Category Archives: Countdown Corner

Joy Chu meets Miss Marple!

The following interview originally appeared in Joanna Marple’s fine children’s literature blog, Miss Marple’s Musings on Sept 2, 2015 — JC]

Source: Joy Chu – Illustrator Interview

JoyChu_kitty_lo-rez copy

Photo by Roxyanne Young

I ‘met’ Joy a couple of years ago through her FB page Got Story and love her contributions to the kid lit community. She has been curating a fabulous exhibition in Southern California and it is open for another ten days, so I wanted to give people the heads up not to miss it. — Joanna Marple

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? Or. . .
[JC] Graphic Designer, with an emphasis on illustrated books, with over 30 years experience in the book publishing industry. In addition, I’m also a children’s book illustration instructor, doing it both in person and on-line at UC San Diego Extension for the past 7 years.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?
[JC] Born in NYC, raised in the Bronx. I still have residual NYC reactions to things I adore, and situations I find intolerable. Californians are far more even-tempered in contrast. I figure that’s why I’m passionate about what I do.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.
[JC] There were three pivotal moments in my life. When my mom would encourage me to draw on paper — after discovering I had covered our apartment walls with crayon drawings, at age 3 — and she’d give lessons besides, alongside reading Golden Books aloud. We learned reading English together.

Soon after, my dad made sure I always had fresh blank notebooks plus plenty of pencils handy to draw up stories inspired by Life magazine, which I could never get enough of. Provocative details to pore over, plus many photographs to copy and sketch variations from.

Then there was the day I was issued my first library card at age 7, from the New York Public Library (NYPL). Pure magic! I could possess up to twelve beautiful books, at home for 4 whole weeks! It sparked my love for illustration. O the places those books transported me, outside of the south Bronx!

I became aware early on which publishers produced the books I loved most. Any Viking picture book I’d stumble upon was coveted. Harcourt Brace produced my favorite middle grade novels — they were all illustrated! As I progressed to wordier fare, I’d notice that some books even gave a history of its text font on the last page. I didn’t learn until much later that bookmaking would combine my love of art, design, and story into a single career.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?
[JC] I still love drawing. Good drawing is the foundation for learning how to see. I had every intention of becoming a children’s book illustrator. After college, I was hired as a design trainee at the adult trade division of Alfred A. Knopf, mentored by the legendary art director Betty Anderson. Knopf has a reputation for quality literature and good bookmaking. I was hooked on typography, layout, and the craft of book design ever since. I loved working with artists. I also grew to love working on a Mac. More magic!

[JM] Joy Chu Designs is a multi-disciplinary design studio. What does that entail?
[JC] I design books of all genres. I art-direct and style all manner of photo shoots. I create websites and videos, and designed campaigns and graphics that invariably tell a story. I also coach artists one-on-one, or in groups, helping them to identify the path of least resistance. That is, what comes naturally, and to pursue it passionately. It all involves story, one way or another.

[JM] Tell us a little about Got Story?
[JC] It began several years ago as a public Facebook page, for my UC San Diego Extension students. Extension didn’t utilize on-line software then. I felt students needed a place to sustain the enthusiasm about picture book finds beyond our weekly classroom meetings.

Then some of my own Facebook friends — many of them colleagues in the book biz — would spot postings of their own favorites, and offer observations. Melanie Hope Greenberg liked it so much, she offered to participate in a Q and A exchange, which spun off into a blog [], because we did it like a David Letterman-like “Top Ten” — with one question or topic per day, with the final question being number one.

I discovered that I much prefer the spontaneity of the Facebook format. Blogging takes way too long! That’s where it’s been ever since. Students can mingle with some of the best picture book practitioners in the business quickly and informally. Picture book people are a unique group of talented, big-heart folk. I love the field.

[JM] I know you are super busy curating a museum show for the CCA Escondido. The dates are July 11-Sept 13. Please tell us more about this.
[JC] Leah Goodwin of the California Center for the Arts knew there was a hot bed of published picture book creators in our southern region of California, and wanted to hold a show that highlighted children’s book illustration to the community at large. How would she get in touch with the right people? Janice Yuwiler, SCBWI San Diego Regional Advisor, immediately introduced us via Facebook!

Leah and her team are dynamic! Stella Karl has been a whirling dervish, corralling and organizing the mounting of all the works, coordinating the overall design layout and approach. We’ve reviewed color choices, typography, and content. Kirsten Vega orchestrated a Student Art Competition based upon the theme of the exhibition, telling a story with pictures. Winners will be on full view at a dedicated gallery, professionally displayed. I am blessed to be Guest Curator for such a world class venue!

