Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Interview with Illustrator Sunny J. Choi! Part 1

Bio- “Sunny” Joung Sun Choi is a children's book illustrator currently living in San Francisco. She was born, raised and studied Oriental painting in Korea. While she was exhibiting and teaching in college in Korea, she had a chance to illustrate children’s books and fell in love with it. She came to San Francisco to study children's book illustration at the Academy of Art University, and graduated with an MFA in Illustration. Sunny has been a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) since 2008.  Her two sons are her biggest inspiration and she recently adopted a furry daughter named Lily.

LNC-    Sunny you are amazing. I knew that the first time I set eyes on your portfolio. I even have your first Clear Fork book- Iggy Loo by Maria Ashworth, which is lovely and beautiful.
            But, I think for this first interview I am going to be selfish and ask you all about what working on Egg was like.  Yay Team Egg!
            So... What were your first thoughts after reading the story?  Wait… did you even read the story before you signed the contract?  I guess I don’t even know that…

SJC-      I was so happy and really enjoyed working on the project. Our wonderful publisher didn’t really show the manuscript before I was completely done with the previous work, but she let me know that there’s an author who is interested in me for a collaboration.

I was really happy to hear that, and couldn’t wait to see what the story would be like. When I first heard of the title ‘Egg’, my instinct said that I would love it, and it turned out to be true.

LNC-    Did you have images in mind as you read it the first time?  If so, did some of those images make it into the spread?

SJC-      Absolutely. As I read the manuscript I had an instant, vivid vision of almost every scene. The scenes with the three duckling siblings were clear in particular, and every initial scene with them made to the final spread.

LNC-    What was it like finding” the image of Egg? 

SJC-      A dragon isn’t a character I normally deal with, so I did a lot of research for the main character development. It was the part that took the most time in this project. I searched reference images from the realistic fantasy dragons to very stylized manga style ones, and did lot of sketches until I felt her personality from the character.

I got a strong impression of the story arc for Egg.  And I really loved the overall feel of giggling and fun throughout the story. So, I tried to keep the upbeat positive tone as much as I possible.

LNC-    I know I felt really …really… really (yes three really’s) lucky to have had some say as an author in the art portion of the story. What is it like for you as an artist to work Egg? To give it life and color?

SJC-      I felt the same on my side, while I worked on Egg. I think being an illustrator for a picture book project is the same as being another story teller on a different track. It must have come partly from my fine art background.  I tend to visually narrate the story and the emotions I feel from it, rather than literally illustrating what the manuscript describes. It’s what I learned from not only my previous work experience but also from some classes.

I was lucky enough to meet and learn from wonderful artists. Joy Chu was the first one who changed my life and career very much. I took her class from UCSD’s extension program. I’ve illustrated some books before but it was the first time that I learned that illustration has its own visual narrative.  I still feel excitement from the moment Joy introduced the book “Officer Buckle and Gloria” by Peggy Rathmann.

LNC-    So, let’s back up.  You read the story. You sign the contract.  Then what?  What were your first steps? What were your middle steps?  And how did you wrap everything up?  Was it helpful to have author input?

SJC-      When I make up my mind to join a project, I first get the physical environment ready. I set up the drawing table and tools, create a new folder and photoshop template according to the dimensions of the book on my computer.

Last but not least, I stock the pantry, as if an apocalypse were about to happen. Then I start from a very rough storyboard, and do the research for the character and environment design at the same time. I usually make several options for each scene then discuss it with the publisher. When the storyboard and character design is confirmed, I move on to the line drawings, scanning and coloring them digitally. I prefer to finish every image at the same time to keep the images coherent. Most of the time it’s easier for me to think of the cover art in a later stage with the same reason.

CFP has a system where the author is involved in the illustration approval, which is kind of unique in the American publishing process. I’m familiar with the system from my previous experience with Korean publishers and I think it’s not a bad idea to have another set of eyes for the illustration. Because children’s book authors are surely children’s book lovers, I’m sure that they have a great taste in art. I have to say I really appreciate your clear response and great taste; it wasn’t only helpful, but very delightful!!!

