Off the Page: Grace Fong


Here’s your chance to get behind the scenes with fanartists who bring your favorite young adult books to life.

Grace Fong is a Californian jack-of-all-trades in her mid-twenties.

“However, I was raised in Philadelphia, PA, so I’ve still got that East Coast roughness, and I still curse like a sailor with scurvy and refer to H2O as ‘wooder,'” said Fong.

While she spends most of her time as a programmer, working on animated movies and video game franchises, she also spends time illustrating scenes from her favorite YA novels.

“My favorite recent YA series has been The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo,” said Fong, “As for way-back-when, the Animorphs by K. A. Applegate and The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce were my biggest influences growing up, but I also have a soft spot for His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Abhorsen by Garth Nix, Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones, Redwall by Brian Jacques, and Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. It’s not exactly YA, but the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson might be my favorite books of all time. There’s too many to list!”

  • Alina from Leigh Bardugo's The Grisha series.

What is it about the authors’ writing that inspired your art?
I’ve been reading all I life – I can’t actually remember learning how to read! When I was a kid, I actually wanted to be a writer, but I really liked drawing to help visualize my own stories. So I guess – they’ve always just gone hand in hand for me! I think art really helps draw an audience and bring a story to life – and vice versa! Visuals help fill in details that writing can’t present, but writing can show a character’s thought process in a way that illustration can’t.

My background means I’m naturally drawn to narrative illustration. Ironically, in college, an art teacher told me that I should focus on “fine art” that sends a real-world message or sociopolitical commentary. When I said I mostly wanted to tell stories – she said, “Shame, you had a good hand.”

Shame, because I think the best stories are the kind that the real world can relate to!

Are there any other influences you included in your art?
Anime and the internet! I watched a lot of anime and read a lot of manga in high school, and I thought being a comic artist was the ideal blend between writing and art. I’ve since changed my mind because I feel comics are actually closer to cinema: as predominantly visual media, they have difficulty showing the character introspection offered by prose. However, the aesthetic still sticks with my work.

The internet influenced me in a different way: allowing me to connect with like-minded people (including authors I admire!) and giving me the confidence to pursue art to a professional level. The internet and the conventions that followed helped me manage the shyness I had growing up. In 2005, some artists I met on GaiaOnline decided to meet up at a convention, and we’re still best friends a whole decade later – in real life! We just went to the Bahamas together for Christmas.

My other interests include history – and traveling! – and the sciences – particularly biology and chemistry! But that’s more evident in my designs and worldbuilding than illustration.

What was the best reaction you’ve received?
Recently, my friend Cassie and I went to the launch party for Ruin and Rising, the last book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. I gave her a drawing of her characters, Tolya and Genya, and Cassie gave her a drawing of a “sweaty duchess.” (It’s a reference to the series, I swear!) Leigh’s reaction made me so happy! …I think she was tearing up. I followed up by going to another event with Cassie and Nilah and giving Leigh a framed picture of the main character, Alina.

What’s your process?
If it’s not a doodle, I start with a lot of tumbnailing and design sketches (that no one ever sees) to really nail down a composition. The composition is of highest priority for me since it gives the piece its feel and is what sells the story behind it. I like to think, “If my piece can get a new person to read this book, I’ve done the job right.”

After that, my process changes depending on my tools. I’m pretty theory- and technique-oriented, so I’m comfortable with most tools and pick the one best suited to the original idea.

It takes me between two hours and a week to finish a picture, varying with complexity.

Do you have any tools you like to work with?
I’m always traveling, which means I favor quick, cheap, tools that I can carry in my bag. My standard kit is a mix of dry mediums: colored pencils, pens, and markers. I have a tutorial best explains how I work.

I prefer digital paint to real paint, though – I loathe cleanup.

What piece are you most proud of?
That’s really hard to say! It’s less piece than pieces, I think. I like to track my progress by drawing the same character on the first page of every new sketchbook – and once a year on his “birthday.” And every time, I try to do a better job than the last one!

This is the latest sketchbook one, and this is the latest “birthday” one I did. You can look in the comments on the posts to find the progressions.

I actually just finished that sketchbook and am working on another one. Really trying to push my boundaries with lighting, composition, and detail this time.

Do you have anything fun that you’re working on or would like to do someday?

I would like to work at a concept artist on a feature film. Particularly for one of the YA series I really like! (Grisha? *o* Haha.)

Other than that, I’ve run a few solo and group art book projects already, but they have all been pretty small beans. I’d really like to take one of my backburner projects into longer format, make an original fantasy comic or writing and illustrating my own series.

What kind of advice or insight would you give to other artists?
“Don’t limit yourself.” We have an idea that we can only be one thing, and be one thing forever: a programmer, a writer, and artist. That’s not true. Cultivate all your interests and explore. Sure, you can focus on one area for any length of time (that’s what jobs are, after all), but don’t internalize that’s all you can be. The more you know, the more your mental domains will cross over, and the better they will be. Creativity, or thinking outside the box, isn’t an unattainable quality that comes from thin air – it comes from being willing to learn from anywhere and mixing your knowledge. Your entire lifetime lies before you – why spend it doing one thing?

What encouraged you to share your fanart?
It’s one thing to pay for a series you like, but making fanart is a real great way to pay homage to a series than inspires you! It shows you’re willing to put in more than just dollars – your time and effort – interacting with something you love. Plus, it inspires people to check out the authors that I like! Thus making the community around the original work even stronger, full of people who love that original piece as much as you do.


For more on Grace P. Fong, visit her website.

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About Author

Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.

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