What does it take to be a book illustrator? We asked Fine Art America artist Eric Fan to share his knowledge and experience with creating book illustrations.
Eric Fan is a Toronto based artist with a passion for the whimsical and unexpected, a love of vintage art, clockwork contraptions, and pop culture collisions. He is currently working on his first children’s book with brother, Terry Fan, which is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2016. His agent is Kirsten Hall, at the Catbird Agency.
Eric Fan’s website http://www.krop.com/opifan64/#/.
1. How did you get into book illustration? How does the whole process work?
It’s all fairly new to me, actually, and I kind of fell into it by chance and happenstance. My agent, Kirsten Hall, was just starting her new agency (Catbird: http://catbirdagency.com/) and was looking for new artists to fill her roster. She happened to see my brother Terry’s work online and signed him as an artist. She then asked him if he had any ideas for children’s books, and he proposed a few ideas that we had come up with together, and also mentioned that we often worked together collaboratively. She presented one of our ideas to Simon & Schuster and they made an offer on it, which blew my mind because it was our first book proposal. Since we planned to do the book together, I was also signed to Catbird in lieu of the publishing contract. The book is due to be published in the Spring of 2016. I’ve attached a picture of the cover art, as well as another cover we worked on recently for Ali Benjamin’s upcoming book, The Thing About Jellyfish.
The Thing About Jellyfish
2. What do you like about book illustration? what type (genre) of books do you typically illustrate?
I work almost exclusively in the children’s book field; primarily picture books for young readers. Picture books appeal to me because I like the idea of telling a story visually. When you do a single piece of art it can also tell a story within that single image, but there’s something nice about extending that into a fully realized story with a beginning, middle, and end. I spent my thirties writing screenplays, so some of that love for visual storytelling has always been part of my make-up. Depending on the project, there’s also the challenge factor of bringing either your own story to life, or bringing someone else’s words to life. Every story has its own specific obstacles, and it can be rather terrifying, to be honest, but it’s the kind of terror that spurs creativity and invention, because you’re working against a deadline within a very specific matrix of obstacles you have to overcome. When I was a kid, picture books had a profound affect on me, so the idea of creating something that may inspire other kids growing up is really at the heart of why I love working on children’s books so much.
In addition to picture books, we’ve also worked on a few projects aimed at slightly older readers. The cover art for Ali Benjamin’s book,Â The Thing About Jellyfish (Little Brown, Fall 2015)Â was an exciting project because I really loved the story and it’s getting some very positive pre-release buzz.Â It’s aimed at young readers, but also adults, since the themes are quite mature, so it was something a little different for us. We also did the chapter decorations for a book called,Â The Book That Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark. It’s a terrifically fun book about time travel and overcoming prejudice.
3. What is the newest book project you are working on?
We just finished The Night Gardener, and have been putting together a proposal for a new book. We were also signed as artists for two other authored children’s books. They haven’t been announced publicly yet so I need to keep the details under wraps, but they’re both very exciting projects.
The Night Gardener
4. What in your opinion makes a good book cover?
I got my start in art doing t-shirt design, and I think it’s almost the same thing. A t-shirt is a moving piece of art and so it needs to ‘read’ very quickly, and be visually striking with a degree of simplicity, either in the message or the visual. In the case of a book cover, the art is stationary on the shelf, but the customer is moving, and so the same criteria applies. The image needs to be eye-catching and striking, and communicate something about the book very quickly.
5. Does Fine Art America or having your work online help in anyway with book illustration?
Like I said, both my brother and I were discovered by our work being seen online, so there’s a huge upside in licensing your art and selling it on print on demand sites because many agents and editors peruse these sites looking for new talent. It’s really revolutionized the playing field for artists in terms of getting their work seen and making important contacts. My career definitely wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t started selling my work online.