Qin Leng was born in Shanghai, she moved with her family to France and after, she moved to Canada.
She has produced animated shorts, which were nominated in various national and international film festivals. Qin Leng always loved to portray the innocence of children and has developed a passion for children’s books. Drawing is her passion. She dreams of being able to illustrate and share her ideas and emotions.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 02 issue
celebrating International Women’s Day 2018
China-Underground: What does motivate you to become an illustrator?
Qin Leng: I have always been drawing, for as long as I remember. My father is an artist himself so from a very young age, I have been interested in the world of visual arts. I went to university in Film Animation and started working as a designer for television series in 2006. However, I continued to draw in my spare time and realized quickly enough that I wasn’t satisfied with simply drawing at home…I wanted to get my work published. So in 2009, after submitting my portfolio to a large number of publishers, I landed my first publication job. The world of illustration is so vast with so many different projects to work on, that I find it incredibly stimulating. It is a perfect way to constantly challenge myself and perfect my style.
Do you remember your earliest illustration? What was about?
My very first illustration was at the age of 3 when I went to the hair salon for the first time. I came home and drew my experience: me, in a chair, with hair on the floor, a mirror, a ton of tools on the counter and hair on the ground. My parents were impressed by the amount of detail I had retained and translated into the picture. My very first commissioned illustration was a cover of a non-fiction chapter book on a pretty serious topic actually: young teens’ pregnancy, called “Dear Diary, I am Pregnant”. It felt incredible that my illustrations could potentially be used to make kids laugh, but also help them cope with difficult issues such as this one.
Drawing first started as a hobby, but soon became a way of expression.
Do you prefer to work more using digital or traditional tools?
Without a doubt, I much prefer working traditionally. Even though I always work digitally at the animation studio where I am employed full time, I am more comfortable drawing with a pencil or brush on paper for my illustration projects. I love the feel of paper under my fingers, as well as the organic flow of working with paint and letting happy mistakes give character to my work.
Why do you decide to focus on children books?
I have always loved to draw children. Their innocence, their pure unfiltered joy, their silliness, are all qualities I strive to translate into my work.
Would you like to create graphic novels also for an older audience?
I would really love to. After having done over 40 children books, I would really enjoy trying something different and challenge myself. Hopefully I can find an author with who I would be able to collaborate on such a project.
Her illustrations reflect both East and West cultures
In one of your bio, you mentioned you have a twin. What are the best childhood memories of growing together?
My twin and I are best friends. We do everything together, finish each other’s sentence, and often say the exact same thing at exactly the same time. I don’t have a specific memory with my sister, but many of our anecdotes get translated in my illustrations. I actually did a mini comic series all about my life in Toronto with my twin.
You were born in China, grew in France, now you live in Canada. What are the main differences you notice in education and relationships?
I don’t remember much about China, since I left when I was 4. I spent 5 years in France, and it is where I have the fondest memories of growing up. It isn’t cliché to say that the French have a “joie de vivre”. They know how to take things slow and enjoy every minute of it. As a child, I did so many activities with family but also at school. We had classes outside in the fields, learning hands on about nature, plants, and animals, and food. Art and culture is something that is taught from a very early age and I think it has greatly shaped my interest in visual arts and my illustration style.
Does living in different countries influence your way to illustrate and life?
I think the fact that I spent my early years in France and that I am illustrating for an audience about the same age I was when living there, my style remains greatly influenced by the French artists who illustrated the books I read as a child. Jean-Jacques Sempé and Gabrielle Vincent, for example, are an important source of inspiration. And I think my painting and inking style remains very classic.
Your art is so catchy. How much important is it for communicating in a multicultural and intergenerational world?
I always keep in mind that I am drawing for all the kids in the world. My books may start in Canada, or the US, but they do get translated in Turkey, China, Korea, Russia, and I want to make sure that children of all those countries can recognize themselves in the characters I create in my books. For instance, I refrain from drawing a stereotypical white kid with blond hair blue eyes as the main character. I also dislike portraying girly girls. Or really manly boys. I like my characters to seamlessly fit either or. Basically, I want a girl to be able to relate to a boy character in my book, as much as I want a boy to be able to relate to a girl character in my book.
Photo courtesy of Qin Leng
Also published on Medium.