Il Sung Na
December 2020 Featured Illustrator
Il Sung Na was born in Seoul, South Korea. In 2001, he moved to London to pursue a BFA in Illustration and Animation at Kingston University, where he discovered a passion for children’s books. Spending much of his spare time perusing book stores, Il Sung realized that he wanted to be like his new favorite authors and tell his own stories. He began trying out illustration with various materials – which was a phase of great trial and error!
Since those days of experimentation, however, Il Sung has published several books, some of which have gained acclaim with Kirkus starred reviews and recognition in prestigious book lists. Currently based in Kansas City, Il Sung spends time teaching illustration courses and working on new books. In his downtime, Il Sung hits the flea markets to expand his collection of old and interesting items, which he then takes home to show off to his wife and small dog.
How did you get started in illustration? What is your background?
When I was in my foundation year at Kingston University in London (2002-03), I got lucky and met a friend who was really into picture books. We spent countless days in bookstores, reading and talking about books and illustrators, which made me want to make my own picture books. I made countless trials and errors during my time pursuing my Illustration degree.
I was lucky to get my senior thesis project published in the UK, Zzzz: A Book of Sleep (published in the U.S. as A Book of Sleep). Maybe the word ‘lucky’ cannot explain the whole thing, but that’s how I felt – lucky enough to meet the right people at the right place at the right time. I have been writing and illustrating picture books ever since. I lived in London for 8 years and moved back to my home city, Seoul for 5 years until I decided to move to the U.S.
Now I am shifting more to an all-digital medium, which I used for my most recent books. But I still love using traditional mediums and still enjoy using colored pencils, markers and inks in my practice.
How did your style and technique develop?
It has been evolving in a good direction. There was a time that I felt stuck with a certain visual language, but it kept evolving ever since I started drawing. The more I draw, the better I see and the more I see, the more I draw. I think this is ongoing learning. I learn new things every day and get inspired by other artists. Curiosity keeps me moving.
For illustration, thumbnail sketches are the most challenging stage for me. Probably the first and second thumbnail sketches are the most difficult parts for me, as it is all about planning.
I would love to break some rules that we keep for book formats. It can be different binding/different format, it can be about the gutter or it can be unusual themes for picture books.
Do you have a favorite book(s) from your childhood?
I don’t remember reading many books when I was a kid. I do remember one book I read many times though –The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Then I read many more picture books after I went to college.
How did you get signed with Painted Words?
I had a couple of bad experiences with my first and the second agency while I was in London. After that, I worked alone without an agency for 6-7 years. It worked out ok. Even though I moved to the U.S., I still had a good relationship with Knopf. But I wanted to try an agent again, so I asked my editor at Knopf and an illustrator friend for suggestions. It was interesting as they both recommended Painted Words. So I met the founder, Lori Nowicki, and we exchanged our passion for picture books. Then it was an easy decision to join them.
Do you have any art supply-type tips you can share with us?
Paint, paper or software that you love, a favorite art store or website to buy supplies or a new product that you’ve tried, etc.?
I don’t typically buy many materials but I just use things available to me. But sometimes, I find things at https://www.jetpens.com They have various pen selections as well as brushes.
Any words of advice for those just starting out in illustration?
What do you wish you would have known sooner in your author/illustrator career?
See more and draw more. Being an illustrator is lifelong learning. Be curious and keep asking questions. When you find an answer, it can become your story and your book. Keep your dreams alive and make your beautiful idea grow.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming book releases we should be on the lookout for?
I just finished two books. It was my first time illustrating other author’s stories. It was fun and also different.
My Tree by Hope Lim will be out in Spring 2021 with Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House. The story is about a boy who recently arrived from Korea and finds a plum tree in his new backyard. It reminds him of a tree his family had back home and it becomes his tree. Hope Lim brings her perspective on the struggle for child immigrants to feel at home to bear through spare and poetic text.
Wild Peace by Irene Latham also will be out in 2021 with Roaring Book Press/ Macmillan. It is about a girl who escapes a hectic world by stepping into the forest where woodland creatures teach her about peace. I am also working on a couple of story ideas but they’re not solid yet. It always takes time to get to the point where I want. Hopefully, I can shape and polish them soon.
