arts • 23 May, 2017
Kaa Illustration’s ‘The First Journey’ Published In Singapore
Local artists publish major illustrated book after competition win
Vietnamese artists Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien have published their first major work, The First Journey in Singapore after winning a major competition for Asian illustrators.
The book is the first the pair has produced through their company, Kaa Illustrations, which they founded in HCMC just three years ago after quitting their jobs and pursuing their passion.
Speaking to Any Arena, the pair tell the story of the book; from its origins as a traditional folk tale to the tentative first draft to the surprise win at the Asian Scholastic Picture Book Award in 2015 that led to a painstaking two years of reworking and redrafting.
What is your first book, ‘The First Journey’, about?
"The First Journey" is a story about a young boy called An who lives in South Vietnam. It tells the story of his first journey to school by himself during the Mekong Delta's floating season. Our inspiration comes from a story in "Huong Rung Ca Mau" by Son Nam. The story revolves around a son and his dying father who sail a little boat through the Mekong floods. It is such a powerful and beautiful story that we wanted to illustrate it in this book.
In late 2015, we entered the first draft and some colored pages into the Asian Scholastic Picture Book Award. The first draft won and we got a chance to work with Scholastic in Singapore to edit and complete it. After two years more work the book was published during the Asian Festival of Children's Content week in Singapore, and will soon be on sale in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam we worked with Kim Dong Publishing House and we expect it to be published in June or July.
Was publishing the book a difficult process?
Considering this is only our first book, we were incredibly lucky to have help from such a big publisher. The storyline has changed a bit to make it easier for those not familiar with Vietnam’s 'floating season' to understand. We also had to redraw and recolour the entire book until we were totally happy with it. We still think that the book could be better, but for now we’ve done our best.
What inspires you?
Mostly we draw inspiration from books, pictures, photos and movies, especially those from Vietnamese culture, as well as wild nature stories.
Who is your favorite illustrator?
Quang's favorite is Shaun Tan, who has published many famous picture books including 'The Lost Thing,' 'Rules of Summer' and 'The Arrival.' My [Lien] favorite is Mary Blair; a Disney concept artist who is behind Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
What is the best and worst thing about being an illustrator?
The best thing is that we can do what we love. It's like walking on air when our book, pictures or postcards come out and reach lots of people. The worst thing is when we get artist’s block; a hazard and bane of the job. That is when self-doubt creeps in and puts a break on our creativity. We have to try to relax to get through it.
After "The First Journey," what is next?
We want to develop our current illustration projects and, taking what we’ve learnt from publishing The First Journey, make them more professional. We have ideas for new picture books that focus on Vietnamese culture and nature. We hope that through our books readers will get a new insight into traditional life here in Vietnam.
Image Courtesy of Kaa Illustration
Words by Rebecca Jones