The Emma Press

Becoming an illustrator: an interview with Cecillia Hidayat

Cecillia Hidayat, the illustrator of Na Willa and the House in the Alley, answers our questions and shares her tips for aspiring illustrators.

How did you become an illustrator?

I’ve always loved to draw since I was little, and I didn’t really like other subjects at school (hahaha), so when I went to university, I picked Visual Communication Design to nourish my drawing hobby. I ended up working as an art director for advertising agencies for around 4 years, before finally decided I wanted to be a full-time illustrator.

Can you tell us about your work routine?

To be honest, I still feel nervous every time I start a new project!

The initial stage (conceptualizing, and sketching is the hardest and takes most of my time). I usually compile references and do super rough sketches only I could understand. Then I refine the sketches and send them to the client, and after things are approved, the coloring stage begins. My favourite materials are colored pencils on textured paper, but now I mostly work digitally (photoshop) to make the revising process easier.

“Critiques may hurt, but it’s compliments that can actually kill you.”

What is your favourite story in Na Willa and the House in the Alley, and which illustration did you most enjoy creating?

It’s hard to pick one, but I think ‘Siap-siap’ (the part where Willa says goodbye to Mbok before moving to Jakarta) is my favourite story. I was literally holding back tears when I was drawing them.

I have an interest in vintage things, so I really enjoyed drawing the parts where I can show the things surrounding Willa. The gramophone, the powder tin, the radio, etc

What did you find hardest to illustrate?

Aside from the technical context, I found some stories where bu Reda brilliantly describes the characters or the interaction between them, hardest to illustrate. I always believe that an illustration should complement a story, illustrations are not merely decorative elements. In ‘Gatot’, for example, I think readers will have a clear picture of him stuttering just by reading the story, and I reaalllly had such a hard time portraying him and Willa losing her patience, that I ended up drawing nothing for that one!

What were your favourite picture books/illustrations when you were little?

I was a big fan of 101 Animal Stories by Anne-Marie Dalmais and Benvenuti. I re-read the book over and over and I can still clearly picture some of the illustrations in my mind now.

What tips would you give to someone who would like to become an illustrator?

I honestly think my drawing skill is very mediocre compared to others, but if I have to give some tips, I think what has helped from the beginning is that I like to observe. I always read the stories closely before drawing them, and I like to observe my surroundings to make my drawings feel relatable and complement the words. Also, never stop learning from everywhere and keep in mind that critiques may hurt, but it’s compliments that can actually kill you 🙂

Now it’s your turn! Watch Cecillia’s video to learn how to draw Na Willa.

About Cecillia Hidayat

Cecillia Hidayat is an INFJ who speaks her mind best through her drawings. She spent four years working in advertising agencies before deciding that she’s too old at heart for all the big city hustle and bustle. She was born in Jakarta and now lives in Ubud with her husband. She spends most of her days drawing, walking between ricefields while petting the stray dogs she meets along the way, and watching the ‘Cooking With Dog’ YouTube channel religiously.

About The Emma Press

The Emma Press is an award-winning independent publishing house based in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham. It was founded in 2012 by Emma Dai’an Wright and is dedicated to producing beautiful, thought-provoking books for adults and children, and to making poetry accessible to everyone. The Emma Press publishes themed anthologies, illustrated chapbooks and children’s poetry and fiction, with a growing list of translations which includes titles from Latvia, Estonia, Indonesia, Spain and the Netherlands.

The Emma Press is an independent publisher specialising in poetry, short fiction and children’s books. We are trying to make publishing and literature as welcoming and accessible as possible.
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