Let’s Talk Illustrators #202: Tracy Subisak

Amah Faraway, written by Margaret Chiu Greanias and illustrated by Tracy Subisak, about is a story many children and families can relate to right now. With people scattered throughout the world, many children have not yet had a chance to meet important people in their lives in-person, and Tracy does a wonderful job of bringing the shyness and love that comes with meeting new family to life! Enjoy our chat!

About the book:

Kylie is nervous about visiting her grandmother-her Amah-who lives SO FAR AWAY. When she and Mama finally go to Taipei, Kylie is shy with Amah. Even though they have spent time together in video chats, those aren’t the same as real life. And in Taiwan, Kylie is at first uncomfortable with the less-familiar language, customs, culture, and food. However, after she is invited by Amah – Lái kàn kàn! Come see! – to play and splash in the hot springs (which aren’t that different from the pools at home), Kylie begins to see this place through her grandmother’s eyes and sees a new side of the things that used to scare her. Soon, Kylie is leading her Amah – Come see! Lái kàn kàn! – back through all her favorite parts of this place and having SO MUCH FUN! And when it is time to go home, the video chats will be extra special until they can visit faraway again.

Peek underneath the dust jacket:
Let’s talk Tracy Subisak!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of Amah Faraway? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Margaret Chiu Greanias’s text?

TS: I was fortunate that Sarah Shumway Liu, our editor, contacted me with Margaret’s manuscript! I had an immediate connection with Kylie and her Amah’s relationship – I could picture them in all my favorite places in Taiwan – Wulai hot springs with the lush mountainside in the background, Daan Forest Park with its bird sanctuary in the middle of Taipei, the bustling night market scenes with all of the food options.

LTPB: Can you talk a little bit about the visual evolution of Amah Faraway? As you got to know the characters, how did your illustrations evolve?

TS: There surprisingly wasn’t too much visual evolution in my process for Amah Faraway! Perhaps, it was because I have such a personal connection with the characters – I pictured my own Waipo (Chinese for mom’s mom), my own mom, and myself as I worked on the artwork from start to finish. I also had taken my brother’s family to visit Taipei the year before I started working on Amah Faraway, and felt kinship with the mom in the story, who just wanted to snack on her favorite foods her whole visit.

LTPB: What differences have you found between creating a picture book on your own (text and illustrations) versus illustrating someone else’s text?

TS: When I illustrate someone else’s text, I think about how I can add to the story that isn’t written – What is the character feeling? Where is the story’s setting? Who is the character close to? I am constantly noting what visuals add to the story, and what visuals distract from the story.

When I illustrate my own picture books, I mostly work the other way around. The visuals come to my head easier than the words, so I will often sketch little thumbnails of the story, then add the script, which verbalizes what isn’t shown in the illustrations.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

TS: I used Gansai Tambi watercolor and India Ink with Chinese brushes, as well as, Neocolor II pastels and colored pencils. At this moment, it’s my preferred medium – I also think my preferences evolve per story. For my earlier picture books, I penciled or inked the linework, scanned it in, and painted the color digitally. It was useful for me because it gave a lot of room for error and allowed me to easily edit my work, whereas painting, inking, and detailing everything on one sheet of paper allows me to have a lot more looseness and movement in my work.

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

TS: I am currently working on my final artwork for my latest author-illustrated book The Snail Whisperer, a comedy about a girl who takes her anger out on an innocent snail, who, in turn, seeks a sincere apology. I don’t have any artwork to share quite yet!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

TS: Hands down, Jillian Tamaki! She has been a huge inspiration to me even before I pursued an illustration career. It’s so amazing to see how she can bring her own special touch to whatever medium she uses – her work is full of character and movement and nostalgia.


A million thanks to Tracy for taking time to answer some questions! Amah Faraway published last month from Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2022!

Special thanks to Tracy and Bloomsbury for use of these images!

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February 8, 2022 at 11:35AM noreply@blogger.com (Mel Schuit)