Illustrator Spotlight: Zara González Hoang

© Zara González Hoang

Oct. 12, 2018

We are pleased to feature picture book illustrator Zara González Hoang and her new book, THREAD OF LOVE, by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal (Beach Lane Books, Oct. 16, 2018). Enter to win a copy!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to illustrate for children.

I was lucky to grow up in a house full of stories and art. My mom was a teacher, so there were always art supplies around and my dad was always  telling stories – especially about his life as a child in Puerto Rico. The two things I remember most about my childhood were constantly drawing and listening to stories – both written and oral. 

© Zara González Hoang

My favorite book was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I loved it so much that I made my own version of it, complete with my own drawings. I think I was 8. That should have been my first inkling that this was what I was supposed to do, but I was too practical so I studied Computer Science and Graphic Design in College.

After College I spent too many years as a network administrator (which was not very creative) and graphic designer. It wasn’t until the iPhone came out and I fell into designing apps for kids that I started illustrating for children. And once I started working on apps and other children’s illustration it took a really long time for me to realize that what I actually loved was books and illustration and that picture books really were where I wanted to be. And now, here I am with one book about to come out and another that I am working on. I feel really lucky that my long and winding road finally led me back to books!

© Zara González Hoang

Congrats on your new picture book coming out, THREAD OF LOVE.  Tell us about it and how you went about researching and illustrating it.

Thank you! I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to illustrate it. THREAD OF LOVE is about an Indian holiday called Raksha Bandhan, which is a celebration of the love between siblings. Since I am not Indian, I spent a lot of time in the library, speaking to friends who celebrated the holiday and googling. I was also lucky that the authors of the book were very kind and willing to answer any questions I had about the holiday, traditions, etc. 

© Zara González Hoang

Since the story was set in India I wanted to incorporate the beautiful bright colors of silk saris and the patterns that can be found everywhere in India. Working with bright colors was one of my favorite parts of working on this book – I don’t usually work so brightly, so it was so joyful to be using such bright colors.

© Zara González Hoang

Can you walk us through your illustration process?

The way I work depends a lot on what I am working on and what medium I am planning on using. For THREAD OF LOVE, I worked mostly digitally. I did some sketching on paper but for the most part I used my Cintiq. It’s nice and portable and allows me to sketch and undo and sketch and undo much easier than on paper – plus since I knew the final product would be digital I was able to set up all my sketch files to the correct specs even at the sketch stage which let

© Zara González Hoang

I do a lot of thinking and visualizing before i put anything down on paper, so a lot of times I have some idea of the colors, characters, etc before I even start sketching. I find that reading the manuscript a number of times before getting into any sketching helps me visualize the story in my head so that things come out easier once I start sketching.

I did rough sketches of the layouts and then, once they were approved I created a color palette that I would use throughout the book. I try to stick to a limited color palette for most things I do (although, limited is a relative term, I think I used at least 30 colors in Thread of Love), I think that it makes everything more cohesive when you know all the colors you are going to use at the start – it may be a hold over from my days as a graphic designer, but it works for me.

© Zara González Hoang

My process for this book was pretty simple because I was working the same way I had worked on most projects I had done before this one – this one was just more intense because instead of doing one illustration I was doing enough for a 32 page book!

The process for my next book is probably going to be a bit more complicated since I am hoping to include some traditional media into my digital work.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on my author/illustrator debut picture book which will be out with Dial Books in Spring 2020. It is about a boy who moves from the country to the city and has to find his way in a new space that is so different from the one he left. Luckily he makes a friend who helps him along the way. The story is inspired by my Dad’s move from Puerto Rico to New York when he was a child. I’m really thrilled to be able to share it. 

© Zara González Hoang

What are the one or two things you did that most helped you in your illustrating and publishing career?

I think the thing that has helped me the most was getting involved with SCBWI. I knew nothing about publishing when I was first starting out. On a whim I decided to go to the SCBWI Winter conference and it was the best decision I made. The sheer amount of knowledge and generous people that make up SCBWI was well worth the price of membership. I also met my agent at a (different) SCBWI conference so I am very pro going to SCBWI conferences!

© Zara González Hoang 

The other thing that I think has helped enormously is having a critique group. Writing and illustrating can be so lonely and having people to bounce ideas off of, answer questions, and who understand the ups and downs of the publishing industry is invaluable. It can be hard to find a group that is the right fit or even just any group at all, but once you find one that works hold onto them tight! 

What is one thing most people don't know about you?
 am a podcast junkie and I listen to so many of them that I have to listen to them at double speed in order to not get overwhelmed. My husband doesn’t understand how I can listen to things so quickly but I’ve gotten so used to it that listening to podcasts at normals speed just sounds wrong!

© Zara González Hoang

Where can people find you online? 

My website is and you can also find me on social media:

Zara González Hoang grew up in a little bungalow in the great white north of Minnesota. Surrounded by snow she spent her days dreaming, doodling and listening to the colorful stories of her parents lives growing up in Puerto Rico and New York while trying to figure out where she fit in as a mixed-race Latina Jew in a sea of Scandinavians. (She’s still figuring that out.) These days, she lives outside of DC in a magical suburban forest with her Mad Man husband, human-shaped demon and curly coated corgi. She still spends her days dreaming and doodling, but now instead of listening to stories, she’s starting to tell some of her own.


  1. Enjoyed your stories "stories", Zara. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I didn't even know you could listen to podcasts at twice speed! (maybe I would listen to more of them!)

  3. Wonderful interview! Wonderful illustrations! Thanks for sharing, Zara.

  4. Beautiful colors and animated illustrations! Congratulations! I'm glad you found your way back to picture books!


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