“We hear it everywhere and it is so true: the most talented people never cease to learn.” ~ Qin Leng
This month in our ongoing series of Brown Bag Films Toronto (formerly 9 Story) artist profiles, we chat with layout supervisor and accomplished illustrator, Layout Supervisor Qin Leng.
1. First up, what is your life motto or favorite quote?
Success comes with hard work. I have never been afraid to push myself and always strive to get better at what I do.
2. What do you do at Toronto?
I started here back in 2009. I was a layout designer then, and have been working as a layout supervisor for the last 6 years.
I just wrapped up Daniel Tiger Season 3 and am now helping out with a couple of shows (something I really enjoy doing! Getting to work on a variety of design styles is something I find really motivating and stimulating) such as Amigonauts and Magic School Bus.
3. What do you love most about your job?
I think what I love most is the opportunity to try out many different styles. Every show I work on presents a different aesthetic. In my 7 years in the studio, I have worked on 7 different shows, 7 different looks, and I find this constant change a most welcomed challenge. Each time, you have to put aside what you did before and explore a completely new design, and I really enjoy the process.
4. What is your origins story? Aka, how did you get to where you are today in your career?
How I ended up working in animation was a complete fluke. I had just as much chance of becoming a biologist than a designer.
I had pretty good grades in school and so it just made sense I should follow a path in academia. So when I graduated college in Montreal, I applied in the Biology program at McGill University.
However, shortly after my submission, a friend asked me to help him look for a visual arts program. So I found myself flipping through the various programs at Concordia University. That’s when I stumbled on the Animation program, at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. And it clicked instantly… I realized that between books about physics, biology, and chemistry, my real pleasure was to doodle. My father is an artist, and I grew up watching him paint in his studio, and as a kid I often drew alongside him. Drawing had always felt so natural, but I just never thought of making it into a career. And so at that moment, I finally realized that I would probably be a lot happier making a living drawing. So in a week, I put together a portfolio (the application deadline was coming to an end and I didn’t have much time) and sent it off. To my relief, I got accepted to both McGill and Concordia! The decision was easy. I enrolled at Concordia University in 2004 and graduated in 2006.
5. Who is one of your biggest influences or inspirations?
I grew up in France and so a lot of my inspiration comes from French illustrators. The European aesthetic is something that really appeals to me. It is so loose and simple, and really spontaneous. The lines have a very organic feel to them. It’s hard to narrow down a single artist among the many who have influenced me, but if I were to pick one, I would probably say Jean-Jacques Sempé. Coincidentally, he is from Bordeaux, France (which is where I spent my childhood). But this isn’t the reason I chose him. Sempé is famously known for his series ‘Le Petit Nicolas’ and he has such a way with his lines! His compositions are always impeccable, knowing exactly where to leave the page blank and where to fill it with detail. His strokes have a liveliness I always strive to create in my own work.
6. What have you found is the most challenging thing about working in the animation industry?
I think the most challenging part (but none the less exciting…I think challenge often equals thrill) is to be able to mimic a wide range of styles. As artists, we all have our very own way of drawing and it is hard to put it away when trying to match the look of a specific show.
Often times, we are drawn to fall back on what we’re comfortable with, instead of trying to understand the new look in front of us, really study it, and being able to recreate it.
7. What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in animation?
Remember what you love doing and never stop perfecting your craft. We hear it everywhere and it is so true: the most talented people never cease to learn. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. So when you decide to get into animation, make sure this is really what you want to do. It is a real dedication and speaking from a design standpoint, it is really important to continue to always be drawing. Not just at work, but at home, to continue to perfect your skill. Every single day, when I come home from work, I always draw for a few hours. It’s not a chore for me, it’s a real passion I can’t get enough of!
9. Outside of work what is your story?
I don’t want to sound boring, but my biggest and almost only interest is to draw. When I don’t know what to do, I always find myself sketching. I’ve always felt most comfortable with a pen and paper.
So after 4 years in the industry, I felt like I wanted to push myself even more. On top of work in the studio, I was also drawing a lot at home and I wanted to do something with all these pictures. In 2009, I started looking into the publication industry, specifically children’s publications. I submitted my portfolio to over 70 publisher around the world. That same year, I got my first project doing a book cover for a non-fiction novel and after that, from word of mouth, projects came in and grew increasingly over the years.
I am really proud to say that I have published over 30 titles, translated in over 10 languages, and I hope to achieve much more in the future.
In the New Year, I will be working on my very first picture book I have written myself. This is a new stage in my career I am really excited about, and I hope to be able to produce more of my own work in the future (both written and illustrated books, rather than illustrating other writer’s stories).
10. If you were an animated character what would you look like?
If I were an animated character, I would like to be a small child (2D). I’ve always loved children. They have such fantastic imagination and see the world in a way that is so spontaneous and unfiltered. They are great observers, but are also great at being observed. For me, they are actually a huge source of inspiration when I work on my children books and stories.
If you would like to see more of Qin’s work you can follow her here: