Instructor Stories: Isabella Kung

Isabella Kung writes and illustrates beautiful books for children (and I'll be giving away one of those books to one of you), and we're excited to offer courses and mentorship opportunities with her through Storyteller Academy. Isabella recently mentored an illustration group in South Africa through Room to Read. Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents Isabella's work. 

Isabella shares how she organizes her creative space and time in the following video

Video Highlights

Isabella said something near the end of her video that stuck with me the most. She doesn't overload her weekly planner, BUT then she said, “I always keep up with my weekly planner. And I show up and create and work! As they say, if you don't show up, inspiration will never come. So you've got to be ready. You've got to be present.”

Showing up is a habit that you have to build. I will do really well at showing up for weeks—even months—and then life throws me a curveball, and I get out of the habit and have to build it all over again. Does that sound familiar to any of you?

I also really liked the following quotes:

“Having an organized and dedicated space really helps. It's somewhere you can focus, somewhere you can make a mess and leave art laying around, somewhere you completely call it your own and fill it with things that bring you joy and inspiration.”

“Each area serves a purpose and works with my preferences.”

“At one point in 2019, I was juggling three books and teaching part time—and organizing conferences as the Illustrator Coordinator of my SCBWI region. So, how do I get it all done? The answer is a well-organized schedule.”

How Isabella organizes her schedule:

  • a digital monthly checklist on her Evernote app
  • an analog weekly planner that she keeps open and refers to every single day
  • tasks and goals for each month go into the weekly planner to help her focus on the week at hand
  • prints out a monthly calendar when she's working on a project to help her visualize the work over multiple months
  • working on multiple paintings with similar color palettes at the same time 

Isabella's Books

Isabella Kung is the author and illustrator of the picture book, NO FUZZBALL! (Scholastic, 2020), which has a sequel coming soon. She also illustrated the board books 123 CATS and ABC CATS by Lesléa Newman (Candlewick, 2021).

Courses: Illustration 1 & Illustration 2

Julie Downing and Isabella Kung teach our Illustration 1 and Illustration 2 courses. Illustration 1 will run with live workshops in Term 1 (1/19/22-3/26/22), and Illustration 2 will run with live workshops in Term 3 (8/17/22-10/22/22). Both courses are also available for self-study at any time.

Illustration 1 covers the illustration process, composition fundamentals, design techniques, and storytelling principles. They break down processes like brainstorming, thumbnailing, exploring different compositions, gathering references, and using value and color to create effective narrative illustrations. By learning and practicing each specific step in the illustration process, you can develop a roadmap to building your illustrations, become familiar with professional practices, and create stronger portfolio pieces.

Illustration 2 helps people further their narrative illustration practice, teach new rendering techniques and experimentations, as well as deepen their understanding of what makes a good children’s book and portfolio. 

And Isabella also taught a watercolor mini-class for us. Creating Atmosphere focuses on teaching students how to use well-designed lighting and color to create gorgeous illustrations.

Book Giveaway

I'm giving away a copy of one of the books featured above. The winner can choose. Just comment on this blog post to enter. 

For additional entries, you can share the post on social media and post a link to where you’ve shared in the comments (preferably as a comment to your original comment so that all of your entries are grouped together). If you've taken one of Isabella's classes with us, let me know in the comments, and I will add another entry. 

I’ll close the contest at midnight, Pacific Time, on January 20. Thanks for reading and sharing!

Picture of Myrna Foster
Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.

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75 thoughts on “Instructor Stories: Isabella Kung”

    1. Love Isabella’s classes! I have taken her mini-class and Illustration 1 so far. It’s amazing to see her critique a work in progress, using photoshop layers to make little changes for a huge impact!

  1. Love Isabella’s classes! I have taken her mini-class and Illustration 1 so far. It’s amazing to see her critique a work in progress, using photoshop layers to make little changes for a huge impact!

  2. I learned so much being in a mentored critique group with Isabella Kung! Her insights are spot-on and detailed. Since I'm only an author (and not an illustrator), hearing the perspective of an illustrator was so helpful. I'm glad Myrna convinced me to sign up with her. I highly recommend signing up getting into a mentored CG with Isabella if your schedule allows it.

  3. I got some very good ideas about organizing my workspace which is not organized at all. Computers in one room and reference books and picture books in other rooms.

  4. I love your illustrations Isabella, and thank you for the great tips, including Evernote; I'm downloading the app right now!

  5. Would love to take the illustration courses. I’m trying to do illustrations for my current picture books and need help. Not sure they are in my budget though.

    Having one of the books would be helpful, I’m sure.

  6. This is so helpful! Thanks for sharing, Myrna! It does help to know that I'm not the only one with time management issues. I will also adopt some of Isabelle's good habits. Thanks again!

    Here's hoping! Maureen

  7. I just finished talking Illustration 2 with Isabella and Julie and it was fantastic!
    I also loved watching this video with Isabella’s advice for organizing time and space- I’m going to rewatch it and apply many of her useful tips!

  8. I love how Isabella organized her work space! I am working on mine. I am also working on finding the time to do my art. I don't want my fire to go out! Thanks for sharing so much on how you do things. It's definitely inspiration for me!