Previous Featured Illustrators
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Sandra Ure Giffin is an author and illustrator. Her creative work depicts our relationships with each other and our planet. She lives in St. Louis, MO. instagram.com/sandraugriffin
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John Hare is a picture book author and illustrator. His latest book FIELD TRIP TO THE OCEAN DEEP comes out Sept. 8, 2020. He lives in Gladstone, MO with his wife and two boys. john-hare.squarespace.com
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Violet Lemay has illustrated nearly 40 books for children, several of which she also wrote. Her husband’s job as a PGA teaching pro has taken her family all over the world. Her family lives in the St. Louis area, so Missouri is Violet’s home base. violetlemay.com
Morgan Hutcherson is an illustrator, graphic designer, and author. Morgan is currently enjoying first-time-homeownership in Maplewood, Missouri with her rescue Corgi Scout, and her long-time boyfriend, Rutger. morganhutcherson.com
Dayne Sislen has enjoyed a career as an art director and an instructor in Design Graphics and Illustration at Maryville University. After retirement, she reinvented herself as a children’s book illustrator. Dayne lives in St. Louis with her husband Don and their wee Scottish Terrier, Ghillis. daynesislen.com
Stephen T. Johnson is an author and illustrator of many children’s books, including ALPHABET CITY, a Caldecott Honor and a New York Times Best Illustrated book of the year. Look for his upcoming book MUSIC IS, which is slated to be published in the fall of 2020. stephentjohnson.com
Heather Hatch is a writer and illustrator. She teaches art classes and volunteers on the board of her local art museum. She lives with her family on an Ozark, Missouri farm with a Big Red Barn and a chicken-coop-turned art studio.
K.L.B. Barsotti (Kate) is a writer and artist specializing in illustration for children, special commissions, fiction (middle grade and below), and poetry. Kate lives in downtown Kansas City, Missouri with three cats, a bundle of rats, her husband and father. snawfus-tracks.com
Jeanne Conway has written and illustrated many children’s picture books. She has also been an art teacher in elementary and secondary schools. Jeanne lives in St. Louis, Missouri. jeanniespaintings.com
Polly Alice McCann is an author-illustrator, critical writing professor and managing editor of Flying Ketchup Press. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. pollymccann.com
Joe Mohr is the author/Illustrator of ROBOT+BIKE=KITTEN: 34 OF JOEM’s POEMS. He is also a cartoonist, dad, hubby and bicycle lover. Joe lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and three kids. joemohr.com
Daniel Wiseman is the Illustrator of over 16 children’s books. Daniel also hosts a podcast with his friend Rob Bennet called REMOTE with Rob & Dan about working remotely. He lives with his wife and two sons in Knoxville, Tennessee. danieldraws.com
Lisa Harkrader is the author of many children’s books, including the award-winning middle grade books AIRBALL: MY LIFE IN BRIEFS and THE ADVENTURES OF BEANBOY. She lives with her family in Kansas. ldharkrader.com
Lynn Alpert is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She can usually be found reading, writing or drawing in St. Louis, Missouri, where she lives with her husband. lynnalpert.com
Kathy L. Perry is an author, illustrator, speaker and publisher at Chicadee Words. A former elementary teacher, Kathy still wants to make a positive impact in today’s youth. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. kathyjperry.com
Ed Koehler is an illustrator living in St. Louis and working nationwide, primarily for the Christian publishing market, creating art for children’s books, curriculum, activity books, and a variety of kid-friendly products. edkoehler.com
Kim Wilson is an illustrator, designer, artist and writer. She runs the Dittmer ArtBarn, which offers year-round art classes for children and adults. Kim lives just outside of St. Louis in Dittmer, Missouri. kimwilsonillustration.com
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Maja Anderson creates illustrations for greeting cards, apparel, gifts, home decor, memory keeping albums and books. She lives in the Kansas City area. majaandersen.com
Deborah Zemke has written and/or illustrated more than fifty books for younger readers. These include picture books, chapter books, drawing books, early readers, and humor books. She lives in Columbia, Missouri. deborahzemke.com
Phyllis Harris is the illustrator of over 35 Children’s Books. In recent years she has focused more on her writing as well as illustrating picture books. phyllisharris.com