Friday 29, 11.2013

Interview with children’s book illustrator and animator Qin Leng

Illustrator Qin Leng Interview Qin Leng is a children’s book illustrator, with a background in animation, living in Toronto, Canada.

When she is not working on a private commission or designing for an animated TV series, she makes colorful sketches inspired from day-to-day life. That’s right, this fabulous lady illustrator has her sketchbook on at all times and finds her inspiration everywhere!

Her blog is a digital graphic journal, as she documents every moment, situation or feeling throughout the day, interesting enough for her to capture on paper. Having breakfast with friends, waiting to cross the street, going for a run or attending a fashion show – any opportunity can prove to be fun to draw.  And the result is a series of gorgeous sketches, drawn in a candid, easy-going style, that most times illustrate some of your own experiences. Perhaps that is what makes Qin’s art so catchy, besides her obvious talent and creative skills. The fact that it’s so easy for you to relate to!

There is no way I would go anywhere without my sketchbook and pens, I feel naked without them!

You are probably most well known for creating artwork for children’s books. How did you choose this area? Why drawing for kids? 🙂

I’ve always had an interest illustrating cute little things. The proportions of a small child are just adorable, who wouldn’t enjoy it? This being the kind of esthetic that was most appealing to me, it felt very natural to me to focus on the children books market.

Most of the drawings on your blog are life-inspired. What is your process? Do you sketch a few quick lines then, and afterwards finish the drawings? Or do you sometimes take a picture? Do you always have paper and a pencil around?

I like to keep my drawings as spontaneous as possible so I usually start with a really quick sketch, while the idea and images are still fresh in my mind. The roughs are later cleaned up with fountain brush and ink and then coloured digitally. From time to time, I also like to paint with watercolour. There’s nothing that can replicate the natural flow of traditional painting.

I pride myself to have a good photographic memory, so I never take pictures to remember things. Instead, I’ll do a quick sketch. And write down some notes for extra detail I might forget. There is no way I would go anywhere without my sketchbook and pens, I feel naked without them!

Qin Leng illustrations

I can tell that most of your drawings are inspired by day to day happenings in your own life. But what you do is add a lot of humor. Your drawings are genuinely funny and natural. Is that who you are, in real life, behind what we see? Do you find humor in small, daily situations?

I think to enjoy and appreciate the small moments has always been my outlook in life. Of course I add my own seasoning and exaggerate certain things, but in general, you could say that those personal comics are a true reflection of who I am. A lot of times, my gestures, postures, are pretty close to how I draw myself. I think my cartoon world is very closely related to reality.

Aside from what you live on a daily basis, do you have other sources of inspiration when you draw?

I always seek inspiration. The sources are so varied and I think that’s key to producing something unique and very personal. My inspirations come from movies, people I see on the street, stories I hear from friends, paintings, even a melody can trigger an idea.

I stumbled by chance on the program of Film Animation. At that moment, I felt in my gut that this was the right choice for me.

Do you have a study background in design?

I graduated from the Melhoppenheim School of Cinema, with a degree in Film Animation. For as long as I remember, I have always loved to draw. My first drawing, which my parents have kept, was from when I was 3 and I had drawn in much detail my first haircut.   I had illustrated every element in detail: the piles of hair on the floor, the mirror with my reflection, the scissor, and hair dryer…

It makes me laugh when I think that I was about to enrol in Biology at McGill University. I stumbled by chance on the program of Film Animation, while helping a friend figure out his own path in academia. At that moment, I felt in my gut that this was the right choice for me.

Do you draw all on paper, or do you use digital tools as well? What tools do you usually use, in your artwork?

I am very hands on, tactile, and just love the feel of drawing on paper. I have tried working digitally but it just isn’t for me. I do colour my work digitally but all line art is done on paper, with pencil or fountain brush.

The longest I’ve gone without drawing was a week

Aside from the commissioned artwork, how much do you draw for practice? What do you think the balance between drawing for paid projects vs. practice should be, for an already skilled graphic artist?

In my case, because I have a daytime job as a designer (8 hours a day), and still have my freelance work (for which I dedicate at least 2-3 hours daily), there is only so much time left for my own personal work. However, I do believe that you never stop learning so I am very diligent about practicing whenever I get a chance and draw for myself. I try to find time to draw something daily, even if it’s just a quick doodle.

What was the longest time you spent without drawing at all?

I think the longest I’ve gone without drawing was a week. I had just finished a 5 months long freelance project and really needed a break.

With your personal sketches, you get to choose the subjects and draw whatever inspires you. How different is it with commissioned artwork? Do you still feel like you have the freedom to create as you wish?

Even if a project has certain specifications, I do get to design everything based on my own style and that’s what makes it so gratifying. Of course, it’s a challenge to be able to meet the requirements and adapt to the different demands, but I find that as long as I keep going back to my personal work as reference, it helps me stay on track to create a final product that reflects me truthfully.

What is your favorite project you have worked on, so far?

I have just finished the 2nd book to a series called ‘Catch That Puppy’, published by Gallimard Jeunesse and written by Mathew Price. The second book will be published in 2014 and is titled ‘Where is that Puppy’. The concept is very close to ‘Where is Waldo’: pages and pages filled with characters and animals, amongst which is hidden the main protagonist, the puppy.

I remember loving books that allowed me to observe meticulously each section, all filled with a story of their own…and this project was exactly that! I love to fill pages with cute little characters, each with their own story.

I would really like to work on a graphic novel

You have worked for 4 years as an animation designer. How was that different from what you do now, for you, on a personal level?

I am still working in the animation industry, as a layout supervisor.  My job consists of designing backgrounds for television series. In that sense, it is still very close to the illustration part of my life. Obviously, the restrictions make it more limiting for me, since in this case, I have to follow a pre-assigned style and not draw the way I would normally draw.

This is the main reason why I felt the need to go into Children’s book publishing. After many years of drawing for myself, I felt compelled to get my work out there, have people see it and hear their feedback. To be able to draw my own art and have it published is the most gratifying experience, and I have learned so much and improved myself at a far greater speed.

Is there any type of project you haven’t done yet, but dream of doing someday?

I would really like to work on a graphic novel. To be able to collaborate with a talented writer and publish a story that would have more depth, for an older audience.

If you had one piece of advice to give to aspiring illustrators, what would that be?

Work hard, never stop filling your eyes, your mind with new images, new sounds, new textures. Anything, everything can be a source of inspiration. Don’t be afraid to jump on any opportunity and do not be afraid of making mistakes. This is the only way you will learn.

Check out more of Qin Leng’s great work on Blog | Tumblr | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

If you liked this interview, stay posted for more!


About Miruna

Hi, my name is Miruna Sfia. I'm 28 and I'm a self-employed graphic designer and illustrator living in Bucharest, Romania. I created Friday Illustrated because I wanted to be able to learn from some of the best people in my industry.

If you want to know more about the things I work on, feel free to follow me via Facebook , Twitter or Google+