A Café Chat with Author-Illustrator Dow Phumiruk, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Author-Illustrator Dow Phumiruk will be offering a webinar through the Eastern PA SCBWI in June titled Powerful Portfolios. Berrie Torgan-Randall interviewed Dow about her creative process, publishing journey, and illustration tips.

A Café Chat with Author-Illustrator Dow Phumiruk, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

Berrie: Hello Dow. Thank you for joining us for a Café Chat. Would you like something from our virtual cafe? I’ve heard that the blueberry muffins are delicious. 

Dow: That sounds yummy! I’ll take three with a lavender lemonade. Thank you!

Berrie: How did you go from pediatrician to children’s book illustrator? How does your experience as a pediatrician help you in your journey as an author/illustrator?

Dow: I took time off to stay home with my children. We spent a lot of time reading picture books from the library, and I fell in love with them. We also did a lot of arts and crafts, and I realized how much I love drawing.

Medicine, as with many other professions, requires hard work and discipline. I worked just as hard in improving my art at first, and later in meeting deadlines. I also did a lot of troubleshooting when caring for my patients, and there is a parallel to this in publishing. Creatives need to fix problem areas in art or writing by analyzing their work and finding solutions. So, it’s not pediatrics specifically that helped me but the work ethic that is part of any challenging profession.

Berrie: What was your best advice that you heard from a conference that changed the way you approached your artwork?

Dow: I’ve learned so much about art from SCBWI events! Here are a few points that I always think about now in creating art:

  1. Anatomy – even in a fictional character, there should be an underlying bone structure.
  2. The eyes – if two characters are looking at each other, make sure that their lines of sight match up!
  3. Composition – plan your piece in advance and consider including foreground, midground, and background elements. Use lighting and contrast to lead the viewer’s eye.
  4. Texture – adding texture overlays to digital media makes the artwork more interesting.

Berrie: Tell us about your first book contract. How do you approach illustrating (and/or) writing differently now than with your first book?

Dow: My first traditionally published book was Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines, written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, from Christy Ottaviano Books. It is the story of the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maya Lin was still in college when her design for the memorial won an anonymous nationwide contest. I created the sketches in color digitally. Now, I realize it is much more helpful to sketch in black and white first. It helps set the stage for differences in value, planning the placement of lights and the darks so that the viewer knows where to look. It’s pretty basic, but I was a little late to adapting this as a regular habit!

Berrie: I noticed that you love to sew and create. Your daughters must have had wonderful Halloween costumes. What were some of your favorites?

Dow: What a fun question! I’ve made dozens of costumes for the girls (and for myself!) over the years. Some favorites are tree, dragon, Bo Peep, and banana slug costumes. I also have made a caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly set of costumes one year for the three girls, so they could go as a butterfly life cycle.

Berrie: Your book “Hugsby” is adorable and has a wonderful theme of accepting people (or monsters in Hugsby’s case) for who they are. Where did the idea for your book come from?

Dow: Thank you so much! Early in my author/illustrator career, I created a book dummy about a monster named See-Through Blob to teach children about medical conditions (see the inflamed appendix, kids?), but the visible internal organs were a hard sell. So, I reimagined Blob as a cuter monster and created Hugsby. In addition, we had acquired a pet bearded dragon, so the original Hugsby was more lizard-like and green. As you know, the final Hugsby is opaque pink – and not transparent!

Berrie: What is your process for illustrating a book? Do you start with rough sketches or do you dive right into a project?

Dow: I might dive into character sketches, but usually I start with thumbnails or storyboard when approaching the story. I often create the storyboard digitally. Then I use pencil on paper to draw enlarged versions of each image before putting them back into the computer.

Berrie: Can you give our readers a sneak peek of what to expect to learn from your presentation – Powerful Portfolios on June 6th? 

Dow: I’ll share some of my older pieces that didn’t work well with more successful pieces in comparison. For example, I’ll share two illustrations of children on a dragon, drawn four years apart. Then, I’ll talk about the differences between the two and the art techniques and tips I used to create a stronger piece. This includes using a new perspective for the composition and avoiding foreshortening for an easier read of the dragon, among other changes.

Lightning Round!

Favorite place to hike: Bluffs Regional Trail behind my house

Favorite color: A soothing and pale kind of gray-blue

Person (alive or dead) who you would love to meet and why: Senator Tammy Duckworth, because I admire her very much after learning all about her to illustrate A Life of Service, written by Christina Soontornvat

Favorite quote about writing: “You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Dow Phumiruk is an author and illustrator of several children’s books. Her agent, Deborah Warren, took Dow on as a client after seeing her portfolio at the Rocky Mountain Chapter SCBWI’s Letters and Lines fall conference in 2015. The rest is history! She is the illustrator of A Life of Service, by Newberry Honor winner Christina Soontornvat, is an illustrator of Yes We Will, by NYT bestselling author Kelly Yang, and is also the illustrator of Cook Prize winning Counting on Katherine, by Helaine Becker. Mela and the Elephant, and Hugsby, both written by Dow, are Colorado Book Award finalists. Dow is a retired pediatrician.

Webinar Information

Tuesday June 6th, 2023 at 7:00pm Eastern time:

Powerful Portfolios

Session Description

Join Author/Illustrator Dow Phumiruk for part one of the EPA SCBWI “Portfolio Polooza.” Dow will discuss elements of a successful portfolio for children’s book illustrators. In addition to outlining portfolio structure recommendations, she’ll share what art to include (and what to leave out!), style choices, portfolio pitfalls, and more. She’ll also show examples of strong pieces and describe features that will grab the attention of editors and agents. Lastly, she’ll address Q&A at the end of the session. She hopes you’ll be inspired to create an eye-catching and powerful portfolio!


*Registration for the webinar closes 5am the morning of the event.

A limited number of paid illustration critiques with author-illustrator Dow Phumiruk are available. See the registration page for details.

For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-powerful-portfolios/

(Presentations will be recorded. All participants registered prior to the event will receive the recording links.)

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