Interview with LeUyen Pham

Nov 12, 2012





I had a chance to interview one of my favorite children's illustrators, LeUyen Pham. Her artwork is full of life and energy, and always great expressive characters. I was very inspired by her journey, and motivated to keep on going! Check out her work on her website www.leuyenpham.com


Pamela: What was your journey like to children's book illustration?

Uyen:     I was approached by an art director from Harcourt books when I was a student.  He kept me in mind for a project, and when I was a year out of school, he contacted me.  I was working in animation at the time, so the project he gave me had to be done on my spare time.  It was a chapter book (a book cover with 8 interior black and white illustrations).  I thought I did a horrible job, but he loved something about the cover, and recommended me for a picture book a year later.  I finished that book in a year, and they liked it so well that they offered me three more manuscripts.  Since then, I’ve worked pretty steadily.  I only started self-promoting after 9/11 -- the publishing industry came to a stand still (as did most businesses in new york), and I had to rejump my career.  I’d only had 7 books at the time, so I really had to reinvent self.  But since then, knock on wood, I’ve kept steadily busy.


Pamela:  What is a typical day like for you as a freelance illustrator?

Uyen:    Wake up, have breakfast with the kids, send them off to school, spend an hour cruising internet, answering mail, etc, work steadily from 10-4, walk to pick up son from kindergarten, spend time with family until their bedtime, then back to work if I'm on a deadline, until the wee hours of the morning.  When I'm not on deadline, I can relax in the evening!


Pamela:  Do you have any special places you go for inspiration?

Uyen:    I always get inspired when I'm out talking a walk, or when I go to bookstores.  Occasionally I’m inspired by my  kids (they're 2 and 5, so they're just the right age!)


Pamela:  How long does it usually take for you to illustrate a picture book?

Uyen:    I’m pretty fast, but it depends on the style of the book.  The longest I’ve spent on a picture book was maybe 9 months, but I’m always doing other projects at the same time.  The fastest I’ve spent on a picture book was a month.  Average, from start to finish, is about three months.  But I do lots of different kinds, and I’m constantly overlapping.  For instance, I spent three years on a 450 page graphic novel, but then spent three weeks on a 200-page chapter book.


Pamela: What kinds of self-promotion do you do, and how often?

Uyen:    I don't self promote any more, believe it or not.  When I first started, I sent out just ten mailers, these intricate little books that I sewed together myself, and sent them to ten publishers I really liked.  I got call backs from almost all of them, and since then, I don't send out mailers anymore.  What I DO like to send, though, are little Christmas presents, or Halloween cards, things like that.  Last year I sent my publishers mugs with my drawings on them.  The year before I made calendars, and the year before that I wrote a little story.


Pamela: What advice would you give to an emerging children's book illustrator (like me!)? 

Uyen:    Keep at it!  Draw what you love, not what you think others will like or what's in vogue.  Attend conferences, and try to meet as many editors and art directors as you can!  Write your own stories, if you can, and illustrate them.  But mostly, be informed!  Buy the book "children's writers and illustrators market", and read it from cover to cover.  It tells you how to submit manuscripts, how to put together book dummies, who works where, what each publishing house likes to see, everything.  I used it when I first started out, and I still refer it to everyone!


Pamela:  Thank you for your time Uyen!

Uyen:      Best of luck to you!  It’s a lovely business once you get in! Cheers!

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