LNC-    Are the deadline’s stressful? How do you meet them?  Do you organize the book illustrations a certain way?

SJC-      Every deadline makes me nervous, and it’s helpful to make as very detailed of a work plan as I can to minimize social life and distractions. However unexpected things happen sometimes and it doesn’t work out as I planned. It’s always good to have bumper time but what I most focus on is the quality of the work.  For me music I listen to while I work plays a big part in my productivity. One of my friends said she listens to The Tron sound track when it’s close to the due date, and I very agree that a fast beat is helpful to speed up work.

Organizing illustrations has become a new challenge as I worked throughout the years. When I used to use traditional media, I collected them in big portfolio bags, but now, I more use digital media, organizing image files to the hard drive folder by year of completion.

LNC-    What were your favorite things about working on this book? What was your hardest challenge?

SJC-      My favorite part was the variety. In this story, there are various characters in size and texture, various environment settings such as the deep oceans, farms, day, and night, and various emotions such as joy, sadness, cheering, and self-doubt. I really enjoyed trying different things.

The biggest challenge was the main character design, who was Egg the Dragon. It took me some time to familiarize myself with dragon anatomy. I did a little survey about the it when I met children and parents who would’ve been interested in the picture book, and it was really helpful.

LNC-    Tell me about the Egg- Your Egg.  I would love to hear how she made her stamp on you and you her.

SJC-      When I worked on Egg, I found myself in each character’s shoes (except the snake). It made me think about good parenting, and having faith in one’s self in particular is so important.

Being an artist for two decades, sometimes I feel like it’s a constant battle with self-doubt. The mindset of believing in oneself is more required than good art skills.

For the Egg, I was cautious about illustrating her not to be too scary in the climax scene. I want her to be herself in any circumstances. Her dragon feature is her strength and power but I didn’t want her to turn into a complete monster because of her fear and anger.

LNC-    What about your other books?  How did this Egg adventure pair up with those?  Would you like to work on another book with me? (Please!!!!)

SJC-      My previous books were more about the relationship with other people or things. Egg was very special in that Egg is about independently overcoming self-doubt. It was really a significant experience for me.

LNC-    What are your future projects?

SJC-      First, our second collaboration!! And then, I’m talking about some projects with a Korean publishers and a local author. They all have a little boy as a main character. I’m going to do them through a traditional medium, so I may need to get a new portfolio bag for organizing in the near future.

LNC-    Are you writing a book?  Will you illustrate and write or choose to have someone else illustrate?

SJC-      I’ve been trying to write my own story for years but I found that I have so much to learn. I have one story in particular I would really love to make for the world that would be based on my personal experience with my children. I would definitely love to illustrate the story myself, and have a San Francisco cityscape as the environment, as a little tribute to my second home city.

LNC-    Oh Marketing-  Your thoughts on Marketing and materials.  What’s it like to set up images for that?  Is it fun or just more work? 

SJC-      I must confess that I’m not a super marketing guru. However, I enjoy designing marketing material. It’s a bit different work even though I use the same application, Photoshop. It’s fun but at the same time it’s a pretty time consuming job for me.

I must say, I loved working with you.  I can’t imagine a better dipping my toe into this world with a better partner.  I love your art, it’s so joyful and lively and I love that you really wanted my opinion on some of the details.  You are such a warm and wonderful person and I am thrilled to have you in my life, for what I hope will be a long and lasting friendship.   

LNC- I SO feel the same.  I can’t wait until we meet in person and I am really looking forward to our next project.  Thank you so much for illustrating Egg and making her shine.

To learn more about Sunny visit website at:


  1. What a great interview, Laura and Sunny! Congrats on a wonderful collaboration and another one in the works!! Can't wait :)

  2. Thank you for the shout-out, Sunny! I'm thrilled this has come full circle. I was literally gob-smacked when I learned from Laura that she was keeping her fingers crossed that YOU would be illustrating her "Egg." This was after she consulted with me privately about the story! Now I feel blessed that I met you both independently, and subsequently came together to collaborate. Kudos and congratulations to you both! I must confess I feel like a proud godmother.... ;-)