LisaBrown_dummy_4Marple copy

We will be showcasing over 50 artists and writers, displaying not only original art, but preliminary sketches, spreads from dummies, and thumbnail storyboards as case studies. Students of children’s picture books will have a blast, perusing the stories behind the making of the book.

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Rafael Lopez is one of our local treasures. He is lending us his original drawings — you can see decision-making on paper — from his latest work, Drum Dream Girl, (written by Margarita Engle) alongside his dreamy paintings. I’ve been a long time admirer of his work, and I feel he has produced his best work yet. A Caldecott contender!

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The sheer variety of art media alone is astounding. Lisa Brown is lending us gauze fabrics and stained papers she used as the textures throughout her Mummy Cat book (written by Marcus Ewert).

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Antoinette Portis shares her many scraps, pointing out where we can find them in her final art (from Wait). And Salina Yoon staged a re-creation of her art studio, with drawings hanging on walls, and on a small drawing table. Visitors will be able to sit in her chair!

We even have sneak previews of books not yet out. Enlarged graphics of characters from Marla Frazee’s upcoming book, Is Mommy? (words by poet Victoria Chang) due out November 2015 will be appear on walls lifesize, throughout the exhibition.

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Drawings from Salina Yoon’s upcoming January 2016 release, Be a Friend, will be revealed, along with its trailer, an exclusive!

Other marvelous book trailers by our exhibitors will be shown on a large screen, in a continual loop, in an adjoining gallery. So inspirational, all of it.

Please visit! More about it here: Check out the list of books featured here:

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?
[JC] I hang very little, actually. Except for reminder Post-its and To-Do Lists. My walls are all painted in bright colors though! Everyone always remarks on them when they visit.


Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[JC] I have several! So far, I’d say Central Park (NYC); Golden Gate Park and the Presidio (S.F.); Stanley Park (Vancouver, BC); Victoria Peak Garden (Causeway Bay, Hong Kong); the California side of Lake Tahoe during the winter months.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[JM] What word best sums you up?
[JC] Joyful

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?
[JC] I’m fascinated by Scotties (aka Aberdeen Terriers).

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[JC] Fresh brewed green tea. Enjoyed with a small square of dark chocolate, 50% cacao, nibbled slowly. Sheer heaven.

Plan B: A huge, juicy, freshly-peeled naval orange.

Helen Foster James (co-author with Virginia Loh Hagan) next to oil paintings and sketches from their book

Helen Foster James, co-author of Paper Son (with Virginia Loh-Hagan), stands alongside Wilson Ong’s paintings from their book.

Facebook/Got Story?:

Joy’s Got Story Blog:

at UC San Diego Extension:

An interview:

Twitter: @JoyC_sez

 Thanks so much for sharing a little of your journey with us and I hope the final days of the exhibition sparkle!—Joanna Marple


Hurry and visit NOW, before the 23 of November!

The William Cannon Art Gallery is part of the Carlsbad City Library Complex. Its entrance is on the right side of the courtyard, beyond these archways.

That’s me, giving my UCSD students — past and present — a private tour of the Original Art Show at Cannon Art Gallery. I’m pointing out aspects of Carolyn Fisher’s illustration work from Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott. photo by Denise Harbison

Why? Because after November 23, 2014 , the traveling exhibit, The Original Art 2013 at the Cannon Art Gallery, in Carlsbad CA will close!

David Diaz checking out the artistry on display at The Original Art

David Diaz checking out the artistry on display at The Original Art
photo by Roxyanne Young

Don’t miss this exhibit! You’ll encounter 40 examples of the best-illustrated books of 2013, from the most talented in the field.

A highlight is the inclusion of published illustrators who happen to live in San Diego and Los Angeles, including Salina Yoon, Debbie Tilley, Andrea Zimmerman & David Clemesha, David Diaz, Janell Cannon, and Robin Preiss Glasser, to name just a few!

Salina Yoon beside her original work from Penguin and Pinecone and Found!  photo by Roxyanne Young

Salina Yoon beside her original work from Penguin and Pinecone and Found!
photo by Roxyanne Young

There’s a dedicated reading corner where you can sit and peruse the books each piece is culled from. Many of the originals include drawings, paintings, prints, etchings, and collagesa rare opportunity to fully appreciate the diversity of creativity applied to these works. Gallery curator Karen McGuire even adhered post-its to corresponding pages of each book, so that visitors can compare the printed result to its original, up-close!

