Interview with ShinYeon Moon, Illustrator of LaoLao’s Dumplings

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jan 31, 2024

ShinYeon Moon (she/her/they/them) is an illustrator based in New York. Moon holds an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Illustration as Visual Essay. She currently teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology. She has received accolades from different illustration publications including 3×3 Magazine, Society of Illustrators, and Communication Arts.

I had the opportunity to interview ShinYeon, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello! My name is ShinYeon Moon (Shin) and I am a Korean-American freelance illustrator and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. I graduated with my MFA from the School of Visual Arts for Illustration as Visual Storytelling and am currently teaching in the BFA department there.

What can you tell us about your latest project, LaoLao’s Dumplings? What was it like to work on this book?

It was such a great honor being able to work on the illustrations for Laolao’s Dumplings. This was my first illustrated picture book and being able to work alongside such fantastic and supportive people was truly such a gift. The team (writer Dane Liu, art director Aram Kim, assistant editor Kortney Nash, and editor Laura Godwin) made the entire process feel very warm and welcoming and I felt constantly reassured that I was in good hands. Because food, community, and inter-generational traditions are some of the beautiful topics that this book aims to cover, I took a lot of inspiration from memories of my own family around the kitchen table and nights eating out with friends. I began the project by exploring Manhattan’s Chinatown and taking in all the sights, sounds, smells, and (of course) tastes that I could, so that I could better manifest them into this book. There is a dumpling recipe from Dane’s family included in the book, so I also attempted to make my own dumplings from scratch. From there, I worked on trying to figure out the character designs for Millie and her Laolao (grandmother). After the team gave the go-ahead for the character designs and rough sketches of the book’s spreads, the rest of the process felt relatively intuitive and magically flowed.

As an illustrator, what drew you to your medium? How would you describe your artistic background?

My undergraduate background was in oil painting, so it took a long time for me to trust the digital process and feel comfortable working in this medium. I will always prefer the traditional medium’s aesthetic and the tactile quality of paint/pencil on canvas/paper, but I have very much come to appreciate the immediacy of digital tools (thankful for Command+Z) and its ability to allow me to work from anywhere, as well as the beauty there is in being able to make infinite decisions and changes to better transform your piece. For this book in particular, I ended up creating the majority of my illustrations on my iPad Pro using the Procreate app and did some final touch-ups in Photoshop.

Growing up, were there any books/stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

I grew up reading (and watching) and being tremendously moved by the series titled “Anpanman.” This series was created by Japanese artist Takashi Yanase and is about a red-bean-bun-superhero and his team of bread-superheroes and bakers that help feed the hungry and fight cavity gremlins. The main superheroes save those in need by gifting them actual parts of their faces. Food has always been a language of love, a source of comfort, and a great tool for learning about other cultures for me, and this show really emphasized these elements and continues to inspire me today.

How would you describe your general creative process?

I like to make sure that my workstation is relatively clean before I begin working on a new project. It helps to clear my mind when there is less clutter visibly in front of me. I also like to put on random background noises (whether it be a tv show or a podcast or music) so that I can tune out the world and focus on the paper or iPad right in front of me. If I am having an off day or an art-block moment, I try to go for a walk or specifically head to bookstores or art museums to refresh my brain and eyes and try to get the creative juices flowing again.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest artistic and creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

The creation of something out of seemingly nothing, inspires me. I think people’s creative abilities and their obsessions/cravings for making art is exciting to me – when I see my students or peers or mentors/heroes get moved by something they are working on, I too feel very much motivated to keep going. In terms of specific influences, I have always been inspired by 2D-animation. Off the top of my head, Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri are a few animation directors whose works I respect and am very much influenced by – from the worlds they have conjured up to their character development, their films constantly surprise and energize me no matter how many times I re-watch them.

What are some of your favorite elements of illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging?

I think the potential of a blank piece of paper is something that still excites me. Coming up with characters and finding out who they are as you sketch away is one of my favorite elements of illustrating. Rough lines and random shapes can turn into a jolly witch or a disgruntled kitten or whatever else you feel like creating that day. When it comes to challenging moments, because I am a highly sensitive and anxious person, my imposter syndrome constantly comes into play while I illustrate. There can be a lot of moments where I feel like I am not good enough or that I am lightyears behind my peers, and because this profession is so isolating, you are constantly with your own (sometimes negative) thoughts, so some days end up becoming “bad art days.” I’ve found having a solid group of friends/community within the industry has been essential in feeling like you have the support and validation to continue forward with your own forever-growing art journey.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I get heavily invested in different kinds of crafts as I always have to be doing something with my hands. This past year I got into needle-felting and the basics of jewelry making. I feel like it has been very important for me to have a creative outlet that is solely for the purposes of experimentation and fun, rather than for work/business.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

What is your dream project? I have many, but I would love to be able to work on an animated short film. I would also love to be able to work on more longer-term projects like a graphic novel or a permanent mural installation.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives?

Aside from “never give up”, I would say it is essential to continue to make work for yourself and work that you absolutely love to make. I think it is always best to channel the reason as to why you began drawing in the first place. When artists create something that is so uniquely and genuinely theirs, it can be nothing but inspirational and I think people will naturally gravitate towards that.

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

At the end of 2023, I handed in final images for a book that is coming out this year, “Once Upon A Friend,” written by Dan Gemeinhart and published by Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan. Its book birthday will be June 18th of this year.

Finally, what books/comics/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

This is such a difficult question because there are so many to recommend! From what I see currently on my shelf…“Grass” by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, “How To Be Happy” by Eleanor Davis, “Skip” by Molly Mendoza, “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen, “Big” by Vashti Harrison, “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan, “Stages of Rot” by Linnea Sterte, “The Queen in the Cave” by Julia Sarda… there are so many and I can keep going, so I will stop here for now.

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