Illustrator Spotlight: Dow Phumiruk

© Dow Phumiruk

Jan. 30, 2015

Today we introduce the multi-talented illustrator, Dow Phumiruk.

Tell us about your background and how you came to children’s illustration.

First of all, I am so happy to be part of Kidlit411's Illustrator Spotlight! Thank you for having me!

It's taken me a while to get here. I loved drawing my own cartoons and stories when I was young, but art wasn't taken seriously in my family. I put it aside and became a doctor. It wasn't until I spent time as a stay-at-home mother in 2003 that I rediscovered my love of art, specifically children's book illustration.


© Dow Phumiruk

I dabbled on my own for a while, getting nowhere fast, until I joined SCBWI in 2011. I quickly realized how valuable membership is! Being a part of a creative community has completed who I am. I've developed friendships with fellow artists who have the same passion I have. I've learned tons from experts in the industry at conferences. 

Before SCBWI, I thought the ability to draw was a fixed and finite talent - you either could draw or you couldn't. I see now it's like any craft; study and practice yields inevitable growth. So I make time to draw just about every day to reach my artistic potential, and I love it.


I first learned about you last year through Kathy Temean’s Illustrator Saturday interview and was interested to learn that you made your beautiful illustrations using Photoshop Elements. Are you still using PSE as your main illustration tool?

Kathy has a great blog - especially her Illustrator Saturday posts! Soon after that interview, I decided to try Photoshop CS6. It took a few weeks of playing with it to figure out what I had been missing. The better selection tools and warping feature are so handy with CS6. Everything seems to work faster. I have an easier time playing with lighting and contrast. PSE was a nice, less expensive way to get started in digital art, but I'll never go back! Also, as far as additional important illustration tools, I am still on my Wacom Intuos4 tablet. 


© Dow Phumiruk

Can you share your illustration process with us? 

Sure! Here's a recent drawing I did for Illustration Friday. The prompt was "toy." I wanted to create an intriguing image, so I decided to draw a little girl who finds a doll lost in the forest. She wonders who has left it behind. It's very mysterious.

I start a loose background. I use the airbrush at 40% opacity for most sketching. Next I start drawing the girl on a new layer. My daughters are my models, and I have chosen two photos for reference (one from a trip to the beach, and another taken on the spot). I sketch the overall shape of the girl, then I zoom in and work on details.


I use the warp tool to make adjustments to the face, stretching and warping what I've drawn until I like it. 



I turn the drawing sepia (by choosing the sepia filter instead of the default in the hue/saturation adjustment layer) for my underpainting.

As an intermittent exercise, I look through hundreds of images that I find appealing and look for common threads that make them appear beautiful to me. Each time I do this (by looking through images on Pinterest boards or in books), I try to find a new link between them to incorporate in my next illustration. This week I appreciate how the sepias achieve a warm look in many of my favorite images, so I give it a try.




I flip my picture horizontally several times during the course of drawing to catch any errors in shape or perspective. It tricks my brain into thinking it's a brand new picture, and I can catch errors more easily. I clean up details of her arms, legs, clothes, and the doll.



It's time to add color, yay! I "multiply" my layers before coloring over them (I only have two layers: the girl and the background). Then I decide I want the trees to curve in towards the path, so I select the trunks and use the warp tool again to bend them. I add details to the tree trunks, branches, and leaves. Using the brightness/contrast adjustment layer, I make lots of little changes to intensify colors. Up until now, I've had only one version of my picture saved. From this point on, it spawns multiple life forms! I make tiny changes and start saving each version, because I don't know which I'll like best (there are probably 6 JPEGs by now, with different degrees of contrast and saturation).



I finally achieve my final desired palette, a little dark to fit the mood of the image. I also decide that the doll should be red for a nice "pop."
© Dow Phumiruk


I think I'm done. Then I have a sudden urge to change her outfit to fancy. I sketch a rough poofy dress. By now there are about 12 versions (I start to get a headache!). I've lost all rational and objective thought about my drawing, so I recruit the help of fresh eyes from my critique group friends for direction. They like the original version better (mostly because it's more interesting to see the girl's legs and feet anatomy instead of just a poofy dress). I post that version to my blog, portfolio, and Illustration Friday. I continue to work on the fancy version for fun.

© Dow Phumiruk

Thanks, I picked up some great tips just now (rotating the image!). Are you still working part time as a physician? How do you juggle it all?

I find solace in knowing that I am not alone; so many of us juggle to find time to create! I am fortunate to work just part time. I basically take care of what needs to be done (for my family, my work, and my health), and with what's left I work on art. 


© Dow Phumiruk


Starting later in life as an artist, I've been playing catch up. Almost all my free time is spent illustrating, learning about the industry, or getting my work out there. I don't really get out much. That's probably one of the reasons I find SCBWI conferences such fun - I'm out socializing with friends in the industry! When my schedule gets overwhelming, I close my eyes to long-term goals and get through one day (or one drawing) at a time. Oh, when I'm busy, I make lists, so I can check things off when they are done!


