Taeeun Yoo is an award winning children’s author and illustrator. Her illustrations always draw you in closer into the stories. You are a Lion has been the perfect blend of whimsy and zen fun. It’s a yoga book for children. Each page will capture your children’s attention with clear and visual instructions that invites them to try a yoga poses. Yoo shares inspiration for You are a Lion and gives some tips to aspiring artists.
Keyundra: You authored and illustrated You are a Lion! What was your inspiration?
Taeeun: Several years ago I worked for an illustration for Spider magazine. It was about introducing four yoga poses to kids. I drew four kids doing each different yoga poses in the garden. A couple years later the editor in Penguin saw the illustration from the magazine and was interested in making a yoga picture book for kids. I thought it would be so much fun to work. Many yoga poses are named after animals such as lion, butterfly, frog, snake…I thought using animals would be great to introduce yoga to children in a friendly way. I researched about popular and safe yoga poses for kids and studied about how to make the poses right. And then my seven year old niece posed each yoga pose for me to take reference photos. I chose six animals include lion, butterfly, dog, frog, snake, cat and I chose six multicultural kids to match with each animals.
It was a very fun process.
Keyundra: It sounds like a fun process. How different was it to not have to collaborate with someone else?
Taeeun: It is certainly a different process when I work on my own writing. My process is pretty much going back and forth between writing and illustrating. When I work on someone’s writing, things begin a little easily as the story is already figured and set up. But I have to imagine after someone’s head, things could get harder as I keep working on sketches. When I work on my own writing, it begins hard as I have to figure everything out. Good thing about working on my own writing is that I can always change the words if I want as I work on images. I write a draft of manuscript and work on images. Then I come back to writing to change words to make the story work better with the images.
It gives me more freedom but also more challenges.
Keyundra: What is your favorite way to sort out your ideas?
Taeeun: I normally use a sketchbook for drawing and writing any ideas.
Keyundra: With so many ideas does it sometimes get overwhelming?
Taeeun: It never overwhelms me. I actually wish I would get overwhelming with so many ideas. I try to make notes any ideas that come up in my head and cross out some ideas that does not work. Sometimes I get to use the idea that did not work for the book for another book later. Good ideas could not work sometimes at the end and bad ideas could turn out a great idea.
Keyundra: Have you always had a passion for writing and illustrating?
Taeeun: I have been always drawing as I remember. I went to art middle/high school and went to Art College to major Korean brush painting. It became very natural to express with drawing images to me. But I was not interested in illustrating until I visited Bologna Book Fair in Italy while I was in college. I was swooned by millions of picture books and original art from all over the world. After the trip to Italy I was more interested in studying illustration and decided to go to SVA MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program in New York. It was a great decision and one of my best experience in my life. I was able to spend two years purely for myself searching, studying, and experiencing to find my own voice.
Keyundra: Wow! That sounds empowering to be able to find your voice. It seems like that could set you up for your own personal definition of success instantly. What steps did you take to make your dream happen?
Taeeun: While I was studying Illustration at SVA, I sent out promotional postcards to many publishers. I spent some time in book store and collected the publisher’s names from my favorite picture books. It was very fortunate that I was studying in NY because I was able to visit all of the great children’s book publishers to have portfolio review with art directors. I grew some list of the publishers that I kept sending my illustration and one of them published my first picture book The Little Red Fish.
Keyundra: Awesome. Where does all this amazing work happen? What is your studio like?
Taeeun: I used to have a studio space sharing with few friends in Brooklyn. We had a window with a beautiful view to Manhattan. Since I moved back to Seoul, I am working at home. I am still working on setting my work space to make it perfectly comfortable though I sometimes miss Brooklyn and having friends around me. In my home studio, I have three separate desks where I work on sketches using light box, computer work, and linoleum block print. Three book shelves filled with my favorite picture books and a small flat file against the wall. I still like to move things around to make it more convenient.
Keyundra: It's nice to have a space that evolves with you as you need. When you are not working what are some things you like to do?
Taeeun: I like to travel, going to see a show to find new inspirations.
Keyundra: To all the young writers and artists what advice would you give them to encourage them to keep practicing?
Taeeun: I would like to say keep drawing and being open to different area of art. Do not fear of rejection and keep developing the story/art until you are happy with it.
Keyundra: Your wonderful work is certainly noticeable. Congratulations on Here Is the Baby for New York Times Best Illustrated Books for 2014! What goes through your mind when you win something so major?
I was so surprised (in a good way) and actually screamed.
Keyundra: Could you tell us what you have coming up?
..A picture book about a boy and his little pet elephant written by Lisa Mantchev. It’s a bit different style of story with what I have been working on. So it’s been challenging but also very fun to work.
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