2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Ying Hui Tan

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

Ying Hui Tan is a Malaysian Chinese illustrator. Born in a small town, Teluk Intan, she graduated with a degree in 3D Animation at the University of Hertfordshire and currently living in Reading, U.K. She spent the first few years working as a concept artist for games and cartoon series then she decided to become a children’s book illustrator. 

She loves storytelling and giving ideas while working with talented people. Her favourite parts of creating her artwork are mixing colours and experimenting different lighting setup for her scenes. 

Tan’s dream as a children’s book illustrator is to spread positive energy, thoughts and happiness to another because she believes everyone is born kindhearted and have a choice to forgive and help another. 

Tan spent her free time traveling with her husband and camera, eating local food, taking good photographs and meeting local people or just staying at home watching classic old films, listening to oldies and cooking new dishes. Tan loves animals especially whales, dogs, dragon like reptile and dinosaur, she wanted to adopt a dog someday.

Congratulations on having your illustration Dreamer Whale selected for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery. Dreamer Whale will be displayed by SCBWI at the prestigious Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What inspired Dreamer Whale?

Thank you, I am thankful for being selected as a finalist and taking part of this interview. I always fond of whales, especially blue whale. They are the biggest living thing yet they are so gentle and elegant, they can sing too! I don’t know how to swim but I always imagine myself swimming closely with them just like a kid having a dream.

Your career as an artist has included many fascinating achievements from working as a concept artist for games and cartoon series to 3D animation and now children’s books. 

How do these experiences influence your current projects?

Those experiences help me see my art differently, making a children’s book is like building a 3D world for me, everything has to start from scratches and find the connection between them. Since I left the games and animation industry, I always start from a story before I creating a character or a scene. I don’t like to paint without my soul and feelings, so having a background story really helps me to stay excited of making the scene looking right to tell the story.

Being a children’s book artist is really fun because I can be a director and photographer at the same time, the biggest challenge is using limited frames to tell a story and make each page / frame counts.

As a woman from a small town in Malaysia who now lives and works in Reading, U.K., do these experience inspire your art?

I have been living in the U.K. for more than five years without my family and friends. I never felt this loneliness and emptiness before. What I could do to help myself is creating and imagining happy and beautiful things to keep me going.

You mention on your website that it was your love for Japanese anime that got you started drawing. 

Did you first draw your favorite characters? Or did you create your own stories?

I drew my favourite characters at first because I didn’t know I can draw, then soon I started creating my own stories, it was more fun to create my own.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new book called JoyN’TheVoid, a book to help children opening their mind and feelings towards happiness and helping another.

What advice do you have for artists just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

Good things will come eventually after loads of hard work, always have faith in yourself and keep trying!

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie
(Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a
Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social
Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.