We are so thrilled to be able to interview a former co-worker and friend of mine, Mike Wu, who is the artist and creative genius behind a beloved book of June's, "Ellie". It is no coincidence that what drew me to this book is also that it is about an Elephant who discovers her greatest gift.
The story inspires young and old alike, and resonates with me personally, because at its core, it is the message of Ele Story as well. Hope you find Ellie and Mike inspirational as we have!
Q. How did you first come up with the idea to write and illustrate Ellie? What's the inspiration behind it?
A. I saw a documentary about Elephants in Thailand that can paint. It inspired me to do a painting of Ellie (initially her name was Elinore) with a crowd of art critics surrounding her and her easel. Everyone that saw the painting asked who she was. I put her in one of our Tiny Teru shirts (a fun apparel line that Mike and wife Korey started) and she was our best seller. After that, I started writing Ellie and her friends in the zoo. After that, I started writing the story and Ellie was born.
Q. How old were you when you fell in love with drawing? When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator?
A. As early as I could hold a pencil and start scribbling things. I was probably around 3-4 years old.
I don't know if I knew what an illustrator was. I just loved drawing and I knew that was my talent, and that made me unique. I had many interests but they all revolved around art. I considered myself as an artist above all else. At least that was my hope.
I always had an interest in illustrating books, but due to my passion for film and my animation career, I didn't embark on it until I was in my 30's
Q. We love your painting style for Ellie. What inspired you to create the characters in the book in the style that you did? How long did each illustration take?
A. I'm a professional animator and I worked at Disney for most of my career. I studied a lot of Disney animation and the classic characters. Ellie's style stems from my time at Disney and studying the appeal and design elements that made those films and characters so memorable.
I created Ellie using traditional paper, watercolors, pencil, and gouache, and that took time to create each piece. When I definitely got a rhythm It took me 1-3 days to start and finish the paintings in the computer, using Photoshop.
Q. Which artist(s) inspired you the most and why?
A. I have many as my tastes changed through the years and what I was exposed to. Initially, I studied the masters from the Renaissance. Artists like Leonardo and Michelangelo were great artists I studied for formal art foundation and art history. As I read and experienced more I really loved artists like Degas and Picasso. There are tremendous painters throughout the ages that are incredible. I like John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla are painters from the 19th century that I admire. Animation artists are also too many to list. Also Bill Peet, he did many
children's books. Last, but not least, Mary Blair was a great concepts artist.
Q. What is your favorite illustrated book & why?
A. There are simply too many to list! Dr. Suess is always great and a classic. I like Oliver Jeffer's early work and he recently released book I really liked is called Extra Yarn.
Q. What do you enjoy most about being a storybook author and illustrator, and what advice do you have for young people who want to become an illustrator or animator?
A. I love the freedom to tell my own stories and share my art with the world. I get to meet inspiring kids all around. Follow you passion and keep drawing and growing as an artist and a person. These books are about the life we live and the experiences we share. Good luck!
For more information about Ellie or about Mike, please visit his website here! Thanks for reading!