Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Jeni Chen
|© Jeni Chen|
Dec. 9, 2022
We are excited to feature author-illustrator Jeni Chen and her debut picture book, EMET'S BOX (The Little Press 2022). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write and illustrate for children.
Hi, my name is Jeni Chen. I was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada with my parents when I was a teenager. I’ve always loved to draw as a kid but I had never thought about pursuing art as a career. After I became a mom, I started drawing comics about the funny things my son said or did. I also read a lot of picture books with him. Interestingly, I found myself always looking for the information on how the illustrations were done in a picture book. I took some art classes to learn how to draw comics and make picture books. While taking a picture book illustration class, I came up with the idea for my debut picture book Emet's Box.
|© Jeni Chen|
Congrats on your debut picture book, Emet's Box! Please tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you! Emet's Box is about a little boy Emet who loves to paint. But grown-ups think he should spend his time doing more important things. When Emet stops doing what he loves, color disappears from his world. It’s a story about self-discovery and following your heart.
|© Jeni Chen|
As a mom and a volunteer at my local art gallery’s school art program, I see how creative and full of life kids are. Around that time, I was reading Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and he said something like we are not looking for the meaning of life but the feeling of being alive! These kids reminded me what it means to be alive. When I started taking art classes, I felt like a fish back in the water and I wondered why I ever stopped drawing or making art. Emet’s Box is my message to my son and other children to never forget that spark they have within themselves. Even if they’ve forgotten like me, I hope they will look for it again within their hearts.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I think it's something in between. I had the idea for Emet’s Box in 2016 when I took my first picture book class. Then I thought I need to take some fundamental art courses in order to illustrate properly. I got a fine art certificate from Emily Carr University of Art + Design in 2018. I wanted to get some feedback at a SCBWI conference in 2019 and that motivated me to start working on my dummy book. In 2020, I connected with my publisher The Little Press through #PBPitch on Twitter. I thought that was pretty quick. The long and winding part was all me.
|© Jeni Chen|
What new projects are you working on?
A librarian saw my picture book Emet’s Box and encouraged me to apply to be the artist for the BC Summer Reading Club. Kids can go to any public library in the province of British Columbia to get a free illustrated booklet to record their daily reading. They get a sticker each week and a medal at the end of the summer if they read every day. I am so happy to be selected as the 2023 artist and I am having a lot of fun illustrating the artworks right now.
Other than that, I am working on a public art project for a community centre in my city.
What advice would you give to aspiring author-illustrators?
I think taking picture book classes and joining my local SCBWI were extremely helpful for me. In addition to learning the technical side of making a picture book, I met a lot of wonderful people who helped me and encouraged me so much along the way.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I am very lazy. I just want to read and drink tea on my sofa. I need motivation to do things like having a deadline. Taking picture book classes made me work on my idea. Setting the goal to show my work at a SCBWI conference made me work on my dummy book. I am also a big procrastinator but once I get started, I enjoy doing them.
Where can people find you online?
I write about my journey to publishing on my blog and website JeniChen.com. I am on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with the handle @jenichenart
Jeni Chen is a visual artist with experience producing public art installations and leading community-engaged workshops. She is also the author and illustrator of children’s book Emet’s Box (The Little Press 2022). She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and her son.
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