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THE MAKING OF Stone of Youth Cinyee Chiu M I C A I l l u s t r a t i o n Pract ice 2016 T h e s i s B o o k

The world is made of tiny stories

I was living another person’s life years ago. I come from Taiwan, and my major in undergrad was economics, entirely irrelevant to illustration. Though I always know drawing for me is something special, the shift from economics to illustration seemed to be too big to be considered easily. But the farther I went, the more I realized I was not living my life. Once I decided to let my nature guild me, my path turned into a whole new direction dramatically. After I finished the college, I decided to find a job allows me to draw, and I ended up working in a game company for three years. I didn’t rush before I made the decision to study MFA, I gave myself enough time to explore my nature. And finally in the summer of 2013, I decided it’s time to nourish myself with some illustration educations, so here I came to MICA.

Even though it seems like I abandoned everything before the big shift, no experience is wasted. I appreciate all the things happened to me, and I learned to observe interactions between my inner and outer world, from which I tell how things shape me. Everyone has those experiences, that some events happened on them contributed greatly to their value and point of view. For me, I clearly feel grateful to those events big enough to shape me, for they brought me lessons and messages, for they polished me a little bit more and make me more complete. As an illustrator, the way to show my highest level of thankfulness to those important experiences is to turn them into my artworks.

That is how Stone of Youth started. I experienced something touched me so deep and shaped me strongly, that I decided it deserves to be turned into a story.

The charm of metaphor There are different approaches to make messages into stories, and I especially feel attracted to metaphor. The Little Prince, a story that affects me so deep that it owns a special place in my mind. I remember when I first read The Little Prince I was about ten, at that time I couldn’t understand the story at all, and maybe because the copy I read wasn’t so well-designed, I lost my interest pretty fast. “It’s an adventure story, but there are many other adventure stories more exciting than this one,” I wasn’t a kid loves to read. And after that, for so many years I rejected The Little Prince, for the plain reading memory I had. Then one day in my twenty, a beautifully illustrated version of The Little Prince came to my sight in a bookstore (yes I’ve always been visually oriented.) “The most beautiful story in the world,” it said. I picked it up and to my surprise, the story now in my eyes is full of wisdom. I was totally shocked, because I still remember clearly how bored I was at the first read — I experienced two layers of one story at two different times in my life.

That was when I realized the power and charm of metaphor. First, with a layer or layers of packages, the author can hide the message deeper and deeper, and only the life experience of the reader can be the key to unveil the messages. Such an exclusive and emotionally deep reading experience the author can provide to his or her reader! Second, with the same metaphor story, everyone can interpret it from different angles, base on which life experience they linked the to story. That means, although what the author really wants to talk about is A topic, people link to B or C experience might also be able to feel the resonance, so that the story become meaningful to different people from different angles. What a romantically magical moment! Maybe is my longing toward metaphor story, that when I was overwhelmed with the crucial inspiring experience, the sentences just came to me naturally. “That is just like a thief wants to steal the stone in a lake from the guard‌.â€? and I wrote it down, matched up each metaphor elements with the one in the real event, then fill the gap with some magical force to make it logical, and then I got the story. The final story has a poetic and fable-like tone, which of course shows no obvious traits of my original thoughts. Yet I believe people who possess certain life experience can interpret the story in the way they need.

Picture book is a cure for a d u lts. With the idea of making story seems to be for kids but actually for adults, I naturally think in a picture book. Later I learned that this “natural thinking” is not so natural for people from the United States. The market here is divided clearly: picture books for children, graphic novels for young readers or above. In Taiwan, picture book for adults is a widely-accepted concept. In fact, the most popular and famous picture book author, Jimmy, mostly draws stories for adults. I think people take picture book for adults as visual poems, that touch the sophisticated emotion kids can not understand. On the other hand, we don’t really have a market for graphic novel, but we have a huge market for manga. Manga and graphic novel have very different voices, but manga also targets the young reader market. Yet comparing picture book for adults with manga, the later feeds more juvenile audiences. Perhaps

the structure of “one story for the whole book” has its limit, or a story like The Little Prince is just too challenging, picture book for adults in Taiwan now develops other structure, more like a collection of illustrated poems. Overall this kind of picture books, the good ones, either bring the reader peace in mind, deposit their thought, or refine their previous experience. I personally feel it like a therapy. I choose picture book as the format for my story, partly because the Taiwanese picture book author affects me a lot, partly because the process of the whole making is the treatment for myself.

