Quang & Lien
How and why did you decide to pursue illustration as your career?
I think just like other illustrators, we have always loved to draw things since we were children. However, choosing art as a career is never a good option, especially when you are living in a developing Asian country like Vietnam. Growing up, we tended to choose other subjects and put drawing aside, making it more like a hobby to please our parents. However, we still looked for other opportunities to become an artist. We met each other at an illustration studio when we were just two college students and eventually, 7 years later, here we are two illustrators working together!
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
We live together in Ho Chi Minh city, the biggest city in Vietnam. Lien was born in Binh Duong province, and Quang was born in Da Nang city.
Do you have a favourite picture book or recall one of the first picture books you saw?
Shaun Tan - the book ‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’.
We still remember the first time we read this book, it was like a mind -blowing moment. It was the first time we realized that picture books can look like that and we would say that Shaun is the main reason we chose this career. We have followed his artwork ever since and he continues to amaze us how he still manages to keep improving, that's been our biggest motivation.
Tove Jansson - I love how she creates her own worlds and hoe her characters feel so real and elegant.
Describe your working technique and how you came to perfect it.
Most of the time we spend struggling and crying (lol).
We usually sketch with pencil on paper, using black ink to create the line art for some pieces. Then we color it digitally. For some projects, Quang is one who sketches and draws, and Lien is the one who colors them. For other projects, we work separately. That's our general working process. In the beginning, we will imagine how the book would turn out and try many different techniques to decide which way is best. Sometimes the outcome is not always what we want, whereas other times we make it better than expected. However, that’s what makes it fun and helps us experience new things.
Do you keep a sketch book?
Yeah, we do. Or should we say, we keep a bunch of half-finished sketch books.
Which project has been most instrumental in developing your personal style?
The First Journey - or My First Day (its other name in the US), published for the first time in 2017.
This book really opened the door for us to step into a professional illustration career. And it also helped us realize what we love to draw the most: big scenery, spectacular views, splendic colours, nature vs human, etc...
What do you hope children take away from your drawings?
I hope they find joy and hope. There are books about sad stories and other difficulties in life, we appreciate that. However, we don't want to tell stories that sadden them, we hope that in any circumstances, children always find a way to live their life happily and full of dreams.
What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
We live in our home studio. Everyday we wake up by noon, make Vietnamese milk coffee, and start working until midnight. The working hours will be interrupted with other normal activities like making lunch or go out to have dinner, cleaning the house, feeding our cats, exercising or taking a walk, sometimes our friends may drop by. If our workload isn’t too hectic, we like to relax at night reading books, playing games or watching a movie together.
Take us behind the scenes and describe your studio / workspace.
We work in a small room with two tables and a book shelf in a small apartment.
Who is your favourite children’s book character and why?
Mowgli and all the other characters in The Jungle Book, especially Kaa the Rock Typhoon (we love this character so much that we chose his name to be our pen name, KAA).
They are the kind of characters that we love to create, strong and living an adventurous life , and they also show their respect to each other and have responsibility with their choices.
Have you taken part in any speaker events?
Yes, we have taken part in a few speaker events about illustration and picture books in Vietnam and Singapore. There was also one time we visited a high school to talk about our books.
Are you an author/illustrator?
Ahh...yes, yes we are. One picture book and one comic travel book still count, we think. We are still working hard to develop more picture books and hope to have those published in the future.
When you are not drawing, how do you like to relax?
When we are not drawing as a job, we will draw our own stuff to keep learning and help us relax. People always say that we should pick up another hobby, instead of just drawing all day! We like reading books and having movie nights, Lien loves to bake and Quang likes playing video games or Go chess. We still love going out with friends and family but it also takes a lot of energy. We are both introverts at heart!
How do you overcome a creative block?
We don't know, please tell us (jk). We think that a creative block is a thing that is unavoidable as long as you still want to improve your art skills. We just have to acknowledge it when it comes along and deal with it. Maybe take a step back and look at what you have made, a creative block only happens when your skill doesn’t match up to your expectation, it means your are getting better, it's not that bad.
Are there any children’s classics you’d love to illustrate and/or re-tell?
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
Andersen's fairy tales.
Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?
We have three cats, they are our children. We work hard so our cats have a better life.