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Sally Soweol Han is a Korean-Australian illustrator and the author of Tiny Wonders
Posted 18.10.2022

Illustrator Spotlight: Sally Soweol Han

Sally Soweol Han is a Sydney-based illustrator. For as long as she can remember, she dreamt of pursuing a passion-filled career as an artist. Sally was awarded a gold medal at 3x3 Illustration Awards 2017 and was longlisted in the 2020 World Illustration Awards. She is devoted to illustrating whimsical work for picture books, in the hope of delivering warmth and joy to all readers.

Sally's debut children's picture book, Tiny Wonders, was published by UQP in February 2022.

Your first book, Tiny Wonders, explores the beauty and colour of the world around us through the eyes of a child. What made you want to write and illustrate this book?

Individualism reigns in the digital era, and people are paying less attention to their surroundings. I wanted to show how this appears from a child's perspective, incorporating the language of flowers.

In Korea, the country where I was born and raised, people carefully consider the meaning of flowers when giving them to others. It's interesting how the message varies not only with the type of flower but also the colour. I've not seen a picture book touching on this subject and I thought it could be special to share and explain the language of flowers with others.

How would you describe your illustrative style?

Lots of my work has a dream-like feel to it. Rather than depicting reality, I like to create the sense that those who see my work are together in a dream.

What do you love (and loathe) about illustrating?

I love the fact that there is no right or wrong in illustrating and it allows infinite freedom (though you'll need to carefully consider and convey the subject when working on a commission). However, sometimes that freedom feels like a double-edged sword as it means it takes lots of creativity to bring things to life without guidance or a set template.

How do you choose which projects to work on?

It works best when the style of the story matches the style of my drawing. Having said that, I don't have many options as I'm still new to publishing and focusing on building my career, but I love finding projects that allow me to imagine and explore boundless creativity.

You illustrated another book, Sunshine at Bedtime, that was released recently. Tell us about it!

Thanks so much for asking! Sunshine at Bedtime is an educational picture book beautifully written by Clare Helen Welsh, art directed by Ali Haliday and published by Storyhouse UK. It tells the story of Miki, a little girl who doesn't believe it can be bedtime because it's still bright outside. Miki and her mum embark on a magical adventure flying from her town into the vast universe to find the science behind longer, sunny days in summer.

Do you have plans to create more books?

Yes, I'm working on my next picture book with UQP, which will be based on one of my old art pieces and the other potential ideas that targets Northern hemisphere.

What – or who – inspires you?

I get inspiration from the work of other artists or from beautifully written songs. And most importantly, natural beauty is one of biggest inspiration for me.

How did you develop your style?

I looked at the paintings of many artists and kept studying how they've expressed the styles. I drew and painted with no direction and through that, I found out what my favourite style was. It's been a little over 6 years since I decided to draw again but I think there is a lot more I need to study to refine my style.

What is your advice for aspiring illustrators?

I still consider and call myself an aspiring illustrator! I want more time to study and improve my skills. To me, consistency and persistency was the key while preparing my portfolio. If you are true to what you believe and keep working on it, your time and effort will be recognised one day.

How did you become an author/illustrator?

It's a bit of long story. I loved to draw from as early as I can remember. Becoming an artist was my dream but I was busy with my life and couldn't pursue my dream.

One day I started to draw again, and when I drew, I thought about working on picture books. So I started to draw at home. I drew and painted as much as time allowed while keeping my primary job. When it was enough to make a portfolio, I started submitting to agencies abroad but had no luck.

In the meantime, I had entered an international illustration award recommended by my teacher (I had taken a course in Sydney to learn digital skills) and unexpectedly, I won a Gold medal in the picture book category. Despite the happy news, another year passed quietly and that's when I realised getting into the publishing world was even more difficult than I thought. However, I just kept going for another two years. The illustrations I was working on at that time were later longlisted in the World Illustration Award (AOI) I entered. This was in 2020, and I think about a month or two after that, Annabel Barker (who now is my wonderful agent), reached out to work together. I also had picture book dummies ready to show so it worked perfectly. This whole process took such a long time, but I am so grateful to be able to do what I love.

What do you want your work to communicate?

I want my work to communicate a dream. A dream could be something you would daydream on a sunny peaceful day, or it may be something you wish for. Otherwise, a dream which allows you to travel and escape from reality. If my work takes you into the world of adventure, I have also accomplished my dream as an illustrator.

If you could have illustrated any book throughout history, what would it be and why?

This has been my favourite, most beloved book for many years. It’s The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The story beautifully portrays friendship, loneliness, love and loss. The original illustrations in the book are so simplistic yet touching, but I would love to contribute my artwork. I've got a few different editions on my bookshelf.

Whose work inspires you?

There are so many brilliant artists in the world but to name a few, I love works of Beatrice Alegmana, Isabelle Arsenault, Victoria Semykina and Heena Baek. There are lot more on my personal list, but I could go on forever. I admire all creative people and I hope that someday I will be able to inspire others as well.

What does an average day look like for you?

I'm bit of a night person. I tried to change my routine and work in the morning but my brain seems to lose focus when it's too early for me. I created a workspace in part of my living room, by the balcony, where natural sunlight shines through. I have brunch or lunch and then a coffee before work. I usually work until midnight, or easily past midnight if there’s lots to do. I try to find time to do housework in between but my work is priority. I spend weekdays on my book project, but I also have an unrelated weekend job which keeps me really busy. Now that I’m juggling two jobs, I feel like time seems to fly by.

What is the most fulfilling part of your career as an illustrator?

This probably applies to most artists, but it’s when someone approaches to let you know how much they love your work – it just energises me to keep working hard. A couple of days ago, I came across a photo showing a group of school kids sitting in a circle with their teacher holding a copy of Tiny Wonders. It warmed my heart and made me realise once again that this is why I love creating for children.

Do you have any favourite UQP titles, authors or illustrators?

I love the picture book A Quiet Girl by Peter Carnavas. It's such a heart-warming story and I could relate to it because I am like the character Mary in the book.

How can we follow you online and where can we see more of your illustrations?

More work can be found on my website.

I also share work and life updates on my Instagram, @sallyhan_illustration.