Joy Chu's deep knowledge of illustrated children's books is palpable. She's worked in the industry for decades so she's seen all the trends and been through all the ups and downs. Right now, she says children's books are on a notable upswing, which is why she jumped at the opportunity to guest curate Writing with Pictures, a group exhibition featuring the artwork of dozens of mostly local illustrators on view at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido (340 N. Escondido Blvd.) through Sept. 13.
"Picture books are kind of going through a revolution," she says, walking CityBeat through the sprawling exhibition. "There was a period where people thought iPads and iPods were going to take their place and now it's been discovered that no, those are in addition to picture books. Kids really do still like printed pages."
When the arts center approached Chu to put together an exhibition that could fill both large galleries, her only worry was that there wouldn't be enough space.
"A lot of people practicing today who've been published are living in Southern California and many of them right here in this region," she says.
Chu asked the artists in the show to help tell the stories behind their creations. She included things like tools of the trade, rough drafts and other interesting peeks into the artists' varied processes. She points to a display case filled with a pile of book dummies—rough drafts of Train Man by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha—and says children's book dummies get redone almost 20 times before completion.
"People don't realize how much work and thinking goes into doing a picture book," she says.
Chu also made sure to include a variety of artists working in just about every medium, including watercolor, collage, etching and digital. She points out the work of San Diego artist Susie Ghahremani, who illustrated the book, What Will Hatch?
"She paints on wood because she likes the texture," Chu says, pointing out the details of the original artwork behind the scanned digital prints in the book.
Other highlights in Writing with Pictures include big, blown-up character cutouts by famed author and illustrator Marla Frazee from an upcoming book, Is Mommy?, a room showing 24 looping animated trailers promoting various children's books, and an installation dedicated to local author and illustrator Salina Yoon.
"Salina's done over 300 books but just recently has gotten really noticed," Chu says. "She recreated her studio here, so anyone can sit at her desk. And this is her book that isn't going to be out until January 2016—Be a Friend. It's just a wonderful book."
Be a Friend features a little boy who's a mime. Chu says that Yoon dressed as a mime for Halloween so she could figure out exactly how to illustrate the gestures.
"You know, you sort of just wind up being the character when you're deep in a project," Chu says. "This show, I hope everything here gives you a little hint of what it feels like to be a picture-book artist."