Aining Wen

Students & Alumni. Children's Picturebook Author & Illustrator.

Aining Wen

After graduating from our MA Children's Book Illustration, Aining returned to Beijing to work as a children's book editor with Daylight Publishing House. She has also published several picturebooks of her own, including Fairy Song, Secrets of Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments, Goodnight Baby, and the Bologna-shortlisted Cello Swan.

What have you been doing since graduating from ARU?

After I returned Beijing in 2017, I worked as a children's book editor in Daylight Publishing House for four years. In fact, for me, these two identities are not contradictory, because I always think about one thing - how to make a good picturebook. My job as an editor is to help other authors and illustrators create and publish their own works. Time outside work, I will create stories for myself. In fact, the problems faced by creation are very similar. These two identities will affect each other and make me feel it from two angles. So whether I'm an editor or an author, these two identities are positive for me.

What one thing inspired you to do what you do now?

Although I am good at creating picture books, I also love music very much. Music has always brought me a lot of happiness. When writing Music Forest (my first published picture book), I found that as long as I follow the inspiration brought by music, everything in the story will grow freely.

Later, naturally, I had more exploration on the road of "music picturebook". When I created Fairy Song (my second published picture book) I added a real song, so I came into contact with many excellent players and musicians. They helped me compose, arrange, record, sing, mix and modify the song together. When creating Secrets of Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments (my third published picture book) I started from the traditional Chinese folk musical instruments and invited composers to understand and feel folk music more three dimensionally through the new creation method of text, illustration, music and animation. In the creation of Goodnight Baby (my fourth published picture book) I integrated picture and music, and finally participated in the singing.

I always think "why can't I see sound from color" and "why can't I hear color from music?" I really want to combine text, painting and music to establish a symbiotic art space for children. Music gives me a lot of inspiration. Therefore, I also want to know what will happen with my next creation.

Aining Wen painting

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?

I think the most important thing I learned in Cambridge was "Focus on yourself". Although I had established good "drawing skills" in China's education system, I wasn’t so clear about what I was really good at and liked myself.

In the first class at Cambridge School of art, Professor Martin Salisbury told us that before becoming a picturebook maker, you must first become an artist, know how to respect your own feelings and how to express yourself. That means you should be more confident about your painting - your paintings are always the best. Creation is something individual, so it should not be standardized or framed by patterns. If you can't create what you like, why do you create it?

Since then, I have found my own standards and requirements. I work hard, feel great and make progress. This is probably the most important thing that Cambridge School of Art has taught me.

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

After I graduated from the MA Children's Book Illustration at Cambridge School of art, I became more determined about what I really wanted to do - I hope my picturebooks can also leave some beautiful marks in the hearts of some children and play a role in their future life. If I meet a 50-year-old person when I’m 70, and they say to me ‘I have liked painting since I saw your book when I was a child...’ I would think that's so amazing!

Aining Wen working in the studio

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I think there will be some small suggestions. Maybe I would say that technology is important, but not the most important. What is more important is feeling and imagination. In addition to balancing reality and ideals, we should also learn to cherish our talents. Don't just look at the immediate interests and over consume yourself, and don't draw for the sake of "painting".

Continuous output is a very hard thing, so occasionally you have to stop, relearn and explore new content. I don't think it's difficult to publish a book. The difficult thing is to create children’s books with your all life. If you can become such a children’s book maker, it would be really cool.

What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what did you discover about the city that you didn’t know before?

When I studied in Cambridge, I drew a lot of sketches and illustrations. Cambridge is like a fairy tale. I found it more magical than I thought. Every day in Cambridge is full of possibilities and diversity, which makes Cambridge a spiritual Utopia in a sense: no matter how special you are, no matter where you come from, what you want to do and who you want to love, you can find your own place here. In Cambridge, everyone will be tolerant, respected and accepted.

What projects are you currently working on?

This year, my new children’s book Cello Swan was shortlisted by the Bologna illustration exhibition. So recently, I am revising this book and hope to publish it next year.

And I will continue to make some picture books on symphonic, jazz and electronic music topics. I hope that children can feel the charm of art through my picturebooks.

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