Illustration from Taiwanese picture book author Jimmy

The Making

He wants to steal the stone. The story starts with a man who wants to steal the stone of youth, came to the lake guarded by a lake spirit. He sneaked to the center of the lake and get close to the stone by pleasing the creatures from the lake. When the spirit realized, it was already too late to stop him, and the man successfully got the stone and leave the lake. However, he didn’t know that the stone will lose its magical power once it leaves the lake, he ended up winning nothing, and the lake lost the youth power forever. The story ended first at here, but then I added a subtle twist to tune the sad ending into a hopeful one. I showed the new stone in the lake starts to change by the environment, and hopefully will gradually turn into a magic stone. I didn’t want to show the hopeful ending too obvious, so that the reader can experience the emotion change, maybe at the second read.

Early storyboard plan

The story can be interpreted as a fable, with the

But for me, to tell the truth, it doesn’t matter how

moral that don’t take greedily from our nature. But for

people will interpret it. As I mentioned in the beginning,

those readers who used to eager for something, tried to

the reason I want to have this story is for showing my

get it but failed, maybe they can replace the stone with

thankfulness to the experience I went through, to deposit

the object they were longing for. In this case, the story

my emotions and thoughts, to celebrate a landmark on

can be interpreted in many different ways.

my life map. By finishing the book, my need is satisfied.

Traditional drawings has the magic. When I started my style research, I realized all the styles that attract me are traditional drawings. It would be a great challenge for me if I decided to draw the book all by hand, for I am more used to digital drawings. I did start with some trying in traditional methods, including pencil, watercolor, charcoal, color pencil, but in the end, I came to the conclusion that I still need some time to develop my voice in traditional materials.

Test1 pencil, watercolor

Test2 / part A pencil, watercolor separately

Test2 / part B Assemble the elements in the computer. At this point I were thinking in cutting each layer on paper, then build paper cut scenes, and make a photogrph picture book.

Character test Watercolor, pencil, color pencil

Test3 Watercolor, color pencil

My voice wasn’t so strong and the skill was not stable enough to repeat it again. I ended up using half traditional half digital — draw crucial elements in charcoal and then color it in the computer.

Step1 Charcoal


Step2 Digital color

Finished arts

Title hand lettering studies

I want to see it moving. I also want to show my ability in making animations, hoping that can open me more job options, so I made a trailer for the book. In fact, picture book trailer is one of the initial motivation for me to learn to make animation. In this two years of MFA, I also took animation class and explored my interest and possibility in it. After indulged in animation for a semester, I decided not to make it my main path, but to make it as a tool for promoting my illustration.

Stone of Youth picture book trailer music credit: Phoenix Ho

The Exhibition

Because I have another collaborative thesis project with Ricardo Nunez, at first I didn’t plan to have another personal project. From I decided to make the book to the thesis show in March, I have only five months to make it. And I made it. Because my story is a metaphor base on my own experience, and the purpose is more for myself than for the market, I didn’t have much research or study to do compared with other types of picture book. Even so, I felt a great challenge to finish the book in time, and I’m so happy that I came up with a whole finished book plus an animation trailer at the show.

I tried to build part of the scene in the story to the exhibition area. With the graphic mountain shape and water line painting on the wall, and the canvas foam mat in the corner, I tried to bring the lake from 2 dimensions to 3 dimensions. On top of the mat, I sewed a painted bean bag representing the center mountain in the story, at the same time provides a little corner for people to read. The making of it was frustrating, but the outcome was quite nice and comfortable, supporting our worn out body during the installing nights.

The bean bag area

We also made Pongo for our books, to show how versatile Pongo is in being customized in different topics. This is also a way to tie our personal project closer to the collaborative project.

Move On

The book is almost done, at least good enough for showing to publishers, so definitely that will be my next step. I’m also ready to self-publish the book if nothing happened with the publishers. The event I experienced not only brought me a lesson, make me grow, but also brought me this story. The making of this book is like after molted, I gather the old skin and feathers, and made them into an amulet. I enjoyed the process. If the world and life are made of tiny stories, I want to capture those important ones. From the making of Stone of Youth, I feel encouraged to transfer more of my important life moments into illustration works. The next one can be a graphic novel, animation, illustrated short fictions, or another picture book. Now I have my first nice try, I want to keep doing this. Thank you MICA Illustration Practice.

Cinyee Chiu / MICA Illustration Practice / Thesis Book 2016  
Cinyee Chiu / MICA Illustration Practice / Thesis Book 2016