Taneeka Bourgeois-daSilva

Illustrator Interview – Alvina Kwong

Illustrator interview - Alvina Kwong


1. Tell us about yourself, your background, and/or your credentials and degrees.

I am an illustrator who loves to draw and paint! I started drawing since the time I held my first pencil. When I was little, I drew a lot of unicorns and horses. In my mind, unicorns were real! I carried my sketchbook everywhere I went because I wanted to capture all of the beautiful things I saw. In high school, I took Studio Art AP and in college I studied Illustration. I worked very hard in my college years to get to where I am now. When I graduated with a BFA in Illustration, my professor told me that I came in as the worst student, but graduated as one of the top few. That meant a lot to me because I worked so hard those years doing my best, and it finally paid off.

2. Tell us about the process of illustrating pictures for a novel. What inspires you?

When I receive the manuscript for a book, I read the whole story first. Then I talk to the publisher and ask them what their thoughts are on the illustrations and if there are any specific things they need in the illustrations. Then I go through the book again and decide (with the help of the publisher) which parts will be illustrated. Then I do some thumbnails of each illustration. Thumbnails are mini quick sketches of my ideas of the illustrations. Then I go through all of them with the publisher to see which ones will fit the best for the story. At the same time, I am working on the design of the characters. After we pick out the thumbnails, I go into more detail of the thumbnails. I also do a lot of research on the things that will be in the illustrations. For example, the illustration where Myrtle is in the lab, I had to find pictures of lab rooms and things that are found in a lab. That way I have a more accurate illustration to work from, even if my illustrations are stylized. Then I send the drawing back to the publisher for approval, and once they approve of it, I go to a final drawing. If it is color, I do several different color schemes and send them to the publisher for approval, then go onto the final color illustration. It is a long process, but each step is important so that the illustrations are done correctly.

A lot of things inspire me when I am working on illustrations. Some of the things that always inspire me are other great illustrators like Norman Rockwell, Frederick Remington, Howard Pyle, and Frank and Ollie (original Disney animators). I love Norman Rockwell’s details and Frank and Ollie’s animated expressions. They are also my reference when I am working on characters. When I visit different places like Chinatown, the beach, and going into my backyard full of pine trees, I get inspired. My personality shows in my work too. I’m a very happy and positive person, and I try to show that through my work.

3. Tell us a little about your first and latest book.

The first book I illustrated is called “The Magical Melting Pot” by Michelle Greenwald. It’s a wonderful multicultural family cookbook. It is filled with delicious recipes from famous chefs from around the U.S. who are of diverse backgrounds. I started this project when I was in high school, and finished it when I was at BYU. My first book’s illustrations consisted of pen and ink, and it was my first time learning and using Adobe Photoshop. It was a wonderful experience as I transitioned from high school art to college art. I learned how to use Adobe Photoshop to clone my illustrations so that I could make a pattern. It was much easier than drawing each object over and over again.

My latest book is called “Rock a Bye Baby in Hawaii” published by BeachHouse Publishing. This book is a spin-off of the song “Rock a Bye Baby”, using native Hawaiian animals in the lullaby. The illustrations in this book are done with Acrylic paint-medium viscosity. I learned about this medium in college through my favorite professor and mentor, Richard Hull. He taught me how to use this medium and how to make it look wonderful! It’s similar to watercolor, but stays vibrant and solid like acrylic.

Alvina Kwong illustrates children's books - Broccoli Chronicles and Rock-a-Bye Baby
Alvina Kwong illustrates children’s books – Broccoli Chronicles and Rock-a-Bye Baby

4. What insight would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Being an illustrator is hard work. All the great illustrators that I admire all worked hard in their jobs. And at the same time they loved it. To be successful, you must work hard, and never give up. There were many times I almost gave up. There were times when I was at school and thought I would not make it. To this day, I still work hard and never give up on my work. The illustration industry is a very tough industry. There are many many talented illustrators out there and everyday I have to compete with them. There are many days where I feel like giving up too. For the hundreds of postcards and emails I send to Art Directors, I might get 1 job from it. So it can be discouraging. But I keep going and remember to never give up. Besides talent, hard work and perseverance is what makes or breaks you. And you can’t take criticism personally. At the same time, I love my job and the people who I work with. And I love making new wonderful friends who are also illustrators. We may all be competitive, but most of us are kind and helpful to each other. The illustration friends that I’ve made over the years are some of my greatest friends who have supported and helped me in my career.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Illustration is an exciting and wonderful career. It’s my love and passion, and I enjoy it. I hope that when you see my work, it will bring a smile to you.

Where to find illustrators

Inspired by Alvina’s story? Get in contact with her!


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