What projects are you working on now?

I've got some dummies-in-progress. My latest story is about a girl named Dolly who brings her monster to school for Monster Show-and-Tell Day, but she's worried about what her friends will think of him. Dolly soon learns that even though Sparkles is not like other monsters, he's just right for her - and that's all that matters. I'm planning to submit this dummy for the Penguin Posse critique pack I won through Kidlit411's birthday bash!! Hooray!


© Dow Phumiruk


Also, I draw a weekly picture for Illustration Friday. I try to interpret the prompts so that the exercise is useful: perhaps it's something I've never drawn before, or perhaps a loose interpretation can work for one of my dummies. Some of these pictures end up in my portfolio. This week, I have to figure out, "passion." Hmm...

Lastly, I've just started thinking about what to submit for the Don Freeman grant for illustrators this year. I enter every SCBWI contest I can!


Who or what inspires you?

I really love nature and animals. For exercise as well as inspiration, I ride my bike on a trail behind my house often. I say hello to deer and birds and watch the landscape change with the seasons. While I ride, I work stories out in my head.


© Dow Phumiruk


What is something most people don’t know about you?

Now that's a fun question! I have four answers.

1. I love super soft socks that are fuzzy on the inside.

2. My name means "star" in Thai.

3. I have a tendency to hoard things like art supplies and fabric.

4. I recently learned to ride my bike with no handlebars!*  
           *under ideal weather conditions, at zero incline, and less than 400 yards

Wow, now I have no secrets!


And just to make sure you have no secrets… where can we find you on the internet?

I'm also on Twitter and Instagram.




Dow Phumiruk is a pediatrician who has found her passion in children's book art. She works digitally, and her favorite subjects are children and animals. She has two main styles, which she categorizes as "Fancy" or "Fun." In 2013, she won the SCBWI On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award for the dummy of her new Asian fable, MELA IN THE JUNGLE. She hopes this award will lead to publication one day soon! Dow lives in Colorado with her husband, three daughters, and several small pets (including a really cool bearded dragon). She also enjoys sewing and limited mountain biking.

28 comments:

  1. Although I'm not an illustrator, I enjoyed learning about Dr. Phumiruk's process. What a beautiful use of light!

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    1. Thank you, Sydney! Please call me Dow! :)

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  2. I'm finding every place I can to say thank you again for having me here, Sylvia!

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    1. Thank YOU for sharing your beautiful art with us.

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  3. Yay! Dow is such a wonderful artist. I love the interview and the artwork!

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    1. Thank you so much Jill! I really enjoy your work, too! :)

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  4. What incredibly beautiful art! Dow may not be a practicing doctor anymore, but I think she is healing our spirits with her creations. :) And it's good to know someone else who also hoards fabric and art supplies. LOL!

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    1. Teresa, I thought of you when I read that part of the interview.

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    2. Thank you for the kind words, Teresa. I love that you enjoy fabric and art supplies like I do!

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    3. Sylvia, LOL! I've gotten that reputation already, eh?

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  5. Sweet interview with gifted and hard-working artist, and a truly lovely person! Yay, Dow!

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    1. Thank you, Julie! Right back at ya!! So glad to know you. :)

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  6. Dow and Sylvia, what a fabulous interview! Dow, thank you so much for being featured in our spotlight. You are so talented and your illustrations are truly breathtaking!

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  7. Elaine, I am so honored to be part of this growing collection of fabulous (and mostly well-established) illustrators. Thank you and Sylvia for believing in me.

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  8. Amazing interview and beautiful (and fun-monster) illustrations! You are so talented! The lucky writer who is paired with you to illustrate their work will be very blessed! And I look forward to reading your author/illustrator work , as well. Thanks for sharing so much with us!

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    1. Hi Carrie! Thank you so much! You've made my day!

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  9. Dow, beautiful art that is full of emotion and story. Thank you for sharing your process!

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    1. LJ, I am happy you like my work. Thank you!

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  10. Dow!!! What a great article!! You continue to amaze me with your stunning art!

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    1. Thank you for stopping by to say so, Leslie! :) I appreciate it!!

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  11. Another wonderful interview. Loved the insight into your process, Dow. Will have to incorporate the warp tool a bit more, and play with that. Beautiful artwork!

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  12. Yvonne, I am so glad you found that helpful! Thank you for reading.

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  13. There's such a magical quality to your art! And it was such a treat to see your step-by-step process. Best of luck to you in illustration!

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  14. Thank you Sandy! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  15. Dow - you are so amazing! I'm proud to say I knew you when... :) I loved reading about how you work through your process!!

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  16. Hi, Kate!! I am glad we've been friends all this time. Thank you for dropping by to read my interview and leave me a comment. :)

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