If you haven’t heard the name Dow Phumiruk or seen her illustrations yet? You’re in for a treat!
I was delighted to meet Dow in person in LA at the SCBWI conference in 2018. Dow Phumiruk lives near Denver, Colorado, with one husband, three daughters, and an assortment of small pets, but, alas, no monsters. Fortunately, she still gets plenty of hugs! As a child, Dow moved to the United States from Bangkok, Thailand, and eventually fulfilled her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Years later, she fulfilled a second dream when she began illustrating children’s books, including Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker and Maya Lin by Jeanne Walker Harvey. Hugsby is her author-illustrator debut and it’s book birthday is TODAY! YAY! You can learn more about her at her website.
“Hugsby” is a delightful picture book that will give readers everywhere much needed warm fuzzies. I mean, what can be more adorable than a monster who loves to give hugs? Am I right? Little Shelly loves Hugsby, but when it’s pet monster show-and-tell day, she’s not quite sure Hugsby’s hugging is a good enough skill. This is a story that will tug at your heart strings, while the illustrations will make you giggle endlessly. This is a book that will be revisited often!
Me: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic journey? When did you start drawing and/or painting? How did that lead to where you are now as an illustrator?
Dow: I’ve always loved to draw, and in childhood I doodled cartoon characters and enjoyed art class in grade school. But I put it aside in adulthood for a more practical career. When my children were very young, being home with them led me to rediscover my love of creativity. I started drawing again on a regular basis in 2002, and my art really grew exponentially after joining SCBWI in 2011. And I am still learning!
Me: You have SUCH a distinctive digital style. How did you discover that? Was that the same illustration process that you used for this book?
Dow: I feel like I had to “get it all out of my system” before finding my style! In other words, I would experiment in drawing in different styles, learn new techniques for lighting, palette, and composition, and fine tune my ability to draw anatomy accurately before I settled down with what has grown to become a style. I started with digital art in 2011 and found the freedom to head off into any direction with my art, with the ability to erase and save at one stage of a piece while diving into different colors or layouts in the next stage. I could come back to the earlier saved version if further attempts didn’t work out. Sometimes I have ten or more versions of an image saved before I decide which path to go down for final art! It really has been an evolution of style – through trial and error – as I incorporated what I learned along the way. The art for Hugsby is me in my natural drawing state – that is, it’s what I’ve settled into as my style digitally. So, I had less trial and error in achieving the final art. It’s so me!
Me: This story is so fun and endearing. You’ve created a world where monsters are pets. What gave you the idea?
Dow: There are definitely other books out there where children have pet monsters, so I could’ve been subconsciously influenced by any number of them when I started this project in 2015! But I thought it would be fun to illustrate colorful, imaginative creatures of all types as pets, which would be a great exercise of imagination. I don’t recall exactly where the idea came from. Though, I do remember reflecting on the fact that some people thought Sesame Street would never work, because monsters would be too scary and unappealing for kids. Perhaps they opened the gateway for all books for children with monsters – as friends or as pets.
Me: How did you conquer the cute monster cute battle? These “monsters” are adorable! There are SO many to love (in both the end papers and in the story itself). HOW did you do that?
Dow: Ha ha, thank you!! The original monster wasn’t so cute! He was modeled after our pet bearded dragon. He was green and scaly with ear pits and sharp claws! What was I thinking! The final design of Hugsby is much more preschooler-friendly. I learned from author/illustrator Will Terry at one of our local Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI conferences that generally, rounder shapes are perceived as unintimidating and kind, while angular features are often associated with a harsh character. So, Hugsby is all round and soft, as are most of the monsters in the book. The pastel palette used also makes for a friendly and soothing environment for readers. And thank you for pointing out the end papers – that is my favorite spread in the book!
Me: I love those cameos on the end papers! They might be my favorite part too. This is your author-illustrator debut. Which was harder: writing the story or illustrating it? Why?
Dow: Hands-down, the writing! I don’t feel like I have as many instincts in writing as I do in my role as an illustrator. And this is probably why this book took me so many years to polish into a publishable project. I am very fortunate to have had help from many thoughtful friends: critique group buddies, the Penguin Posse critique group (that I won from KidLit411: all seven of their group reviewed my dummy!), my friend and fellow 2013 Emerging Voices Award winner Jennifer Baker, my agent, an editor from another publishing house who was interested in the project but had to pass, and of course, my wonderful editor Tracy Gates at Viking Books for Young Readers. Many versions later, this book is at its best!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?
Dow: I think it is here, at this near-publication moment. It’s the fact that I did it! I’m still amazed that Hugsby will finally be a book. There is more joy in this fact than I expected, which is a wonderful surprise. I might cry when I receive my author copies. I can’t wait to share him with the world. After all, he’s already five years old!
Me: Aww! I can’t wait for him to be released into the world either. Any advice for other aspiring picture book writers and/or illustrators?
Dow: Keep working on craft. Your work needs to be of marketable standard quality or close. And when it is, put it out there, and then move on to the next project so you aren’t just waiting around! Put yourself out there, too, into the writing and illustrating community. It’s part of connecting with others who share the same goal: to change the world for the better with our creative work for children. Then… one day, a little luck will land the right eyes on your work to take it on to publication.
I love that Dow! Thank you so much for stopping by my blog. Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this book, you’ll want to get a copy as soon as possible. This is a monster who will grab territory in your heart and never let go. This is also a perfect example of how to make a character cuddly, charming, and alive with personality! You will not want to miss this one.
AND as a special treat, you can join Dow today at her virtual book launch: