HomeBooks by AgeAges 4-8Illustration Inspiration: Julia Kuo, Illustrator of I Dream of Popo
Illustration inspiration Julia Kuo I Dream of Popo

Illustration Inspiration: Julia Kuo, Illustrator of I Dream of Popo

An Illustration Inspiration interview with Julia Kuo, illustrator of I Dream of Popo
The Children’s Book Review

Julia Kuo is a Taiwanese-American illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, Google, and Science Friday. Julia has taught illustration courses at Columbia College Chicago and at her alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis. She is the illustrator of Drawing Leaves and Trees: Observing and Sketching the Natural World, Katrina Goldsaito’s The Sound of Silence, Roni Schotter’s Go, Little Green Truck!, Melissa Gilbert’s Daisy and Josephine, 20 Ways to Draw a Dress, 20 Ways to Draw a Cat, and Everyone Eats.

I make art because …

It allows me to reflect some of the beauty I see in this world. Art is a means for me to tell stories of all types for all ages, whether that story is in a children’s book or paired with an editorial illustration.

I Dream of Popo: Book by Livia Blackburne
My latest published book is …

I Dream of Popo, written by Livia Blackburne and published by Roaring Brook Press this past January!

Art medium used …

Digital. I use Photoshop for everything unless a project calls for a style that is specifically analog. I Dream of Popo was completely digital, but the book I did before that, The Sound of Silence, was drawn in pen and ink and colored in Photoshop.

I Dream of Popo Illustration
I Dream of Popo, written by Livia Blackburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo (Roaring Brook Press, 2021)
The Sound of Silence, written by Katrina Goldsaito and illustrated by Julia Kuo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016)
Artistic process …

For books, I typically start by creating style samples that are loosely based on the story. These samples help me and the editor to make sure we’re on the same page as far as the visual language I plan to use. Next, I look at a paginated version of the manuscript and think big picture about the necessary visuals that should make it into the book. Depending on the story, that might mean environmental detail, or close-ups of the characters interacting. Then I’ll use sketches to map out the whole book, making sure to achieve visual balance throughout the book as well as a natural flow from page to page. The editorial team will give me feedback on the sketches, pointing out narrative issues, historical inaccuracies, or making notes about how certain images will print. Once we’ve got these sketches ironed out, I get to dig into the finishes and bring each image to completion!

Cover sketches by Julia Kuo for I Dream of Popo
Children’s books rich in culture are …

A gift to their readers! It was incredibly meaningful for me to share my own family’s story through I Dream of Popo, and to see readers identify with parts of the story through their own experiences. But I Dream of Popo is not only about Taiwanese culture; it’s about keeping in touch with loved ones who are far away, and that is a universal experience these days. It is invaluable for a reader to identify with a story that is represented by someone who looks different from them, or by someone with different family history!

I am inspired by …

Harsh, barren environments – especially snowy ones! I love seeing the smallness and fragility of my existence within nature.

My favorite place to create and illustrate is …

My humble studio space at home, which is really just a corner of our living room. I used to be a nomad worker for years, taking my laptop and tablet to different coffeeshops throughout the week. But my home setup got a little more involved and comfortable over the years, I adopted a dog who preferred that I stay at home, and I gradually grew out of the desire to move around every day.

My most used art supply or tool is …

My Cintiq! I held out and used a regular Wacom tablet (with no screen) for 10 years, but the Cintiq really has made digital drawing feel a lot more natural.

Illustrator idols are …

There are many, but I always marvel at the work of Eleanor Davis.

All-time favorite children’s books I didn’t illustrate …

Everest by Lisk Feng

A literary character to create art with …

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, because she would always have ingenious solutions to everything that comes up!

I’m currently working on …

I’ve just finished up I Am an American: The Wong Kim Story, written by Martha Brockenborough and Grace Lin. It’ll be published by the Little Brown team on Election Day, 11/2, which is fitting because the book is about birthright citizenship. I’m putting the last touches on the art for my debut children’s book, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, and only just getting started on a new book about bioluminescence!

I Am An American: The Wong Kim Ark Story, written by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin and illustrated by Julia Kuo (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2021)

To learn more about Julia Kuo, visit https://juliakuo.com/

I Dream of Popo: Book by Livia Blackburne

I Dream of Popo

Written by Livia Blackburne

Illustrated by Julia Kuo

Ages 4-8 | 40 Pages

Publisher : Roaring Brook Press | ISBN-13 : 978-1250249319

Publisher’s Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author Livia Blackburne and illustrator Julia Kuo, here is I Dream of Popo. This delicate, emotionally rich picture book celebrates a special connection that crosses time zones and oceans as Popo and her granddaughter hold each other in their hearts forever.

I dream with Popo as she rocks me in her arms.
I wave at Popo before I board my flight.
I talk to Popo from across the sea.
I tell Popo about my adventures.

When a young girl and her family emigrate from Taiwan to America, she leaves behind her beloved popo, her grandmother. She misses her popo every day, but even if their visits are fleeting, their love is ever true and strong.

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Discover more illustration inspiration and books like ‘I Dream of Popo’ written by Livia Blckburne and illustrated by Julia Kuo, on The Children’s Book Review by following along with our Illustration Inspiration series and articles tagged with Asian American Books, Books About Grandmas, Emigration and Immigration, Intergenerational Stories, Livia Blackburne, Picture Book, and Taiwanese Culture.

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