Book trailers are played on a continual loop above the reading corner of the Gallery. photo by Joy Chu

There’s also a video featuring 19 trailers highlighting selected artists on display, broadcast throughout the duration of the exhibit. Don’t miss it — it’s at the reading corner! Here are just a few of the trailers you’d encounter.

IDEA: It’s not too early to order picture books for holiday gift giving! Give everyone you love a children’s picture book. It’s a bazillion times more enduring than a mere Christmas card! There’s something for everyone.

Like this one (below). Yes, Renata Liwska‘s original work is on display at The Cannon Art Gallery too!

Check out the work of Renata, and her multi-talented illustrator colleagues, at the Cannon Art Gallery, before it becomes yet another happy memory.

1775 Dove Lane
Carlsbad, CA 92011
(760) 602-202
Tuesday – Thursday: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Illustration by Renata Lewiska; text by Nina Laden

On the Road to Creating Story!

What Makes Your Characters “Tick”?

Let’s look at the beginning of a picture book story.

The initial step is introducing your main character. Can you tell us what he/she is thinking?

What is their prime directive? What motivates them? What problem are they confronting in your story?

I love sharing this series of spreads created by  graphic design pioneer Bruno Munari — an Italian Paul Rand — who loved children’s picture books.  This is from his book The Elephant’s Wish.

Here’s Elephant, who wishes he could be as carefree as a bird…



Bird wishes he could swim. Can you guess why?


Snake wishes he could graze majestically like a bull . . .


Bull wishes he could be like the elephant. Why? Then he could swish away those pesky flies! We come full circle by the end of the book.






Artist Laurent Moreau contemplates himself!




By Laurent Moreau. A girl dreams of being by the sea

Here’s the cover, which hints at the animals’ thoughts, while intriguing us with an unusual graphic.





Check out how Laurent Moreau lets us in on his characters’ thoughts:


The cover from “What Are You Thinking?” by Laurent Moreau


Ah, a play on line textures and far away thoughts by Laurent Moreau…


This woman is full of jealous thoughts. By Laurent Moreau


What a little girl in costume imagines, by Laurent Moreau



What an absorbing story! Could she be lost into it? By Laurent Moreau


Subconscious memories from a famous
folk tale, by Laurent Moreau


What a boy thinks
by Laurent Moreau


What one young woman
pines for, by Laurent Moreau


It’s all math to some people!


What a beautiful mind!


A nature lover!

This is a fabulous way to explore your own story characters. Express what they are thinking, in collage! Check out these results.


This one is by Marcia Sorini,
an elementary school teacher (see part 2, below)




Check out what other students have created here!



Stop the Presses…and START HERE!

This may be the first book cover that actually teaches how to letterspell "A B C"  in American Sign Language!

This may be the first book cover that actually teaches how to letterspell “A B C” in American Sign Language! (click to enlarge)

Let’s start with unveiling the cover itself. It features a lenticular!

And it’s going on press this month! I’m so excited!

Why? Because it all began as a list of words on a spread sheet almost five years ago.

The dictionary began as a Word doc, which grew into an Excel spreadsheet. (right-click to enlarge)

Gallaudet University Press lined up a team of illustrators for their upcoming definitive American Sign Language reference (think Merriam-Webster, but for signing), aimed at the pre-school through grade 3 level. It had to be usable for hearing families as well as the deaf and hearing-impaired.

Page 1 from the Dictionary

Page 1 from the Dictionary (click on any image to enlarge)

One of the illustrators already on board was Debbie Tilley. When agent Richard Salzman discovered it was (a) Gallaudet first foray into children’s books and general trade; and (b) they expected Debbie to produce the layouts too, he recommended they contact me to pull it all together for them. It was a dream project for all of us!

Dictionary_p-105_Page_011   Dictionary_p-105_Page_008 Dictionary_p-105_Page_007

 392 pages of full color! It looks like a graphic comic, with over 1,000 word entries, fully illustrated. Plus it includes a DVD featuring a rainbow of children signing. There’s also a special feature on forming sentences.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll guide you on the process. It will be like a diary on the making of a children’s reference classic. . .