    1. I really enjoyed this segment, along with the others. I especially loved how their breakdown of composition shows so many ways to carry meaning over to a reader using visual rhetoric. It was like stepping back into my children's literature classes in college when I was first introduced to Molly Bang's “Picture This.” I feel like I would be just like Julie and Isabella, uncovering layers of my art at each draft with the mounting anticipation of what I might uncover next! I can totally understand why the classes are broken down in two with composition being the very important first skill. So many ways to make a difference with this element.

  9. Isabella is such an inspiration. Yes, we must show up for creativity to happen! I am working on doing better with my planning. Thanks for the ideas on planning time to work. Thanks Isabella and Myrna!

  10. I have been really inspired by Isabella’s work and expertise. Her style is very beautiful and unique and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

    Her tips on organization are great and hopefully I’ll be able to use some in the near future.

  11. I love getting to peek into other artists studios! Thanks. Good ideas. Love the No Fuzzball book especially!

  12. It's a delight to hear her teach. I love her energy and enthusiasm for what she does. I have learned so much. Thank you

  13. That's where I'm at – carving out a space to be creative both in writing and illustrations. Isabella's tips on getting organized certainly helped to identify ways to get into that creative zone. I took Isabella's watercolor mini class on Creating Atmosphere and loved it. I am new to watercolor and I learned a lot from her mini course. Thanks!

  14. As a non-illustrator, I see now how many fewer tools I have to deal with! With that in mind, I can get more organized. Right?
    Thank you for sharing Isabella! I can now aim higher with my organization 🙂

  15. Thanks so much!!! Isabella is so very talented! And does so much. What a treat to learn how she organizes! I definitely fall off the wagon and need to get back on. As usual, your blog was the exact thing I needed at this time!!! Yay!

  16. I loved this video so much!! Thank you Isabella! It was great to meet you (and your kitties♥) through the video. I loved how you showed the way you organize yourself, and love that you also have an analog planner. I use one too, because there's just something about writing on paper that brings an extra peace, and I also get my brain more organized that way.

    I loved the “you have to show up” part, it is all part of the process, thank you so much for your encouragement and great advices! ♥

  17. Love this! I use my planners/calendars in a similar way. I always felt a little silly making up new monthly paper calendars to tape up to the wall (when I am really busy with multiple things) as I have a digital monthly calendar and a family wall calendar. But now I don't feel as silly knowing that someone as organized as Isabella does that too! And now I'm totally thinking about where in my house I could fit a flat file if I could find one…

  18. My daughter's favorite book is No Fuzzball! We love the illustrations, and on many pages we point out our favorites. I'd love to take both courses.

  19. Looking forward to one day when I have time to take Isabella’s classes! I love seeing how others organize their time and space.

  20. Amy Lee Firestone

    I had a one-on-one with Isabella this summer. So much fun. I love her positivity, work ethic, and talent <3.

  21. Love Isabella’s classes and her artwork. She has helped me realize what I need to work on in order to have fun creative characters. 🙂

  22. “No Fuzzball! was one of the first books I read when I started my writing journey earlier this year. And, it remains for me a great mentor text and fun read. My grandson gets a real kick out of it. Definitely a book to be read time and time again. On the author track to hone my writing craft right now. But, glad that these illustration classes are available. Perhaps, I'll venture that way at some point. Yay, Isabella! Yay, Storyteller Academy!

  23. What an absolutely wonderful and inspiring video. I love No Fuzzball and to see Isabella as she described her processes, her organization and her space was just the inspiration I need! Now I am looking for flat files on ebay, getting the Evernote and feeling like I can do this!! Thanks Isabella and thank you Story Teller Academy. You continue to amaze!
    Sally Yorke-Viney

  24. After watching Isabella's presentation this morning, I really enjoyed watching her describe her creative space in the video.

  25. I'm really looking forward to taking Isabella's course and hopefully learning how to illustrate my own stories! Can't wait! =)

  26. It so fun to see how Isabella has organized and uses her studio spaces – especially after seeing pieces of it in her Illustration I class!

  27. I LOVED Isabella’s presentation the other day via Zoom as she shared so much of herself with us all. I also really love the quotes you included in this post! One’s space is crucial to the creative process and I also 100% agree with planning but not OVER planning — that’s actually something I practice in my own life!

  28. All your cat books look awesome! Thanks for sharing your love of illustrating picture books with us Storyteller Academy students.

  29. I’ve heard Isabella speak several times at SA. She’s so talented. I love Fuzzball!
    Staying organized and true to your schedule is so important.

    I guess you need to make the investment to find a working space. It’ll be worth it.

  30. Thanks, Isabella! I love your organization and your studio. Thanks for all the tips. Looking forward to reading your books and continue learning through your classes.

  31. Thanks for sharing this video. I also really enjoyed your Children’s Book Challenge Week video. I learned how negative space, color contrast, and other objects in the illustration help draw the reader’s eyes to the focal point.

  32. Diana Marie Linton

    I always loved to draw, but then life headed on a different track for a while. Now, I am really excited to get back to creating art and looking forward to taking Isabella's class.

    1. Diana Marie Linton

      I took Isabella's preview for Illustration 1 on the Children's Book Challenge Week last week. I learned that a strong composition can take a piece to the next level!

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