WHEN a lecturer in polytechnic told her she would one day illustrate children’s books, Stephanie Wong refused to believe it. After all, that’s not really what a young aspiring designer wanted to hear. However, the 31-year-old has now illustrated four. The first was The Little Nightingale Who Can’t Sing, which was supported by the First-Time Writers & Illustrators Publishing Initiative (FTWIPI) by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) and the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) in 2005. Three instalments of the bestselling series, The Diary of Amos Lee, about the growing pains of an 11-year-old boy, followed. The latest of the three, I’m Twelve, I’m Tough, I Tweet!, was just launched in November.
Stephanie’s work has not been restricted to print. The Little Nightingale was adapted, with her inputs, into an animated short in 2007. It was screened on Singapore’s national broadcaster MediaCorp’s Kids Central (now okto) channel as part of Tales Alive, a print-to-screen series of original Singapore works that was supported by MDA.
Stephanie shares about her love for illustration.
What made you choose design as your career?
I came into design almost by default, mainly because I didn’t do well enough in other areas to consider different career paths. It didn’t help that I hated exams. Of course, I also believe design is essential. Through design I can create a visual utopia, reduce miscommunication, improve lives and even change the world. Illustration can also do the same things; it can inspire, make someone happy, bring words to life and communicate without language.
So how did you segue into illustration from design?
I use illustration to complement or enhance design when necessary. I was already illustrating for brochures, newsletters and so on in my design work. Illustrating for books was a natural progression. I’ve always been illustrating, but I love type and design, so why not enjoy the best of both worlds?
How did you get started in illustrating children’s books?
When NBDCS and MDA first called for entries for FTWIPI, my friend Angie Featherstone and I decided to apply for it. We had previously decided to do a book together if the chance arose. This grant was that chance, so we went for it and produced The Little Nightingale.
How much did the grant help?
All of the grant money went into the production of The Little Nightingale. Angie and I tried doing it on our own at first but it was too much to take on. The company I work for is both a design house and a publisher, so we approached my boss to publish the book. That gave me the freedom to work on it at work. If we didn’t get the grant, I might not be doing so much illustration work. There would be no Nightingale, and no Amos.
Speaking of Amos, how did that happen?
Both NBDCS and MDA have been very helpful in connecting authors and illustrators to one another. Adeline Foo, the author of the Amos Lee series, was also a recipient of FTWIPI. She approached me with the idea she had for Amos. She was looking for a publisher, so I put her in touch with my employer and I was assigned the illustration – that way, I was able to work on it during office hours as an official project.
What’s it like working with authors to illustrate their books?
Like with any other design jobs, we have discussions, sketches, edits, arguments, changes and sleepless nights. It’s teamwork and like in any good team, trust is really important. I trust that the author will put out a good storyline with an interesting voice; we trust that the publisher will give us the support needed; and the author and publisher can trust that I will put in 200 percent to make it work.
The Diary of Amos Lee has just seen its third instalment launched. What’s next for you?
I don’t make plans and prefer to live for the moment, because you don’t know what might happen. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be illustrating books and have kids writing me emails about how much they enjoy my illustrations. What I do hope, however, is that when I’m 60, 70 or however old, I’d still be doing what I like to do best – draw.