I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to interview Eric Fan. Eric, as you might know, is one-third of The Fan Brothers, a fabulous children’s book author/illustrator team. Eric’s art is nothing short of magical, and it clearly comes from his heart and soul. I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know Eric’s sense of humour and wit (and epic vocabulary!) via the great bringer-together-of-people, Wordle. I’m so glad our paths have crossed and I’m happy to host him on the blog today.
Thanks so much for your questions, Claudia!
What’s your favourite creative medium? What draws you to expressing yourself this way?
I like drawing in pencil, and then colouring the final illustration in Photoshop. I find the combination affords you the organic quality of a traditional medium with the flexibility that working digitally allows. We often construct our illustrations in layers, so working digitally gives you that ability to change things and move things around while you’re working on it. This is particularly useful when working on a picture book, because sometimes you have to move something to accommodate text, or you decide to change something – a character or story element. Purely digital programs like Procreate are improving all the time, so recently we’ve been experimenting with working entirely in a digital environment. I do miss the tactile quality you get from working with pencil, but working digitally definitely has its benefits too. In the past I used to work with pen and ink and watercolour, which are both wonderfully expressive and spontaneous mediums, but are harder to control than the way we typically work, so I tend to fall back on what works for us.
What inspires you to create?
Inspiration comes in many forms, but I’ve always found it to be a somewhat nebulous term. The truth is, most of the time you can’t really afford to wait around for inspiration to strike. There’s an old saying that goes something like: work doesn’t come from inspiration, inspiration comes from work. I’ve found that to be true. Inspiration isn’t really a noun, it’s more of a verb. The times I’ve been inspired are the times I’m actively applying myself, even if I’m not feeling particularly inspired when I start. The inspiration comes from getting the wheels turning in your brain, and making those connections. As far as what inspires our stories, most of our picture book ideas have come from standalone images. Some of these images are decades old, but if we find an image that seems to have a story floating around it in the margins, we’ll use that image as a springboard for our imaginations.
What, or who, is your greatest creative influence?
I’d have to say my family. My parents, for the stories they used to read and invent for us. That’s what sparked my early interest in books and storytelling. My brothers, Terry and Devin have also been a big influence. All our lives we’ve collaborated together on various projects – stories, screenplays, films, and t-shirt designs. Terry and I have been collaborating for as long as I can remember. When we were three or four years old we even made a picture book together about dinosaurs called “Many Years Ago.”
Our mom helped us write out the text and bind the whole thing together. Somehow, we still have the book after all these years. My sister Larissa is also a picture book author, and published her first book last year called Ten Little Dumplings. We often bounce ideas off each other, so it’s great coming from a creative family. As far as illustrators go, my favourite book growing up was Where the Wild Things Are, and so Maurice Sendak remains a big influence. There was no other artist who could transport me so easily into another world.
What is your favourite time of day to create?
Definitely mornings. I’ve always been something of a night owl, with an erratic sleep schedule, but recently I’ve managed to start falling asleep at regular hours and waking up very early. At night, my brain always starts winding down, and so I rarely feel creative or inspired. There’s something about the promise of a new day that I find conducive to creativity. Or maybe it’s just the coffee.
Which of your creations is your personal favourite, and why?
That’s a tough question. On the one hand, I’m tempted to say our first book The Night Gardener. It opened the door to everything else that followed, and so it will always have a special place in my heart. In the end, I’d probably have to pick The Barnabus Project. It was an idea we had over thirty years ago, and the first project to be successfully published that involved all three of us. After a lifetime of working together on projects it was very gratifying to have one actually reach the finish line.
How do you deal with creative slumps?
As I mentioned before, I think the best way out of a creative slump is to put your head down and work, regardless of whether you’re feeling inspired or not. It’s a vicious circle, because if you’re in a creative slump the impulse is to acquiesce to that paralysis, but the paralysis itself just further perpetuates the slump. Going for a walk sometimes helps too. Art is such a solitary and sedentary pursuit, it’s always good to get outside sometimes to help clear the cobwebs away.
Who are you beyond your art? Give us three insider facts about you.
My self-identity is pretty closely aligned with my work, so it’s actually a bit hard to think of anything particularly interesting about myself beyond that. Other than art, my days are fairly unremarkable. With that said –
1) I’ve always loved movies, and when I was younger I really wanted to be a screenwriter. We even had an agent in Hollywood for around ten years but never quite managed to get a script green-lit. I still love watching movies though.
2) I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and have been experimenting with new recipes and ingredients lately. It’s one of the reasons I love travelling – to try new food. I think my mom always secretly hoped I would become a chef, since I would cook meals for her growing up, and she was convinced I was the next Jamie Kennedy. I don’t think I could have cut it working in a kitchen though. I had a brief stint working as a prep cook in a restaurant and it was a tough job.
3) I’m a very late bloomer. When we got our contract to publish our first picture book I was still working as a delivery driver for a construction rental company – a job I had been working at for ten years. Before that I had been working as a delivery driver for another company for fifteen years. I gave my two weeks’ notice the same day we signed our publishing contract and haven’t looked back since.
What’s one of the best – or most memorable – questions you’ve ever been asked, and how did you answer it?
I remember once when we were presenting a book to a school over Zoom, one of the students asked if we were rich, and if we were able to do picture books full-time or if we had another job. Kids always ask the best questions because they have a genuine, unfiltered curiosity. I think I stammered a bit but then let them know that we were indeed able to work on picture books full-time. The question stayed with me for some reason. It wasn’t until later on, thinking about the question, that it occurred to me that the crux of it was possibly that the student was interested in art themselves but were worried it wasn’t a viable career path. The narrative of the “starving artist” is so prevalent that it does seem like a wildly irresponsible career choice. I remember thinking that myself when I was deciding whether to go to art college or not. The truth is, art is so integral to almost every facet of our lives – the buildings we inhabit, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the books we read. Everything from architecture, product design, picture books, fine art, graphic novels, video games – it’s integral to so many industries, and yet the prevailing myth about art being a risky career choice persists somehow.
What’s something you’re excited about right now?
I’m excited the weather is finally getting warmer, although I’m more of a Spring and Fall kind of person than a Summer person. As far as book-related things go, I’m excited that our book Lizzy and the Cloud just published, and I’m also excited to have a book coming out in the Fall called Night Lunch that I wrote but didn’t illustrate. It’s being published by Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, and was illustrated by the brilliant Dena Seiferling.
Thank you, Eric! Being an only child, I especially love hearing about siblings and their adventures — it fills a gap in me. (That dinosaur book, tho 🥰) And now I’m excited about your upcoming book, too! Can’t wait to add it to my collection!
Will you share some links where people can find you?
You can find out more about my work at:
And I also have prints and things at: