Charlene Chua's GOING UP!

I flipped over this sweet book about an eclectic group of neighbors gathering for a party. It's called GOING UP! by Charlene Chua. She stopped by to tell us more about it. 

e: What was your creative process/medium for UP!, can you walk us through it? 
Charlene: GOING UP! was mostly illustrated traditionally, with pencil, watercolors and color pencil. It was a bit of a departure for me as most of my previous books were done digitally. I wanted GOING UP! to be a looser, more playful book with many little details and I thought working with real media would lend itself better to that end. I actually did the very first roughs digitally, just to plan out what would happen on each page. Then I redrew everything with pencil on paper. I used cheap printer paper for this. (Before I switched to digital, I actually drew on printer paper for many years as a cost-saving practice).
The paper sketches were scanned and I used Photoshop to adjust them to the right size and placement. I printed out the sketches and then traced out each character individually. This was another departure from my usual as I usually work on a page as a scene. But to get everyone consistent for GOING UP!, I decided to paint each character separately. The painting was done with liquid watercolors (they are similar to colored ink), watercolor and color pencils on coldpress watercolor paper. Once all the paintings were done, I scanned them, touched them up and joined them together in Photoshop. 

e: What was your path to publication?
Charlene: GOING UP! is the... 13th? Picture book I have illustrated. At this point, I think my path to publication happens when art directors and editors at publishers see my previous work and decide to work with me on new books. 

e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story? 
Charlene: I had done an illustration of several characters in an elevator before the project started. One of these characters was a Black girl in a yellow raincoat. Everyone loved her and thought she would be great as Sophie, the main character. 

e: I love the diversity of the characters in this story, you’ve created such a rich world for your protagonist! 
Charlene: Thanks! GOING UP! is a celebration of diversity, and to me, how people can put up with personal discomfort (e.g squeezing into an elevator) so that everyone can experience joy (e.g birthday party!). Sherry J. Lee had some art notes in her manuscript to suggest a range of characters, and these were developed more between myself and our editor, Yasemin Ucar, and the team at Kids Can Press. I wanted to not only show a range of ethnicities, but also, a range of identities through the different characters. Each character doesn't get that much 'screen time' by themselves, so I had to try to suggest little things through their choice of clothing, or the gift they were bringing along to the party. I also wanted the book to be an opportunity for readers to learn to 'see'. A lot of times, people look, but do not see. This is important, because as we are aware, visual information can be very powerful in creating ideas and opinions. Learning to see things properly by looking more slowly and closely is a skill that I think needs to be cultivated and practised. In GOING UP!, I added small details where I could. I hope this encourages readers to come back and look through the book multiple times. And by doing so, I hope that readers will quietly learn the basics of truly seeing their world, as opposed to just looking at it.

e: I couldn't agree more! What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
Charlene: That's an interesting question. I don't really know? Perhaps it's personal context. Images that touch me tend to strike a chord inside, and sometimes I don't even quite know what that chord is myself. Some of the images I personally like have themes or subjects matter that resonate with me at some level. Others are harder to define; they still evoke an emotional reaction that I can't articulate. And perhaps that is what draws me to them; they articulate something that cannot be articulated in any other way. With picture books, the context is sometimes more clear, since all picture book illustrations accompany a narrative (with or without words). So an image may resonate in combination to what it relates within the story, and it strikes a chord with the reader/viewer. 

e: How do you advertise yourself (or do you)? 
Charlene: My agent (Tracy Marchini at BookEnds Literary) sends out promotional materials to publishers every now and then. Otherwise, I don't do any heavy marketing for myself. I post new work on my various social media accounts. 

e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator? 
Charlene: I like being able to work with authors and publishers to bring stories to life. I tend to see it as a puzzle to solve, and each book is different. So it is a privilege and joy to be able to work on creating illustrations for different books. As for challenging - money is always challenging! I do alright, but as a freelance illustrator, things can be quite uncertain at times. Like most freelancers, I often find myself with too much or too little work. 

e: Is there something in particular about UP! you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious? 
Charlene: I hope readers will enjoy the book enough to go through it several more times to spot all the small stuff scattered throughout the book. 

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project? 
Charlene: I will be working on a board book (the 2nd in a series of 3). I have a comic I am working on with my husband (that's not really for kids). I do have a few ideas of my own I would like to develop too if I have the time!

e: I can't wait to see them!

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