November 19, 2019

Let's Talk Illustrators #124: Angel Chang

There is no better way to describe the illustrations in Dave Eggers' new book Most of the Better Natural Things in the World than "breathtaking." Angel Chang's debut as an illustrator brings light and warmth to every crevice of the Earth as a tiger carries her chair from one geographically-notable area to another. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Angel about her stunning illustrations of  most of the better natural things of the world.

About the book:
A tiger carries a dining room chair on her back. But why? Where is she going? With just one word per page, in lush, color-rich landscapes, we learn about the features that make up our world: an archipelago, a dune, an isthmus, a lagoon. Across them all, the tiger roams in an enigmatic investigation of our world's most beautiful places.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Angel Chang!

LTPB: Congratulations on your debut book! What kind of research did you do for the illustrations? How did you mix in the realities of your research with your own unique art style? 

AC: Thank you!

So, in order to present a visual that matched the geographic terms in the book I did a lot of fact-checking. The first thing I did when I finished reading the manuscript was to look up each word’s definition, especially for those I’ve never seen in-person before, like fjord, oasis and glacier. Reading helps me visualize specific shapes and rough compositions. I Googled images as well, just to double-check.

For this project, I brought a lot of palettes and textures that I already love using in my work, and I tried to re-mix and arrange them in ways that people can still recognize the impressions of the actual places. For example, I use pink and dry brush marks a lot, so I tried to tie them into nature elements like rocks and trees.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the custom fonts in this book? 

AC: The font in the book is actually Dave Eggers (the author)'s idea. I did try to letter the entire text in my first draft but at the end we all agreed on Dave’s version. The only fonts I did are the title and names on the cover. I was inspired by the printout that Dave gave to me when we first met for this project. It shows his vision of the cover at the time, so I kind of kept that in mind as a direction. And when I started to illustrate the cover, I had this idea that it might be fun to draw the title. I wasn’t sure if they were going to like it but it surprisingly made into the final!

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

AC: I use mixed media a lot. I create texture from traditional media, like brushes and ink, or anything I can paint black and transfer onto paper. After the texture creating, I’ll scan everything to laptop, clean up and compose them digitally.

I don’t really have a preference on medium, I think every media can be interesting with different combinations. I guess that’s why I love to experiment and ended up with mixed media.

LTPB: How does your process change from book to book?

AC: It depends on the direction of the project and how much I was allowed to be abstract when it comes to visual narratives. Sometimes I get clients that already have tight versions of what they want. In that case, I have to force my process to be more linear. I have to deliver sketches first, and maybe make some changes, and then color roughs, and then finals and then maybe revisions. But for this project, they leave a lot of room for me to be creative. So I end up showing them couple versions of rough colored compositions, and then I went straight to make the final art.

LTPB: How involved were you in the design of the book, like the stunning gatefold? And what is it about the format of a book that excites you most?

AC: When I was sure that I’d be involved in this project, they presented the format to me in the beginning. Which was great for me because I can start from there, otherwise there’s going to be too many possibilities, and it’s not always a good thing. There are designers and editors that are more experienced than I am when it comes to printing and other design details that I might not even know during the making of a book, so I think it’s for the best that for them to take care of the design part. Besides, I love to see how other things work as well.

I think with book format, the exciting thing is the page turns. It gives the art more chances and ways to be read, and I’ve always loved the fact that I can use these page turns to surprise the readers. I was very lucky that I got to do a gatefold illustration for this project. The text fits the format so well and I was just enjoying painting the whole vista. I tried to arrange time shifting in the visual as well, I think it’s more interesting that way instead of seeing everything in daylight.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

AC: Besides commissioned work, I have been working on a couple stories and ideas of my own. It’s going to be a process and, to be honest, I don’t really know what they will become. Here’s some sample work I did for one of the ideas. It’s a bear cub who wandering around inside an abandoned house.

I’m also running an Instagram account called One In a Thousand. It’s an account where I share my sketches. I’m planning to make it into a collection once it reaches a thousand posts. It might be a book or a series of big posters, I haven’t decided yet.

LTPB: If you were to write your picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

AC: If I had to choose one artist to illustrate myself, I'll choose Júlia Sardà! She's one of my favorite artists! I have been inspired by her work for many years. Her style is so unique and I absolutely love how she shapes stories with her wonderful illustrations.

A big thank you to Angel for answering some questions about her debut picture book! Most of the Better Natural Things in the World published earlier this month from Chronicle Books!

Special thanks to Angel and Chronicle for use of these images!

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1 comment:

  1. Love this exciting visual work. Makes me want to break out of my regular style and go PLAY!