Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Taeeun Yoo

h1 November 3rd, 2009 by jules

This is undeniably backwards, but I’m here to talk a little bit today about a book I have yet to read. It’s called Only a Witch Can Fly (published by Feiwel & Friends in August), and it’s by the prolific and talented Alison McGhee. The illustrations were done by Taeeun Yoo, who has illustrated enough picture books to count on one hand, but whose work I very much like. Every time she illustrates a new title, I’m all over it. (I featured two spreads from Yoo’s The Little Red Fish way back in ’07, when 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks was but a wee babe. As I said then, that book is utterly captivating. And it has a CLOTH COVER, which for some reason makes me squealy.)

I’m eagerly awaiting my library copy of Only a Witch…. Crafted by McGhee as a sestina, it’s been met with rave reviews all around: “This sophisticated picture book is rich with imagination… More personal, quiet, and transcendent than most Halloween books…” from Booklist and “{t}he effortless quiet of McGhee’s words is beautifully matched by Yoo’s pictures — linoleum block prints done in rapturously moody greens and browns” from The New York Times, just to name two. (Plus, when Adrienne tells me a picture book is good, I know I’m gonna like it. And she very much likes this one.)

Sure, I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’ve seen Taeeun’s others, I am deeply in love with her style, and I think she’s going places. So, I invited her over for a breakfast chat. She’s the first illustrator-interviewee ever, I believe, who has politely requested her breakfast-of-choice while we talk: “I’d like to have strong coffee with cream and sugar and blueberry pancakes with a side of fruit, please.” Now, see? I like her even more. Courteous and knows how to have a good breakfast. Let’s get the basics from her while we set the table for our cyber-breakfast. I thank her for stopping by.

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Taeeun: Author and illustrator (but mostly illustrator, so far).

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?


{Ed. Note: Taeeun’s covers for the novels in the quintet are pictured at the close of this interview.}

Cover art for Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins (Square Fish, 2008)

A study for, a final illustration from, and the cover of Shirin Yim Bridges’
The Umbrella Queen
(Greenwillow Books, 2008)
(Click the middle image to enlarge slightly.)

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

{Ed. Note: Pictured here is one of Taeeun’s drawings.}

Taeeun: My first book was created using etching with aquatint — and hand-color only on the red fish and the red book. Now I use linoleum block print with ink on paper and sometimes pencil drawings on top of print. I also use Photoshop for color adjustments after finishing up the print part. For example, when I was working on…Only A Witch Can Fly, I did three colors (green, brown, black), oil-based ink block print, and I added the fourth color (orange) with Photoshop.

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Taeeun: I live and work in New York.

McNulty’s Tea & Coffee

Street Cleaner

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Taeeun: I studied brush painting in Korea. After finishing my third year, I took a year off and was seeking something that I would enjoy doing through my whole life. One of things that I did was travel to Italy and visited Bologna {Children’s} Book Fair. I was inspired so much and wanted to study more about picture book art. Two years later, I came to New York to attend SVA’s MFA Illustration as Visual Essay. Not only did the program help me a lot, but I was lucky enough to meet such wonderful, talented friends in the program. While I was in school, I was able to visit several publishers for portfolio review, and I also sent promotion cards to publishers regularly. At the end of the program, we had a thesis exhibition. My thesis project was The Little Red Fish (the thesis’ original title was The Book). After the show, I got contacted by Dial Books for Young Readers, and they published my thesis book, The Little Red Fish, a year later.

7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Taeeun: My website is And my new blog is I also have a digital print shop at Etsy:

Illustration for Ladybug magazine, March 2009

Illustration for Ladybug magazine, April 2007

7-Imp: If you do school visits, tell me what they’re like.

Taeeun: I’ve not done any school visits yet, though I would like to try some time later. Sometimes, I am more nervous to talk to children than adults.

