Meet Joy Chu––former art director, graphic designer, and educator. She's going to be here next week, on Wednesday, April 20 for a special art/editorial event at our monthly meeting alongside two editors. For the full description of her visit details, click here.
(Interview by Tina Hoggatt.)
1. As an art director and educator you have devoted many years to books for young people. What was your road to working with children's books?
I've been working steadily in the book publishing field since college, always with trade books. It wasn't until I worked my way up to my fourth in-house publishing job that I began working exclusively on children's books.
From a very young age, I had every intention of becoming a children's book illustrator myself! When I got my first library card, I'd grab as many juicy picture books as I could muster. Story-telling images paved the way to becoming a voracious reader. Thank you, Wanda G'ag, Marcia Brown, and Eleanor Frances Lattimore, for enriching my childhood!
Being a visual person, I also coveted books that invited me to read its pages with greater eye ease — and noticed that certain publishers provided this consistently.
Immediately after art school and college, I spent a year organizing my portfolio. It was made up of 50% illustration, 50% mechanical skills (ruling pen and French curve exercises; numerous paste-ups — anyone remember those?). I went to my very first interview through a NY Times ad — and nailed my first job on-the-spot! It was for the Knopf division of Random House. What luck, to land at a house that prized fine typographic design, illustration, and bookmaking!
I progressed to two more publishing houses. Then I craved change. Relocated to San Diego.
Coincidentally, Harcourt uprooted and moved there a few months later, so I applied for work. It was like working for a start-up with a great backlist.
At that time, the children's list was tiny, so adult and children's titles were worked on simultaneously by the same design department, an atypical set-up. This was also the period computers elbowed into the publishing landscape. Color printing became both gorgeous and affordable! We took on greater risks by publishing new talent alongside award-winners. During the years I was at Harcourt, we went from printing 25 children's books a year to 250 a season!
I discovered that I loved working with artists! Coaxing the best out of them. Being their tech support. Artists sensed that I empathized with their process. And although I am not a book editor per se, I can think like an editor, and work well with them. It's like a beautiful dance ensemble, when you have artist, art director, and editor, moving in sync to the same melody!
Thanks to telecommuting and fax machines, I was able to start my own business from home, while raising my son. I've done free-lance work for 20 publishing houses — a smooth transition, since everyone used the same book printers and binders, the same computer software, and everyone in the business knew each other. Today those 20 houses are now 3 huge conglomerates.
2. Your talk will reflect the structure of a picture book and show how you organized an exhibit of illustrator artwork. How did you come up with this idea and how does it relate to an author or illustrator approaching their own work?
Leah Goodwin, education director of the Museum of the California Center for the Arts in Escondido knew that there was a throbbing network of published picture book creators in the immediate vicinity. She needed someone to bring the right ones together with a theme. But how? Janice Yuwiler, SCBWI San Diego RA, knew I was the consultant behind bringing both the traveling component of The Society of Illustrator's Original Art plus works by 26 local illustrators to the William Cannon Gallery in Carlsbad, California. She suggested approaching me as Guest Curator. Assisted by her amazing museum team, we filled a 9,000 square foot space with pure magic!
A picture book is like an intimate play. It opens with a setting, a main character, and supporting players. It highlights a premise with a beginning, middle, and ending. Putting together a museum exhibition featuring picture book makers is like setting up the most amazing chapter book you'll ever encounter.
Ours began with an introduction — Marla Frazee's kids from her not-yet-released book Is Mommy? running towards the grand exhibition hall , and throughout the exhibition space — and capped at the other end by a room featuring book trailers and interviews. And in-between, a story wall filled with illustrated stories by young students inspired by the show.
Every author and illustrator I contacted brought their own back story behind what they produced. I worked with them, allowing them to curate what to share with viewers.
In one section, we'd show one author's inspiration, or "aha moment" and the resulting prose verse. Then the illustrator's enactment, in the form of initial character sketches. Some worked with photo as reference; others created clay models. Others de-constructed the art layers from double-page spreads. A few even shared their works-in-progress. Having character studies up, midway through their project, became part of their process!
I will share examples at my presentation!
3. How did the Children’s Book Illustration and Writing extension program come to be at UC San Diego? Tell us a little about the program and your role in its design.
It evolved as the local SCBWI membership grew, as did the process behind creating the picture book. Program advisor Annika Nelson saw I was bringing something far more comprehensive, adding on real-life experiences from the publisher's perspective to children's book illustration instruction. Up until that point, it had always been taught purely from an art standpoint. My class has become the foundation class for children's book illustration at UCSD Extension. It set the groundwork for forming the Certificate Programs in Illustrating and Writing Children's Books. Two dedicated programs that overlap each other. As of this writing, they are adding intermediate art media classes just for illustrators, plus additional writing classes, including one for nonfiction picture books. It's all very exciting!