March 5, 2024

Let's Talk Illustrators #282: Sally Soweol Han

I recently found myself lucky enough to chat with Sally Soweol Han about her author debut Tiny Wonders! Sally has been illustrating for a while now, but Tiny Wonders marks her foray into the writer world, and it was no tiny wonder learning about her process. Happy reading!

About the book:
April's town is dull and gray, and the people there are too busy to laugh or look up at the sky. But when April remembers Grandma's stories about wonder in the world, like the secret language of flowers, April wonders: Can dandelions help?

Planting tiny seeds while the seasons shift towards spring, April watches as the dandelions and other flowers sprout, bringing more than a little wonder back to her community.

And check out the endpapers:

Let's talk Sally Soweol Han!

LTPB: Where did the idea for Tiny Wonders come from?

SSH: Individualism reigns in the digital era, and people are paying less attention to their surroundings. I wanted to show how this appears from a child's perspective, and capture the essence of a positive and proactive child. To bring about change in the town through child’s determination, a some kind of tool was necessary. It had to be a pure and innocent idea of a child and furthermore, it needed to possess a quality that spreads well. That’s where the dandelion seeds came to mind. They’re light, abundant, and easily carried by the wind, making them an ideal item for a young child to distribute without difficulty. Luckily, the flower meaning of dandelions is happiness which aligned perfectly with the theme of this book. So I decided to incorporate the language of flowers into the story.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of Tiny Wonders? As you got to know the characters, how did your illustrations evolve?

SSH: At the very early stage of creating the sample illustration, I depicted April (the protagonist) hanging onto a dandelion seed, soaring about a field of dandelions. Symbolically, this represented April taking action to spread happiness. However, this illustration became unnecessary as the story progressed and April’s character have been redesigned.

It was also important to consider how I would illustrate the dandelions, given their significance to the story. I tried various styles to find that would stand out beautifully because they are a key element in the story, not just seen as ‘weeds’.

LTPB: What did you find most difficult in creating this book? What did you find most rewarding?

SSH: While I was creating the dummy and sample illustrations (when I was getting ready to make submission to publishers and agencies), there was a spread where I intended to portray flying seeds in the dark night, but the result didn’t meet my expectation. So I re-drew and painted it. However, I still wasn’t satisfied and felt compelled to draw the same scene about five times, but they all turned out to be failures.

Then all of a sudden, I hit a slump with my drawing. Feeling miserable and incompetent, I decided to step away from drawing for a while and take a break. I avoided my work station, didn’t look at others’ work, and distanced myself from picture books for two months. I think I left that spread undecided until I met the publisher to work together.

Later, when I began working with UQP, the Australian publisher whom acquired Tiny Wonders in 2021, I completely changed the scene, color, and composition, and guess what? This is one of my favourite spreads now.

What’s even more rewarding is that Tiny Wonders have won the CBCA New Illustrator of the Year Award in 2023, which is the most acclaimed children’s book award in Australia.

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?

SSH: The mediums I used to create Tiny Wonders were mix of gouache, color pencil, soft pastel. While I mainly work with these mediums, I carefully consider and switch the primary medium depending on the concept and the mood of the story. For instance, in my second book Nightsong, the main mediums were soft pastels to perfectly capture the quiet darkness of the nighttime setting. Soft pastels were suitable for conveying the stillness of the night through the texture they could create on the paper.

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

SSH: I have a number of book projects currently in progress. Recently, I submitted final illustrations for a fun non-fiction with Abrams, which explores all kinds of wings using rhyming riddles that encourage readers to guess the described wings.

Additionally, I’m working on a number of picture books for Australian publishers. One of them is my third solo work (as author and illustrator) with Thames & Hudsons, titled The Colours of Home. It tells the story of a little girl who has moved from Australia to her parents home country of Korea. She misses her old home but finds comfort by discovering colours in nature and making connections between her two countries through colours.

This book is a good companion story to Nightsong (my second authored/illustrated book) which focuses on onomatopoeia (sound), while The Colours of Home explores the colours.

Furthermore, I have a book titled Footprint, written by Phil Cumming, set to be released on February 27, by Allen & Unwin. It’s a lyrical story that empowers children to think about the natural environment in a mindful and positive way.

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

SSH: This is a tough question as I admire so many illustrators. If I have to pick one, I’ll choose my recent favourite, Cecilia Ferri. I recently bought her book Now or Never in Korean edition (I normally collect English version, but I couldn’t find one for this) and I was in awe of how subtle her work is. The tones of colours work harmoniously, the clever use of composition, lines and expression are delicately portrayed.
A BIG thank you to Sally for talking me through her process! Tiny Wonders publishes TODAY from Bloomsbury Publishing!

Special thanks to Sally and Bloomsbury for use of these images!

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