Interview with Hilary Leung

Interview with Hilary Leung

hilary leung

Hilary Leung is a Toronto-based author/illustrator. When he isn’t working on a picture book, Hilary can be found at home playing with his two awesome kids.

View his work at:

PB: Hello Hilary! Welcome to Picturebookers! What you’re up to today!

Thanks Charlene! Today is fun day – both kiddos are home for the school PA Day. First up, we have a special library visit scheduled at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. It promises to be an inspirational morning with some fellow picture book makers.

Then lunch with a dear friend from my old studio. Followed by several Lunar New Year errands in preparation for all our family dinners this weekend. I also need to make my costume for our annual Ninja Cowboy Bear tournament tomorrow.

Then it’s our daily routine of: cook dinner, feed kids, bath kids, and (our favourite) read bedtime stories to kids. Lastly I have a 2 hour work-out session with my ultimate frisbee team.

 PB: Wow! That’s a really packed day! Most people would find it a challenge to even do one of those things. How do you find the time to work on your illustrations with so much going on in your life?

Ha ha, please note that no drawing was actually completed that day. But yes, it’s certainly challenging. Since having kids, I’ve learned to make the most from the limited pockets of time.

Covers for the Ninja Cowboy Bear series

PB:’The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear’  was the first picture book you illustrated. How did you team up with author David Bruins on that?

My friend David and I worked together at a high-tech company that manufactured integrated circuits. Over the years, we often chatted over coffee and lunch breaks about working on a fun project together. In 2008, we self-published our first picture book.

 PB: Nice! Was the book your entry into illustration? Was it really different from what you were doing at the company?

No. Right out of art college, I worked as an editorial illustrator for The Hamilton Spectator as well as some magazines in Hong Kong. Later at the high tech company, I designed websites, printed collateral, and trade show booths. My target audience were engineers, so yes it was quite different. It was a welcomed breath of fresh air to make picture books.

Cover for Will Bear Share?


 PB: Did you have any worries about working on your first picture book?

Oh yes, money was a concern. We invested $10k for promotion and printing 2000 copies. We quickly discovered that our books wouldn’t sell themselves, so we walked into 78 book stores in the GTA. Luckily for us, 36 wonderful stores agreed to carry our book.

PB:  Wow that was a hefty investment! It’s great that the stores you approached were receptive to carrying the books though! Do you have any advice for other people who may want to approach stores to sell their books or art? What to do, what not to do?

Ha ha, yes. We were not happy with the print quality of the POD (Print On Demand) sites, so we took that leap.

And yes it was great, but it was also a different time. Toronto was brimming with many great indie book stores in 2008.

Two handy tips:

  1. Call ahead. A quick phone call to check who and when is a good time to pop by will save you a lot of time.
  2. Have a tidy envelop ready, in case your contact isn’t at the store. Include your contact information, an intro letter and/or press release and of course your book/product.

PB:  When you started ‘Ninja Cowboy Bear’, did you think it would become a series? Why?

Yes, our plan was always to tell more meaningful stories after we set up their world. It’s fun to dig deeper and play with characters that people already know (and hopefully love!)

A page from Hilary’s sketchbook

 ‘The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear’ was initially self-published, but later was licensed by Kids Can Press. The subsequent books were also published by Kids Can Press. Since you’ve walked both the self-publishing and tranditional route, what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages for illustrators in either route?

There are definitely pros and cons to both. The biggest advantage with Traditional Publishing is their wide distribution and you get your advance payment up front.

Self-publishing offers you total creative control, but you’ll need to take care of sales and payment comes later.

Most of your illustrations are done in Adobe Illustrator (I think – correct me if I’m wrong!). Do you find it better to work in Illustrator than other digital art programs?

Yes! While I sketch things out traditionally I’ll scan and cut final art in Illustrator. I wouldn’t say “Adobe Illustrator is better”, but since I’m pretty proficient in Illustrator, it’s definitely faster.

PB:  Would you like to try working more with traditional mediums (like watercolor or collage)? Why?

Yes, absolutely. I enjoy working with traditional media. I draw with my kids regularly and we love pencil crayons and watercolours. It’s freeing to create for fun, especially with little ones!

PB:  Your new book Stego-cumulus marks a new milestone for you as an author (instead of an illustrator)! Did you find writing easier or harder than illustrating?

Ha ha, yes. Writing has been harder, but I am learning and improving my craft. It’s pretty foreign being on this side of the process. Letting my MS go was exciting and bit scary, but luckily Niall is a dream Illustrator to collaborate with.

PB:  What’s your advice to aspiring picture book illustrators?

Make books dummies and read stories aloud to children. It’s the two best ways to see if your work is any good. Lastly make time for what’s important. Life gets busy. It’s inevitable, but no one else is going do your work for you.

PB: Are you working on anything new that you can share?

Yes, I’m super excited to start on a new series written by the amazing writers Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca Gomez.

Where the magic happens!

Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful work with us Hilary! Be sure to check out his website at

One Reply to “Interview with Hilary Leung”

  1. I loved reading this interview! Your ninja is adorable…I think my little Bookwyrm would like to meet him. Reading how you went into 78 bookstores with your first book both inspires and terrifies me! I guess 10 years later the market does look different. Thanks so much for sharing this, Hilary & Charlene!

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