On Artist Shortlists and The Floating Field

By Danielle Carnito, Art Director

Making a list of possible artists for picture books is standard procedure here. We make shortlist through searching for style, through thought, through discussion, through sharing top picks with the author, through Ooohs and Aaaahs and “Wouldn’t it be great if (insert famous illustrator name) could work on this book?” We — in this case designer Viet, editor Carol, and Art Director me — spend time carefully finding and talking through the many possibilities and narrow to shortlist of artists, whom I then start reaching out to with the illustration proposal.

And then sometimes, after all that careful work and thought, you get an email out of the blue with images from an artist that’s not even an artist promo and has nothing to do with anything you’re working on and you throw everything up in the air because in a second you know THAT is the person that needs to illustrate the book. THAT PERSON. Or, team.

Enter Nguyen Quang & Kim Lien, also known as KAA Illustration. And The Floating Field (Millbrook Press) by Scott Riley. And one of my favorite spreads from the book:

(This is just one. There were many favorite spreads. Pro tip: Add sea eagles for instant perspective)

I don’t really even remember what the email was about that put Quang & Lien’s work in front of me at the right time, just that it showed off their work perfectly — gorgeous color, landscapes, amazing perspectives, motion, and wonderful emotion in their people. The email came at just the right time to be a perfect fit for this picture book, when Quang & Lien had the time in their schedules to take on another illustration project. As the book is about a soccer team in Thailand, their proximity to southeast Asian culture and landscape was invaluable. And their knowledge of soccer (er, football) also so helpful. The perfect book team was formed.

Designer Viet was also thrilled to work with Quang & Lien on this book. I asked him to share a few words on his experience during the process, and also for his favorite spread, if he can pick one:

VC: As an Asian person and also as a huge fan of soccer, I was excited and grateful to have the opportunity to work on The Floating Field. I had heard the story of Prasit Hemmin and the start of Panyee FC before, and to be able to work on an illustrated picture book about it was a dream project for me. A book about a group of Asian boys that loved soccer? They were just like me!

Searching for artists to work on a book is one of my favorite things about my job, and I especially love when I’m able to find a Vietnamese artist.

When I looked through Quang and Lien’s work, I saw their book The First Journey, and instantly knew I wanted them to illustrate The Floating Field. Their depictions of environments in Asia were beautifully illustrated and colored, and their characters are so full of life. I was incredibly happy that they agreed to work with us. I told my family that I got to work with Vietnamese artists for this book and showed them Quang and Lien’s work. My parents loved seeing the familiar settings they grew up in. The trees, plants, water, and even the animals were nostalgic to them.

Working with Quang and Lien was a joy, and we even exchanged pleasantries in Vietnamese which was fun and exciting to do. Seeing their sketches come in and seeing how all the characters looked exceeded all of my expectations. My excitement for working on this book really did not stop for the entire ride. I loved seeing characters that looked and acted like me, and choosing seemingly small things like which World Cup game to display on the TV. There’s even a durian in the background on one page. 

All of the art and the story itself is incredibly beautiful, and I feel lucky that I got the opportunity to design it. 

Click here for more Behind the Scenes on the Lerner Blog!

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