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Taeeun: I just finished a picture book, titled So Many Days, written by Alison McGhee. This book is the second book with Alison, and it is going to be published by Simon & Schuster, Spring 2010. The book is about choices that children make as they grow up and how much they are strong, wild, brave, and loved. I am very excited with this book.

Mmm. Coffee.Our table’s set — strong coffee’s on, and the blueberry pancakes are ready. Time for our Q & A over breakfast…

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Studies from Alison McGhee’s Only A Witch Can Fly
(Feiwel & Friends, 2009)

Taeeun: When a new story manuscript comes to me, I take enough time reading it many times and imagining scenes and see if I can be connected. And once I decide to do the project, I carry the printed copy of the story everywhere to read over and sometimes draw small-idea sketches beside the story (in the subway, on the street, sometimes right at the moment when I am about to fall asleep at night…). These small drawings are where I start from.

Taeeun’s sketchbook (click to enlarge) and a drawing

When I work on the dummy, I often wander around some cafés with my sketchbook. This is the fun part — but also the hardest time. Once I collect enough drawings, I cut those little drawings and arrange pages. Recently, I started to put those pages on the wall and add images or take them out, as like I do a puzzle game. My drawings are pretty tight, even in my dummy. So when I work on final art, I blow the sketches to 100% of the book size, work more, and trace the image onto a linoleum block. And the most exciting carving work starts. Then, I print the image on paper, scan the print to reverse the image (since this is print from a block, the image is printed reversed from the original drawing), and adjust color, if I want.

A sketch and final illustration from The Little Red Fish
(Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007)
(Click to enlarge images.)

Sketches and final illustrations from Alison McGhee’s Only A Witch Can Fly
(Feiwel & Friends, 2009)
(Click to enlarge images.)

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Taeeun: I work at my house, which is mostly nice, but I often have to take myself outside for short walks. In my sunny room, I have my computer desk in the middle and my drawing desk near the window. I love to watch outside while I am working. Beside the desk are three tall bookshelves filled with my favorite books.

3. 7-Imp: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

{Ed. Note: Pictured below is one of Taeeun’s illustrations for Cricket magazine, July 2007.}

Taeeun: I was not a big reader when I was young, which surprised myself after I became a children’s book illustrator. I lived with my great grandmother, and I remember she gave me and my sisters night-time storytelling sometimes. I liked to imagine the scenes with my eyes closed, while I was listening to the story. And there was a whole series of folk tales from all around the world that my mother bought for us. It was a chapter book with black and white drawings, and only the cover had full-color illustration. I loved reading them, imagining each scene in my head.

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Taeeun: Peter Sis, Quentin Blake (I saw his work studio at his website, and I just wanted to visit his studio right away), Edward Gorey.

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Taeeun: Right now, I am listening to Lullabies and Nightsongs by Alec Wilder. I recently went to a private concert, and I was amazed by these songs. I listen to music from Pandora Radio a lot while I work. I like Glen Hansard and the Adele station.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Taeeun: I sleep A LOT when I am very stressed out.

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Taeeun: “Lullaby” (very musical to say).

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Taeeun: “Walrus.” (I practiced so many times, but I can never get the pronunciation right!)

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Taeeun: Coffee. A sunny day. A stormy day, too. Music. Good conversations with friends. And cupcakes.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Taeeun: TV. Worries on my mind. Bad food.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Taeeun: “Cheese and rice!”

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Taeeun: I love the seagulls’ sound. I live on the west side of Manhattan, and it is close to the the Hudson River. So, many seagulls are around my place, and I often wake up with their sound in the morning. And when there is a thunder storm, I feel so cozy at home with hard rain and the seagulls’ urgent sound outside.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Taeeun: Fire truck alarm sounds on the street.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Taeeun: Pilot, gardener.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Taeeun: Driver.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Taeeun: “Welcome to where you belong.”

* * * * * * *

Photo of Taeeun and all the illustrations, sketches and drawings, and book covers in this post are courtesy of Taeeun Yoo and used with her permissions. All rights reserved.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred. He was created by Matt Phelan, and he made his 7-Imp premiere in mid-September. Matt told Alfred to just pack his bags and live at 7-Imp forever and always introduce Pivot. All that’s to say that Alfred is © 2009, Matt Phelan.

