Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 21, 2022

Illustrator Saturday – Alina Chau

Alina Chau 周曉芬 is an award-winning filmmaker and artist. Her credits include the Emmy Award-winning Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, and numerous best-selling games. She illustrated The Nian Monster, which received the 2018 APALA Picture Book Honor. Having grown up in Hong Kong in an Indonesian-Chinese family during the British colonial era, her creative vision is strongly influenced by a diverse mix of cultures. She finds inspiration in her grandmother’s stories, colorful sarongs, and delicate wooden sculptures from Southeast Asia, as well as in the aroma of stinky tofu, and the sound of Hong Kong tram bells chiming. Alina’s unique cultural heritage strongly influences her artistic and storytelling voice. Her whimsical illustration style is highly sought after for art exhibitions worldwide. Her lyrical watercolors have garnered her a devoted fan base and the accolades of her peers.

She is represented by:
Marietta B. Zacker
Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency

Here is a video Alina created to show you how she created MARSHMALLOW & JORDAN:

 

INTERVIEW WITH ALINA CHAU:

Where you born in Hong Kong?

I was born in Xiamen province in China. Our family moved to Hong Kong when I was a baby. So I considered Hong Kong my childhood hometown since I did not have many memories of China.

Did you physically go to the UK to get a Certificate, Art Education at the University of Liverpool?

I did. It was a college-level summer exchange program and my first time traveling to a foreign country. It was an exhilarating and inspiring life experience. Even though it was a short summer program, much of the art lessons I learned during the time had deeply ingrained in me and shaped my career path. I learned to view and experience art from a different perspective. 

Did you know English at the time?

Yes. At the time, Hong Kong was a British colony. English is the official second language, so I grew up learning English in school.

How did you decide to get your Bachelors of Social Science and Graphic Communications degree and attend Hong Kong Baptist University?

There wasn’t a wide range of college-level art programs with promising career options in Hong Kong. Back then, Hong Kong only had programs for performing arts, commercial/industrial designs, and fine arts. I couldn’t sing or dance, and I was not interested in designs. I hoped to get into architecture school. But, Architecture School required an engineering background, which I lacked. So, kind of not entirely by choice, a digital graphic communication major is my only option. I did not even know much about the major besides having something to do with making art on the computer. 

At the time, Disney started integrating computer animation into their animation productions. Visual effect movies, such as Jurassic Park, became popular. I was very fascinated and curious about these new computer animation technologies. Hong Kong Baptist University was the first college in Hong Kong to offer an animation program, so I signed up for it.

Did you know you would stay in the California when you left China to get your Masters at the School of Film, Theatre, and Television with a major in animation at UCLA?

When I entered UCLA, my focus was to keep up with the class. In my dream, I would love to work in Hollywood. But, my animation skills were a bit below average. Hong Kong’s animation education was not as strong as the schools in the states. My training was not very strong. UCLA is a very competitive school, so I had to study extra hard. 

As a foreign student on a visa, there were many employment restrictions. While I dreamed of staying after graduation, nothing was a guarantee. Even though there was much uncertainty, UCLA was one of my happiest times. 

Did you sell any of your art while going to school?

No. I was so scared of breaking immigration law that I didn’t dare to make money under the table. HA! HA!! 

Before social media and online business, there was little to no outlet for young artists to showcase or sell their works independently unless signed with galleries or an art agent. While social media can be overwhelming sometimes, it truly empowers diverse voices and independent creators to share their work. 

Did you do any in film making while at UCLA?

Yes, the UCLA animation program requires students to complete three independent films. If anyone is curious about what I did in school, they can check out my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/alinachau/videos

Did you UCLA help you get the job with Lucas Films?

No. I joined Lucas Films many years after I graduated from school. But, I did get my first job with EA Games through fellow alumni at UCLA.

What inspired you to want to illustrate Children’s books?

 I need to thank Oliver Chin and Phil Amara for introducing me to children’s book publishing. Phil invited me to collaborate with him on a picture book, The Treehouse Heroes and the Forgotten Beast. Oliver acquired the book. At the time, I was still in animation and knew nothing about publishing. I was always curious about the children’s book publishing world but didn’t know how to approach the industry. After finishing TreeHouse Heroes, I learned a lot from Phil and Olive and grew interested in learning more about publishing. 

Do you do freelance art direction and story development in addition to illustrating children’s books?

Yes, from time to time, I do animation freelance. But in recent years, my focus has been more focused on publishing. 

Acquerello I & IIfeatured over 100 gallery paintings from 2010 – 2013. How did you decide t to put together this book of over 100 gallery paintings?

