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For this artist, the process of creating is believing you matter

April 20, 2017 at 6:03 PM EDT
Comic books were a lifesaver for illustrator Catia Chien. As an child immigrant to the U.S., growing up inside a dysfunctional family, she struggled to find her voice, but instead connected expression through art. Chien gives her Brief but Spectacular take on creating from the inside out.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Next, another installment of Brief But Spectacular, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.

Tonight, we hear from illustrator Catia Chien on what it means to create from the inside out. Her latest picture book is “Things to Do.”

CATIA CHIEN, Illustrator: When I was growing up, I didn’t actually have bedtime stories or anything like that. I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family. There was a lot of emotional upheaval.

I did grow up with comics. Comic books really gave me a way out of that loneliness. There’s this comic book character named Monica. It was a constant that I had in my life. I could read stories about Monica and her friends.

I thought that if I grew up and I could do that for another child, like, that would be worthwhile.

I definitely feel that I wasn’t seen when I was a child. When I moved to the U.S., I didn’t have a voice. English was difficult for me to speak. That was when I really connected with the value of art and expression.

There is a sense of wanting to find belonging when you have experiences of being an outsider, and wanting to create something that feels really true to yourself,because you’re constantly comparing yourself to something else, and it doesn’t quite match.

The process of creating from the inside out, it’s really a process of mattering.

When I teach, a lot of students ask me like, what do you use, what is your tool, and stuff like that.

It goes much deeper than that. It goes into, like, who are you? What do you actually want to say? What matters to you? From that place, everything is possible. You will find a way to get it out.

One of the best things that I things that I do with the kids is that I say, let’s all close our eyes and all pretend to be an illustrator. I guide them through a series of visual things that they’re experiencing through their imagination.

So, when I did “A Boy and a Jaguar,” I had them experience the jungle, and they jump into a lake, and then they look in the lake, and what’s reflected back to them is the face of a jaguar.

There was this kid in the back of the room that was really loud and rowdy, didn’t want anything to do with me. And he raised his hand and he said, “I didn’t know that I could go there.”

That’s the meaning of empathy, a story that’s not your own that you can step inside of. That’s empathy.

My family, in terms of how they have responded to my work, it’s so practical. You know, it has to do with like, is that paying you?

I have long ago understood that that’s not where the gold is. You know, you will chase that forever, and then, at the end of your life, you think, like, what have I done?

The feeling of actually belonging, it’s self-created. Arriving at the process of creating something from the inside out, it’s really just a validation of existing. It matters that we add to the conversation, so it’s not just one voice that’s being told in picture books. It matters.

My name is Catia Chien. And this was my Brief But Spectacular take on creating from the inside out.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Find more of our Brief But Spectacular videos online at pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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