Illustrator Spotlight: Carolyn Le

© Carolyn Le
June 24, 2016

We are thrilled to feature illustrator Carolyn Le!

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

I was studying Fashion Design and getting ready to transfer to Otis College of Art and Design when I took a life drawing class. I immediately changed my major to Illustration. After graduation, I worked as a display artist and visual merchandiser until one evening when I was reading to my 3-year-old nephew his favorite book, OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell. For over a week he had me read this book to him, and when I finally realized that he loved this book because he related to the baby owls, I knew I wanted to illustrate books that can touch a child.

© Carolyn Le

Who or what has influenced your work?

My art education started with studying the masters, so I was influenced by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Renoir and Rubens. Once I started studying illustration, artists like Pyle, Wyeth, Rackham and Rockwell inspired me. I still look to these artists for inspiration and have added new artists like Retta Scott, Pascal Campion, Trina Schart Hyman and Lisbeth Zwerger.

© Carolyn Le

You recently took Art Director Giuseppe Castellano’s course. Can you tell us about it and what you learned (and maybe include some before and after pictures)?

Working with Art Director Giuseppe Castellano through his Illustrator Department was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my journey to illustrating picture books.  

I signed up for his 3-week course because I felt I would benefit from working on a project and getting his input on each step of my process. The assignment was to redo one of the pieces on my website. Giuseppe suggested I look at the orientation, use reference materials for the elephant (I made a lot of study sketches of elephants from photo references) and to work on pushing my values (making sure I get a wider range of darks and lights). I did a value study in graphite and emailed him my changes. 
© Carolyn Le

Once he okayed the changes, I worked on the painting with the reference materials that I had collected and the value study in front of me. The final painting was well received and has really influenced my paintings going forward. 

Final piece © Carolyn Le

I also edited my portfolio book based on Giuseppe's critique of my website, and I ended up winning a first place award for my portfolio at the Orange County SCBWI Editor's Day. 

What medium do you work in? What is your typical illustration process?

I usually start with thumbnails. Then once I decide on an image, I search for photo references, making study sketches of the subject followed by character studies and a value study in graphite. Then the final piece is painted with watercolor and watercolor pencil on 140lb., hot press, Fabriano watercolor paper.
© Carolyn Le

What projects are you working on?

Currently, I am working on a couple of picture books for self-publishers and writing and illustrating my own picture books.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is it the same advice you'd give to aspiring illustrators?

Looking back, I was very focused on learning the craft, graduating and developing my style. So if I were to advise my younger self, I would say to enjoy the learning and explore the different artists, techniques, and mediums that are out there. This is how I eventually developed my style; plus a lot of time painting. That’s what I would encourage aspiring illustrators to do. Don’t focus on the end product. Take the time to enjoy the process.

© Carolyn Le

What is one thing most people don't know about you?

I can make blood pies, a Vietnamese delicacy. I used to make them with my dad. And no, I have never eaten them. If anyone wants the recipe, I can be reached at the addresses below.

Where can we find you online?
Twitter:                  @CarolynLe12

Carolyn draws on the sunny California days, and her love of storytelling to create her watercolor paintings. She has twice received a first-place Illustration Award for her portfolio from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Editor’s Day, have received a Merit Award from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and have had her work shown in galleries in Los Angeles and London. The illustrations for her first picture book, CLARENCE AND THE TRAVELING CIRCUS,

received a Reader’s Choice Award for Illustration. Currently, Carolyn is writing and illustrating her own picture books.