Until November, Calgarians interested in possibly penning their first novel, or putting ink to image, will have the chance to talk to a pair of experts in authorship and children’s illustrations at the Calgary Public Library.
Elizabeth Haynes and Sumin Choi are the latest experts in residence at CPL, and both have invited the public to learn some of the skills of both crafts along with some of the perhaps less obvious aspects of the business of being an author and artist.
Hayes, a former speech pathologist, is the author of two books with a third forthcoming. Choi is a recognized muralist and illustrator and a graduate of the Alberta University of the Arts whose work can be seen at Telus Spark and Deerfoot City.
“I really do think that a lot of people have this desire to write, but they just feel like they can’t,” said Haynes.
“If I can help you in any way, I really would like to.”
Choi said that she hopes that she’ll be able to help people visiting her during her residency dive deeper into both the world of illustration and to help parents whose own children are interested in the arts.
In a departure from other residencies that CPL has had in the past, Choi is working on a children’s novel throughout her three months at the Central Library, with visitors to her residency getting to explore the creation of a children’s book in real-time.
“Come by every two weeks, and I’ll have new things done in the studio,” she laughed.
“When I applied for the residency, I had to put together a proposal of what I can offer and what I would like to achieve during the residency. It all started from the single painting that I did with a little girl—she’s a witch, she makes potions and she goes foraging in the woods—and her little pig friend. I was like, ‘I want to write a book about these characters.'”
Calgarians can sign up to meet with Haynes and Choi at calgarylibrary.ca/events-and-programs/arts-and-culture.
Helping writers become authors
Among the common issues that Haynes has helped visitors to her residency within the first couple of weeks has been to provide feedback on work already produced.
But she said, helping authors build confidence was something she was also helping with.
“You know, the idea that, ‘oh, well, I don’t have a degree. I don’t really know how to do this.’ I think those internal barriers they might have to writing, I’d like to help people to move beyond that,” Haynes said.
“I mean, if you bring a polished thing, I can’t really say anything. Wow, this is really polished. We all write crappy first drafts, but there’s going to be some nuggets in there. There’s going to be some things where you go ‘wow, that’s really interesting,’ and you know, maybe that’s something that you pursue.”
Part of that, she said, was to help people with the resources to build their skillsets. Haynes said that as part of her residency, she has brought resources from the Writers Guild and can help budding authors join longer-term programs to help build the technical skills of being an author.
The business side of proofing manuscripts and selling to publishers was also something that Haynes said she would help people with.
“I’ve already spoken to someone who has a book coming out and she wanted to talk to me about ideas for promotion, and then another person who has a book written and just wanted to talk to me about ideas for publishers that might be interested,” she said.
“Then today, I have a couple of consultations where they actually have their manuscripts and I’m going to be giving them feedback.”
Using her background as a speech pathologist, Haynes also wants to help people who want to get their stories out regardless of commercial publication.
“I’m really quite keen on helping people who may have some barriers to writing—their spelling’s not good, English is not their first language, or maybe they’ve had a brain injury or a stroke, but still want to be able to write their story. I’d like to be able to help those kinds of folks as well,” she said.
Cross-cultural approach to art
Choi said that her approach to illustration came about from her own personal journey from coming to Canada from South Korea at age 14, and the merger of different artistic influences in her life.
She pointed to the Studio Ghibli anime films from Japan, and the Pixar films from North America as examples of those cross-cultural influences.
“A lot of the skills that I’m putting into this book that I’m writing and illustrating come from what I wanted as a kid. As a kid, I used to write my own comic books… I also was always interested in arts. So I absorbed a lot of influence from different platforms,” Choi said.
“My creations personally tend to be quite connected to my personal experience, and especially for this children’s book. I think it’s quite tied to my upbringing and my own personality and what I experienced as a kid. So, the structure that I built out behind the story is actually quite deep.”
That depth of storytelling and rich imagery is something that she said she is aiming to put into her children’s book throughout her residency.
“During the residency, I wanted to show the public and share the whole process from beginning to end,” she said.
“That’s why I have like all the notes that I have and the storyline planned out in my studio… I want them to join this journey of me writing and illustrating a book.”
That same philosophy informs how she approaches helping visitors to her studio at the Central Library.
“Every individual is different. Every artist is different. So how you approach things is going to be different. The advice that I gave our students specifically was more around being part of society as an illustrator,” said Choi.
“When you go to school, you learn a lot about the technical skills—skills that are directly related to the act of drawing and painting—but a lot of skills that I learned outside of school when I started my career came from how to communicate with people, how to help people understand my art, and how to make my art marketable.”