Interview with Billy Yong, debut picture book illustrator of MY PET FEET (with advice for young writers from author Josh Funk)
I’m honoured to have my blog included in the MY PET FEET Virtual Book Tour! I encourage you to visit the other stops along the way so far, including Imagination Soup, Simply 7 on Jena Benton’s blog, Cabin Reads, Librarian’s Quest, Unleashing Readers, Pragmatic Mom and Here Wee Read.
Billy Yong is an illustrator and character designer. Born and raised in sunny Singapore, he’s often found drawing, geeking over furniture with his wife, or trying to survive his daughter’s antics. He drinks way too much boba, even though he knows he shouldn’t. Visit him on Instagram and twitter @billyyongdraws, or his website: www.billyyongdraws.
When the letter R suddenly vanishes, a whole town goes upside-down in this side-splitting picture book of alphabet chaos that’s Can I Be Your Dog? meets P Is for Pterodactyl. A little girl wakes up one day to find that R, a vital piece of the alphabet, has vanished! Suddenly, she has pet feet instead of a ferret. Flocks of cows replace crows flying in the sky. Giant shoes (not shores!) live on the sandy beaches of her town. What could have happened to the eighteenth letter of the alphabet? Did it get lost—or stolen? One way or another, the town needs to be saved!
Q. Congrats on being a debut picture book illustrator! What was your journey to publication?
Thanks Debbie! It’s been such a privilege to be working with Josh, Kendra, Chloe and Amanda over at Simon & Schuster. Massive thanks also to Tammy and the team at Shannon Associates.
I started off wanting to get into the animation scene (still do!), but after taking a class on children’s books by Patrick Ballesteros and working on my first book, I’d found I rather enjoyed being an illustrator. There is a certain creative liberty with doing (almost) everything at once that makes the process that much more artisanal.
I’ve always leaned towards silly things. One of my earliest memories was picking and wearing a duck-faced umbrella hat when I was 7. No photos unfortunately, but there is this:
Another favorite of mine in recent years are these quirky sculptures seen around the King Albert Park subway station.
So imagine my excitement when I was offered the chance to work on My Pet Feet! Designing a ferret that turned into feet (among other things) was certainly up my alley.
Even though I struggled to figure out my style, Josh, Kendra and Chloe could see my sense of humor fitting into this. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Q. What was your illustration process?
I started off by sketching out the cast. My Pet Feet centers heavily around our main protagonists, so I wanted to explore their looks first. I loved that our main human was pretty nondescript, so that left a lot of room to create a cast of characters. I eventually settled on no.2, since her shapes felt quite a lot like our fe(rr)et, Doodles.
Next up, sketching the story.
(With lots of whacky ideas, comes a lot of nonsensical doodles. I promise there’s a method to the madness.)
When it came to laying out the pages however, my usual methods of working digitally lacked the grand overview and the bravery to push past mistakes. Ironic since the digital medium allows me to undo to my heart’s content, but that also means I don’t see my mistakes and move past them.
So, feeling stuck, I whipped out a giant A3 sketchpad with a sharpie and just went ham at it. No distractions, not even music in the background, just drawing at the dining table figuring out the flow and composition for Josh’s story. I think I managed to churn out the entire layout in 2 days because of this, haha.
(Initial doodles of the first couple of pages. When I liked a composition but didn’t like parts of it, I would paste a sticky note on top and just draw over it. It feels a lot more intuitive ideating like this compared to a digital drawing.)
This wouldn’t quite make sense to Josh, Chloe (art director) and Kendra (editor) though, so the next step was tidying up.
(I think the most important part about this sketch cleanup phase was not to be too married to the original sketches, so if it doesn’t work on cleanup, then it helps to go back to the sketchpad or just move on and revisit the spread.)
The most common back and forth was centered around Doodles’ (our FEET) design. From a foot-face, to a head on feet, ultimately to feet with a face, every interpretation brought us closer to what you see before you.
(Some of the final designs for Doodles (Feet). V.2 was the one we settled on at the end.)
Once that was settled, it was off to the races with the interior art.
Q. What interactions, if any, did you have with Josh during your process?
Josh has been great to bounce ideas off. He paints with words like an artist paints with a brush. Josh’s manuscript had just the right amount of clarity to give me a clear direction without getting bogged down by too many descriptions. That said, after the initial layout, I wanted to run things by him to see if there were little things he wanted to add to the story.
(Some rough ideas that didn’t make it to the final book.)
Q. What advice do you have for young illustrators?
Ooh. I hope I’m allowed to give a couple of them.
- Find what you love and try to put it into everything you do.
- Keep your eyes open to the world around you, there is so much charm and magic in every nook and cranny. Also, look up the works of those you admire and study them! You’ll grow in leaps and bounds the more you study/practice.
- When it comes to looking for jobs/representation, just shoot your shot. The worst answer they can give you is “No/not yet.”
- Lastly, exercise! Your meat shell needs care and loving attention. If you neglect your body, you’ll eventually find art-making much harder to do. So go out there and touch grass!
Author Josh Funk (who told me he LOVED Billy’s illustrations) was also kind enough to offer similar info for writers again when I asked:
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Write something that makes you laugh. Try to crack yourself up. Try to make your friends laugh – as long as you’re not making fun of someone. Try and think of another hilarious thing for Billy Yong to illustrate! I have the most fun thinking of silly ideas that give me fits of giggles – so much that I have to share those thoughts with others. And a pet turning into feet cracked me up good, so I ran with it (pun intended).
Now it’s your turn. Go cause laughter.
From Debbie: Tomorrow, check out Good Reads With Ronna for the next stop on the My Pet Feet Virtual Tour!
Also see my other Interviews With Book Creators (including Three Questions For Josh Funk and On Illustrators, Advice For Young Writers, Music and More and Behind-The-Scenes: How Pirasaurs! Was Created ) as well as Advice For Young Writers and Illustrators.