cutouts.

If they do, like my latest book, Sleepy Farm, I usually like to create a functional mechanical (with just paper and tape/glue) to make sure these special features actually work as I imagined in my head. Sometimes there is no order to this process and I bounce back and forth between writing the manuscript, drawing the pictures and fiddling with the mechanical. It can be a very organic process when you are both the author and the illustrator.

I would then send the sketches to my editor for approval (this may include pictures of my mechanicals or sometimes I show the mechanical in person). If it is a book with a special feature like lift-the-flap, the publisher may need to consult with their printer to figure out the best way to achieve the desired result. Then they may send me templates for me to incorporate my final artwork. If there are no special features, I just go straight to final artwork once sketches are approved.

Darling new release!! (Psst! You can buy it here!)

Q: I absolutely love your bold, graphic art style and adorable characters! Dish with us a bit about your creative influences & inspirations: the who/the what/the where.

A: I’m inspired by Japanese pop art and all things kawaii (Japanese term used to describe cute things). I grew up in the 80’s and was obsessed (and still am!) with Hello Kitty and friends which is the epitome of kawaii. Characterized by bold, clean lines, roly-poly shapes and smiling faces, my art appeals to both children and adults. Being able to spread warmth, love and joy through my art and inspiring kids to read and draw has been the greatest honor and fills my heart with constant gratitude. Artists who I admire include Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, Simone Legno, FriendsWithYou—all kawaii-influenced artists who have managed to bridge the gap between commercial and fine art and have taken their art across all different kinds of mediums.

Q: What was your most treasured picture book as a child? What is your most favorite picture book now? Why?

A: The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a book I loved as a child and is still one of my favorites now. It's wonderfully surprising, tactile and almost magical elements still inspire me today.

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday involves sleeping in, enjoying a big, yummy bowl of pho followed by some bubble tea and exploring a new neighborhood, strolling through a flea market or perusing the shelves of an independent bookstore with my husband and daughter.

Thank you SO much, Joyce, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! We think you're absolutely wonderful!