Many of my artist friends self-published their artwork into books. Getting inspired by what they did, I decided to try it. At the time, I really didn’t know much about how to put together an art book, so I just put everything in it. Even if it didn’t sell, I figured a pretty artbook would make a handy art portfolio for jobs. 

When did you publish Acquerello 1?

I think it was around 2010. That’s when I tried to reach out to a broader gallery circle. Are these Acquerellobooks exclusively filled with your art you exhibited in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Paris, Japan, and Spain?

Yes, they are exclusively my gallery paintings from different exhibitions. 

Does Acquerello IIIWatercolors and Beyond that was published in 2015 have different art from the first two books?

Yes. The first two Acquerello are collections from 2010 to 2013. Acquerello III is art collected from 2013 to around 2016.

Were Acquerello l, ll, and IIIall self-published books?

Yes, they are all self-published. 

Amazon lists that The Year of the Sheep (Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, 10)was published in 2014. Was this your first illustrated book?

This would be the second book after The TreeHouse Heroes and the Forgotten Beast. 

Amazon says, this book series written by Oliver Chin has eleven books, and that The Year of the Sheep is the tenth book, but looking at the dates, it looks like The Year of the Sheep should be the fourth book. Is this a mistake on Amazon?

Humm… I am not sure. Oliver’s Chinese Zodiac series followed the order of the Chinese Zodiac. I am not sure which Zodiac is his first book in the series. The Immedium website (http://www.immedium.com) probably has more accurate information about the series.

How did Chronical books discover your illustrations and offer you the contract to illustrate Double Happinessby Nancy Tupper Lingin?

It was through Shannon Associates, my art rep at the time. 

Did Albert Whitman & Co ask you to make a friendly looking monster for The Nian Monster or was that your idea?

They did want The Nian Monster to be more friendly-looking. 

You illustrated the fourth book. Lunar New Year (Celebrate the World)by Hannah Eliot Pub. Date Dec 11, 2018 by little Simon. Do you think Hannah Eliot will find other ways to continue this series? Did you learn anything about your culture while illustrating the book? 

Celebrate the World is series published by Simon and Schuster. As an illustrator, we didn’t get to know about the bigger plan within a publishing house. Personally, I love the series and would love to see more Celebrate the World books.  

I am pretty familiar with most Lunar New Year stories, but I did not know about the story of Sui until I read the book. 

We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leadersby Harry Belafonte and and illustrated by Sixteen award-winning children’s book artists. Published by Chronicle Books in 2019, each illustrator illustrated a civil rights quotation from Harry Belafonte, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. Is the illustration on your website under the quote from Helen Kelle, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” an illustration you did for that book?

Yes, I illustrated the Helen Kelle spread. 

Did the art director at Disney request a certain look for the princess in Megan Roth’sThe World Is Yours (Disney Princess)?

For this particular book, Disney gave us a lot of creative freedom to interpret the princesses in our personal style. 

How long did it take you to write and illustrate your 384 page graphic novel, Marshmallow & Jordan?

It took about 18 months to complete the book. But the book ended up taking close to three years to publish because of the pandemic. 

Do you plan on writing and illustrating another book?

Yes, I am currently writing new graphic novels and picture book stories.

I see that your are represented by Marietta Zacker at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. How did the two of you connect? How long has she been representing you?

Before Marietta, I had an art rep. When I discovered I wanted to focus on publishing and start writing my own book, I knew I needed to find a lit agent. I applied online via the literary agency’s website. Marietta has been representing me since 2016.

In January 2021 Immedium publishes a book y illustrated The Treehouse Heroes: and the Forgotten Beast by Phil Amara.Would you say Immedium is a publisher that focuses on Asian Writers and Illustrators books?

The TreeHouse Heroes: and the Forgotten Beast is published before The Year of Sheep, around 2012. Immedium is a publisher located in San Francisco focused on Asian American books. 

On the cover of In the Spirit of a Dream: 13 Stories of American Immigrants of Color

It says written by Aida Salazar and Created Alina Chau Since there are 13 stories and 13 illustrators, including you. Which story did you illustrate and did you illustrate additional pages, too?

I illustrated David Tran, the front cover, the interior cover, the copyright page, and the first and the last poems. 

I recently featured The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chanby Kristen Mai Giangand illustrated by you. You did a fabulous job. How long did it take you to illustrate the book?

Thank you. It took about four months to create the final art. But, before that, it took roughly a month of research and another couple of months to develop the sketch dummy.