23 comments to “Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Taeeun Yoo”

  1. Oh, MAN. I have the boxed set of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, but I want THESE. Oh, how lovely. It’s so nice to “meet” an illustrator who treats my favorite books with love.

    Also: LOVE the Pivot Question Man. I know you said you were going to use that guy, but he looks SO cool there.

    Also, too: Aquatint! I love it! It’s like watercolored… and stamping, blended together. I love the pigment, but also where it isn’t, if that makes any sense. The thing I love about these illustrator visits is what I learn. I feel like I KNOW a little about art now. (I can spell gouache. I won’t try saying it in public, but hey. Can spell. This is important.)

  2. Oh, LOVLINESS!!!

  3. Great interview and what beautiful work! I especially love hearing about the process an illustrator uses in picture book creation, and seeing early drawings that lead to their final images. So fascinating!

  4. Jules, I remember you raving about The Little Red Fish back in the day, and now I’m sorry I still haven’t seen it. That picture of the bookshelves with the lamplight and the single red book is the loveliest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Taeeun seems like someone we should hang out with, too. Love the curse word!

  5. Thanks for featuring this new-to-me illustrator. I do love her work — the Little Red Fish book looks amazing, and the L’Engle covers = swoon! Plus, blueberry pancakes and cupcakes. My kind of artist! 🙂

  6. Tae Eun is amazing. What a treat it is to see her lovely work in one space-especially her sketchbook!

    Thank you for sharing her with us~

  7. BIG fan of Ms. Yoo! Thanks for this, Jules. That whale drawing (print?) is blowing my mind.

  8. I just LOVE your work! I discovered it a while back (on ETSY actually…) and I have been a big fan ever since. You really inspire me…thank you so much for sharing! Great interview…and so happy to hear of all your wonderful work!

  9. Now I’ll be looking forward to So Many Days, and no WONDER she’s making such lovely art starting her days with blueberry pancakes and coffee.

  10. Great work! I just got to meet Taeeun a couple of weeks ago. I especially like her etchings!

  11. Has everyone seen that the NY Times just named ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY one of the 10 Best Illustrated Books of the year? Huge congratulations to Ms. Yoo!

  12. Yes, I saw that! Julie, I totally need to do a post about that list. It’s always my favorite list of the year.

  13. […] Witch Can Fly (Feiwel & Friends, August 2009), illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, who stopped by here last week to have breakfast with me. She shared one spread from the book and two studies, all pictured […]

  14. What a fantastic glimpse into the art and world of an amazing artist! Thanks.

  15. I appreciate so much Taeeu Yoo´s work,
    she´s so genuine!

  16. […] newest title, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo—who visited 7-Imp in November of last year—is called So Many Days, and in the words of Publishers Weekly, we […]

  17. […] {See also this interview on April 8, 2010, with Alison. It’s sprinkled with beautiful art from Taeeun Yoo.} […]

  18. […] read my blog at all, you know I second that. I mean, check out this page: There are galleries for Taeeun Yoo, Shadra Strickland, Jon J Muth, and more. The illustration junkie in me is […]

  19. […] (via Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Taeeun Yoo) […]

  20. […] 2009, author/illustrator Taeeun Yoo visited for a cyber-breakfast, and it remains one of my favorite interviews. Not just because her response to the Pivot question […]

  21. […] “‘He doesn’t stink,’ the girl adds. ‘No, he doesn’t,’ I agree.What if we start our own club?'”   I’ve got a review over at BookPage of Lisa Mantchev’s Strictly No Elephants (Paula Wiseman Books, October 2015), illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. […]

  22. […] another gorgeous, sweet picture book called Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, that comes out later this Fall. [Ed. Note: Here’s my 7-Imp post on the book.] I’m also […]

  23. […] […]

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