A conversation with Hsulynn Pang, illustrator

21 November 2017 - interviews

E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, once said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.” Echoing this sentiment decades later, the celebrated illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak said, “I don’t write for children. I write—and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’”

From The Giving Tree to Cry, Heart, But Never Break, the best picture books are perhaps those that speak to the hearts of everyone, the ones that try to make sense of the complexities of the human condition. Malaysian illustrator Hsulynn Pang’s debut picture book, My Brother Is A Bear, is a whimsical and warm-hearted addition to the mix. Featuring a pair of unlikely siblings, the book is an ode to acceptance and growth. “[I grew] up with three brothers and [found] it hard to live with what felt like humans of a different species,” she says. “[The book] is about learning how to love people for who they are instead of wanting to change them to be more like you.”

Hsulynn’s career in illustration began when the drawings she’d posted on social media led to freelance illustration gigs, which she did while juggling her full-time job as an animator and character designer. When her freelance work began taking up more time, she decided to set out on her own. “I felt an urge to do something of my own and be my own boss so I took a leap of faith,” she says.

Her career has since taken off, but success has taken on a different meaning. “Having a family has really changed what success means to me,” she says. “I used to think it’s all about what I achieve with my skills. It now means loving my husband after every disagreement, and giving my child my time without regrets. I’ll always have my skills, but not time.”

We chat with Hsulynn about her book, overcoming fear and her advice for budding illustrators.

The Mindful Company (TMC): What gives you energy?

Hsulynn Pang (HP): A good night's sleep.

TMC: What’s your secret life hack?

HP: I've come to learn that there are no short cuts in life. You just have to ride through every high and low with grace and faith, knowing that they’re just part of the journey to your destination.

TMC: At what point in your life did you first learn about illustration? What called you to it?

HP: My parents always encouraged my brothers and I to draw and express ourselves. My dad was a comic fan, so there were always Charlie Brown, Calvin and Hobbes and Lat on our bookshelves. I didn't think I was going to be an illustrator until I saw how I could tell stories with my illustrations and [realised] people actually wanted to see them.

TMC: What inspired you to create My Brother Is A Bear?

HP: My Brother Is A Bear was an accidental creation. I was sketching some ideas for a video shoot and I drew a little child sitting next to a big bear. Feeling like I needed to caption it, I randomly wrote, "My Brother Is A Bear". Coming up with the story was quite natural. I drew a lot of inspiration from growing up with three brothers and finding it hard to live with what felt like humans of a different species. I suppose the bear in the book is a combination of my brothers.

TMC: What’s your favourite thing about illustrating picture books?

HP: I love how pictures can tell so much with few or no words. It leaves so much more room for imagination to come alive and that encourages kids (and adults) to be creative!

TMC: What was the best advice you received when you started your career in illustration?

HP: Don't be too precious with your ideas. Constantly create new things. What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in your career? Slowing my career down to have a baby. It may be the biggest but also the best sacrifice.

TMC: What’s the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned?

HP: Patience and endurance. Rome really wasn't built in a day.

TMC: Name a fear that keeps you up at night.

HP: I thankfully haven't had a fear that keeps me up at night since I was a kid. I don't believe that we should be bound by fear, so I break every thought that even comes close to it. Fear's not real unless we let it be.

TMC: What trait do you most value in others?

HP: Humility.

TMC: What would you tell your 20-year-old self that you wish you knew then?

HP: Live, don't strive. Say yes until you hit a red light.

TMC: Who are your favourite artists/illustrators?

HP: Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Carson Ellis, Glenn Keane and many more.

TMC: What’s your favourite children’s book?

HP: The Chronicles of Narnia.

TMC: What are 3 things you do to lead a meaningful life?

HP: Have constant communication with God, spend at least one whole day a week with my family doing something fun and relaxing, celebrate everyone else's success.

TMC: What are 3 things someone should consider if they’re thinking of pursuing a similar path?

HP: Be prepared to work hard at your craft, always welcome feedback and make room for improvement, know how much your work is worth.

We’ve collaborated with Hsulynn to create a series of beautiful wallpapers for your mobile phones. Download the first of three here.

Find My Brother Is A Bear here. Follow Hsulynn here.

Enjoy reading interviews? Check out our past conversations with filmmaker Lena Koppel and playwright Nabilah Said.