Spread from pages 238-239

Spread from pages 238-239 (click to enlarge)

You will witness exclusive behind-the-scenes book making. Stay tuned. That’s why I’ve been away for so long. Been dictionary-ing…

You can pre-order the Dictionary through these links:
Barnes & Noble
Shop Indie Bookstores



I received the following question recently: “I’m interested in your online CB illustrators course at UCSD, but can’t find the link. Can you please post it again? Also, I travel overseas a lot for work. Would that preclude me from taking the online course, i.e., are the classroom times synchronistic or can you work at your own pace? Many thanks!! [from Linda Benson]

Great question! You can take the class at your own pace. It’s a 9-week course, with a new exercise/assignment given at the start of each week. You post completed exercises online, to share with classmates, at the end of each week. And you can post questions at the Class Discussion Board anytime, too. It’s an asynchronous class

For more info, go here.
Register anytime, 24/7, here.

Drawing Warm-ups: I do it with Ed Emberley’s help!


It’s about seeing common shapes differently. Like D.Frog

It's Sasquatch!

It’s Sasquatch!

Every new class I teach is like embarking upon a new adventure mind trip.

It’s good to re-visit familiar terrain from a wholly different angle. Here, I do it upside-down, sideways, anyway-but-regular. I see it as the ultimate brain synapse challenge. Like quickie sit-ups, with a lilt!

For instance, I love drawing from Emberley.  In each of the following, we start with the letter D, step-by-step. . . but holding the book itself upside down.

This is the way to see PURE SHAPE. Forget about the end result entirely.

Fact: Guess who has the hardest time doing the above — from all the people who’ve taken my illustration class — the artists, or the writers? The seasoned artists. Not all of them, but just a few. Why? It’s unfamiliar, not envisioning the end-result. These renegades then discover they are falling back into old patterns of drawing, unwilling to try something new. I remind them that this is the way to venture into new terrain. To discover new possibilities in drawing. How letting go of certain drawing habits will set them free. And when they allow it to happen, they smile. Inevitably.

Try any of the following. Bonus:  If you render these, purely as shape, you can do them in ANY size, from tiny to titanic — no sizing tools needed!

A turtle...

A turtle…

Then notice how these same shapes re-occur in everything around you. . . .

A mouse. . .

A mouse. . .

Or a porcupine

Or a porcupine

These images are progressive drawings from Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, © 1970 by Edward R. Emberley, animated as .GIFs . This book is the required textbook at my UCSD Extension class, Illustrating Books for Children. I think everyone needs this book in their lives. Follow each step. Watch it change the way you see your world.

Countdown to Highlights!

So excited. I’m taking part in the Ultimate Walden Pond Experience at the Advanced Illustrators Workshop at the Highlights Foundation, August 28-September 2nd.


Been brainstorming with the amazing Cindy Smith on the illustration exercises (I call them Guerrilla Work-outs) I will lead on-site. I sent my proposal to Cindy, and within minutes, she shoots back “WONDERFUL.” She’s my soul sister.

I’m blessed. Look at the illustrators I’m accompanying: E.B. Lewis and Matt Tavares. . .


Here’s Matt …

and E.B. in action…

and here I am.


But before the immersion begins, conferees are treated to an insider peek at the inner workings of Highlights Magazine and Boyds Mills Press. Here’s editor Linda Rose, specifying what gets published in Highlights. She’s looking for full color visual ideas via their picture puzzler feature. Hey you editorial illustrators, here’s an opportunity! Every submission to this feature will be considered. Think visual witticism. Tell Linda you heard it here…

More tomorrow.


On Inspirations and My Upcoming Class…


Greetings! If you live, work, or are vacationing this summer in the San Diego area, consider creating stories with pictures at my class, on the beautiful campus of UCSD in La Jolla!

Illustrating Books for Children
Instructor:  Joy Chu
June 26-August 21
Wednesday evenings, 6:30pm-9:30pm
Register before June 25!
A section of UCSD campus at night

Inspiration is Everywhere!

During last winter’s 2013 class at UCSD Extension, I asked my students to locate the CIP book summary from any picture book, and use it as the inspiration for an eight-panel wordless picture story.

CIP (pronouncedsip”) is book publishing jargon for the Library of Congress Publishing Cataloging-in-Publication Data. This is found within the copyright page text of every book. It features a well-constructed one-phrase synopsis of the book’s theme.


Here is an example. One student, Aijung Kim, selected the following CIP summary from Chalk by Bill Thompson. While she didn’t read the book, she knew from its cover that it featured a dinosaur. She transported her setting to a beach…

Book Summary:  A wordless picture book about three children who go to a park on a rainy day, find some chalk, and draw pictures that come to life.

Here’s what she came up with:

Aijung Kim’s 8-panel wordless story, created during Joy Chu’s class, Illustrating Books for Children, at UCSD Extension (right-click image to enlarge)

Another student, Fnu Anisi, enchanted by Kevin HenkesKitten’s First Full Moon, wanted to explore an eight page wordless re-telling.