Bonnie’s Rocketby Emeline Lee is your next book to come out at the end of September. Is this a non-fiction book? Did you have to do more reseach before illustrating this book?

Yes. I did extensive research into the Apollo Lunar mission. I watched many NASA documentaries and dug through their web-site to hunt down their rocket blue-prints, blackboard notes, mission photos, posters and sound recordings. As a rocket science nerd, I had a blast with the research.

Do you use galleries and exhibits to show off you work?  

I still participate in gallery exhibitions. Many galleries are very supportive of children’s book illustrations. Gallery Nucleus (https://www.gallerynucleus.com), one of the galleries I frequent, often host book launch parties and art shows for authors and illustrators. They did a lovely book launch party for Marshmallow and Jordan last year. 

I love to explore new art techniques and styles with my gallery pieces. It provides me a sandbox to experiment and learn new skills that could later apply in book illustrations. 

Do you take pictures or do research before you illustrate a book?

I usually spend a lot of time doing the research before illustrating a book. The research step often takes more time than creating the sketches. For non-fiction, research would need to be more meticulous. 

What do you think helped develop your style?

Growing up in Hong Kong during the British colonial era in a Chinese Indonesian family and then moving to the US, my cultural heritages strongly influence my voice and style. I learned and spoke three languages simultaneously, and therefore, I have mixed accents. Growing up, I felt a bit of a misfit with my cultural identity in a dominant Chinese society. While this could be confusing for a kid, it taught me to appreciate and be open-minded to different cultures and voices; and see the beauty in the differences. 

Many of these experiences were ingrained in my art on a subconscious level. I learned to be playful and not take one art style too seriously. I allow myself the freedom to explore and experiment, which eventually becomes my own style.  

What do you think is your biggest success?

I don’t know whether this defines success. I would say… my broad range of experiences in different creative fields. Even though some lessons were not by choice but by necessity. Dots that didn’t make sense before began to connect as I journeyed forward. I am grateful to have had all the experiences. It helps me grow, stays curious, be creative, and be flexible. 

How you use your Graphic Drawing Tablet when illustrating?

The final art is traditional watercolor on paper. I do all my sketches digitally. I use a Wacom Cintiq for Photoshop and an iPad Pro for Procreate. The final art would be scanned into Photoshop and composited digitally for the convenience of collaborating with the art director and editor. This makes it easier for the art team to make changes during the design phase. 

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Be a best-selling author, get recognized with some big national awards, and have my books made into movies or TV shows! LOL

Joking aside, I want to continue to grow as an author and illustrator. I want to keep writing more new books and make graphic novel series.

What are you working on now?

I am illustrating a Little Brown picture book, Love Like Chocolate, written by Tracy Banghart. Inspired by the adoption of Tracy’s daughter, the story follows an older child teaching a newly adopted sibling about how their family shows love through traditions (and chocolate). The story is as delicious and sweet as the title. 

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

My favorite art medium is watercolor. I use Winsor Newton Professional watercolor.

As for paper, I love Arches watercolor block cold press for book illustration for watercolor paper. It gives the right among of paper texture but is subtle enough that the texture doesn’t become distracting in printed form.

I order my art supply online from Blick Art Materials. They often have great seasonal coupons, especially during back-to-school. I would stock up a year’s supply worth during their big sale. 

Cheap and accessible! For sketchbooks and notebooks, dollar stores are my friend. Using a cheap sketchbook helps me stay free and not worry about making perfect drawings when I need to experiment and explore. The same goes for pens and pencils for sketching and writing as well. 

I often post my sketching and painting process on my social media. That would be the best place to find my how-to tips: I see links at the end of this feature.

Any words of wisdom for new illustrators?

It is important to enjoy the journey and allow yourself to explore and experiment with new ideas, styles, and techniques. Be persistent. Getting a rejection is very common in any art industry. A rejection doesn’t mean you are not good. Sometimes it’s not the “right” match. So don’t keep up when the road gets a bit bumpy! It’s part of the process to help us grow. 

Alina, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and showing us your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Alina using the following links:

WEBSITE: https://alinachau.com/

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/alinachau/

FACBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/cubillodesign/

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTtiE9Ui7YwDy80QAF_DLAA

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. what absolutely beautiful work, an amazing artist

    Like

  2. Stunningly beautiFULL work Alina 😍

    Like

  3. Gorgeous work!

    Like

  4. Just beautiful. Thanks for the post.

    Like

  5. Beautiful work! Alina, you are such a speedy painter I can’t believe Marshmallow and Jordan only took 18 months to finish!!!

    Like

  6. Beautiful!

    Like


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