Book summary:  When Kitten mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk, she ends up tired, wet, and hungry trying to reach it.

Here are Anisi’s results:

(Right-click to enlarge)

Fnu Anisi’s 8-page wordless story, created at Joy Chu’s UCSD Extension class (Right-click to enlarge)

At my upcoming summer 2013 UCSD Extension class (June 26-August 21), Illustrating Books for Children (ART 40011) we might look into creating an advent-styled calendar as a possible inspiration for creating a picture story.

Example: Look at the one Zachariah OHora created from his own story. Fun, yes?

Many thanks to Zachariah OHora and Julie Danielson for sharing the above image.

Creating a 3D model for your story setting can also serve as an invaluable reference in plotting out your narrative, as well as a guide in drawing scenes from a variety of perspectives. Note how illustrator Sophie Blackall created a diorama for her work-in-progress. She can view her characters from above!

(photo © PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved)

Author/illustrator Barbara McClintock builds cut-paper replicas of her illustrations, in composing her scenes. The following sequence is from her studies for an upcoming book, Adèle and Simon in China (all 3 photos below © Barbara McClintock)

"What do those little flat boats in photos of Tongli really look like? I have to find out by building one."—Barbara McClintock

“What do those little flat boats in photos of Tongli really look like? I have to find out by building one.”—Barbara McClintock

"...Now I can draw the boats in the picture and feel some sense of confidence in what I'm doing/seeing..."

“…Now I can draw the boats in the picture and feel some sense of confidence in what I’m doing/seeing…”

Tongli, China, circa 1908, as drawn by Barbara McClintock

Tongli, China, circa 1908, as drawn by Barbara McClintock

Here’s Tove Jansson, creating reference models for her fabulous Moomin stories.



Illustrating Books for Children / Art 40011
Instructor:  Joy Chu
June 26-August 21
Wednesdays, 6:30pm-9:30pm

Register before June 25!

illustration by Debbie Tilley


From On-Line to HANDS-ON: Let’s Draw Stories!

Register NOW for Joy Chu's hands-on workshop, Illustrating Books for Children, Wednesday evenings 6:30-9:30pm, 6/28-8/21/13,, ART 40011. Immerse yourself!

Exercise your art chops!

Summer Solstice! What could be better after a full day’s work (or sunning & surfing — hey, we’re in San Diego!), or sight-seeing around San Diego, than hunkering down, and drawing pictures with other passionate story-tellers?

We’ll do hands-on drawing-and-sharing, in class, in person, at the beautiful UCSD Extension campus in La Jolla, CA. Examine the latest picture books, plus a few timeless classics. And address aspects of the current children’s book market.

Join us!

Class:        Children’s Book Illustration – ART-40011
Instructor:  Joy Chu
Dates:       June 26 – August 21  (9 meetings)
Day:           Wednesdays
Time:         6:30pm – 9:30pm
Location:  Extension, Room 128

Required books: 

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books (paperback) :: Uri Shulevitz   ISBN: 9780823059355

Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (paperback)
:: Ed Emberley   ISBN: 9780316789790


Don’t delay, sign up today!
Purchase textbooks @ UCSD Bookstore,
or at  Register now.
Ask about ART 40011

Fee:  $250 / $275 after 6/10/13

When you write, and someone else draws…

It’s a unique opportunity when an illustrator can also write stories that other artists can render. This happened to Don Tate when he wrote It Jes’ Happened, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.

Check out this excellent discussion between Anne Rockwell and Don Tate, at Anne’s site.

“…While I could have illustrated the story, my illustration styles weren’t the perfect match for the text. My editor wanted the art to be edgy, gritty. I wanted to go with an illustrator who had broader name recognition than myself. Greg Christie became one of our top choices.”—Don Tate


Original art by Bill Traylor

Remember this if you encounter a book editor who loves your story, but suggests that another illustrator provide the art. Don’t insist on all (doing both story and pictures) or nothing.

If a publisher is seriously interested in acquiring one component, make sure to ask why. Decisions like these are made for the good of the project.

Art from

From “It Jes’ Happened” by Greg Christie right-click to enlarge

Editors want your book to sell as many copies as possible. One practical consideration is name recognition. Newcomers tend to forget that buyers invariably prefer to request a familiar name or brand, even in bookstores or libraries. Or just the books with the medals on their jackets. Publishers also need to see how your name fares out there initially, in the mutual interest of nurturing a new career for the long term.