A Peek at the Creative Space of Salina Yoon (and TWO Giveaways!)


Salina Yoon is an author, illustrator, and format designer of nearly 200 novelty and board books. If you have or work with little ones, you’ve no doubt come across some of her wonderful books like Do Cows Meow, At the Beach, and Pretend and Play: Toolbox. Her latest novelty book is Pinwheel from Little, Brown.
Salina is also the award-winning author and illustrator of the Penguin picture book series, featuring Penguin and Pinecone, and the forthcoming Penguin on Vacation and Penguin in Love from Walker Books. Check out this super cute trailer of Penguin and Pinecone:

And Penguin keeps a blog where you can keep up with his adventures, like the time he tried to decorate for Christmas. 

Salina is also the creator of another picture book, Found, also forthcoming from Walker, and the picture book, Level 1, forthcoming from HarperCollins. For more information about Salina, visit her website.


Salina has generously offered not one but TWO GIVEAWAYS! To celebrate the publication of her two newest titles, Pinwheel and Penguin on Vacation (both available for sale TODAY)she is giving away a signed copy of each. To be entered to win, please leave a comment on this post and the title you would most like to win. (Contest open to United States and Canada.) I will use a random number generator to pick two winners. I’ll accept giveaway comment entries up until Sunday, April 21, and will announce the winners in a separate blog post next week. Good luck!


Describe your workspace.

My workspace is . . . openOpen because it has no doors and lots of windows, open 24-hours (for whatever hour I choose to work), and open to new ideas and projects always. It is also open to family traffic, but if I need extra time to work on weekends or after hours, Penguin gets positioned right in the center of my two work spaces. The family knows this means DO NOT DISTURB. When Penguin stands guard, you might hear my husband Chris say, “Boys. Penguin is up. You know what that means.”  And . . . they do. 

Chris made the penguin cut-out for me for book events, and my mom knitted the scarf!
My studio takes up two small rooms in the front of the house. Let’s take a tour!


The left room: My library is full of reference books (organized by holiday, theme, and format), picture books, and board and novelty books of all kinds. If I’m doing a book on trucks, I know exactly where to pull my trucks reference book. This room holds my desk, computer, and drafting table (for traditional artwork).
I have limited shelf space. The top two shelves of my main book shelf is reserved for just my published titles. It holds the last 100 published titles or so . . . but books get rotated as new titles come in.


The right room: This used to be a dining room. But guess what. I don’t throw formal dinner parties. I throw casual ones in the kitchen or the back patio. So it was converted to my building room. I use this room for engineering formats, building dummies, sketching, packaging, and comes in very handy for wrapping presents. It also has a door to a secret room that Chris built for me (a space underneath the staircase which he finished out) for storage (and a secret play room for the boys). See if you can find the door.


Oh, Penguin! He’s always traipsing through my studio!

Describe a typical workday.

The workday officially starts when my husband takes the kids to school at 8:25.  I check in with my best writing buds via email, and might hop on over to the Blueboards (message board for children’s authors and illustrators) before officially working. My desk is almost always clear of clutter except my to-do list (tucked away in drawer in photo, as they are super-secret!)  My desktop (on the computer) is almost always not!  There’s a lot of misc things I need to do and lots of emails to write. If not, I’m playing online Mahjong. At 2:50, I often make a short drive to Starbucks, get a venti mocha, and take a brisk walk over to school to get the kids. Or my husband will pick them up, but I do enjoy the walk. Our community is very scenic and the nice weather often draws me out. Once the kids are home, and if I have more work to do, the Penguin goes up. If not, I’ll still be on my computer (emailing, Blueboarding, Mahjonging, or news reading) but accessible to the family.

What media do you use and which is your favorite? 

I mostly do digital artwork nowadays but I’ve worked with various mediums. I love that I can keep my space clutter free when painting digitally. No paints to put away, no brushes to clean, no illustration boards to store . . . and the biggest issue . . . storing away the final art when it is returned from the publisher. I have massive stacks of final art tucked away in my storage room. Now, all of my final files are on my computer and backed up on my external G-drive.  I have an iMac, a Wacom Intuos tablet, and photo printer. I use Photoshop and Illustrator for artwork, and InDesign for final layouts.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

(1) My ceiling. Chris is very good at painting clouds (and pretty much anything else). I asked him to paint them on my ceiling. He used a paint roller, airbrush and paint brush to get this effect. I look up at the ceiling a few times a day, and it just has a lifting affect. If you want to see what else he paints, check out his website: www.christopherpolentz.com  The man can paint. 🙂  (But hasn’t attempted children’s books . . . yet!)


(2) Moon face. This is the first piece of artwork I’ve ever purchased. I bought this hand-sculpted hand-painted piece at the university gallery when I was attending college. It hangs at our front entry and greets (or creeps out) our guests.

(3) Magic wand. This was a gift from a good friend who hand-made this beautiful, whimsical, most-magical wand! (Thank you, Mels!) If I have a book submission out, I may wave it around three times over my head and cast the acquisition spell. It has its kinks but it’s only because I lost the magic-wand user-manual. The wand is magic, I’m sure!

Sorry, Cat. You didn’t make it to my top 3 list. But I do adore you just the same. She sits tall, and enjoys the view.
If I’m not inside, I may work on my back patio. I had 1200 bookplates to sign for my publisher when Penguin and Pinecone was sold to Toys’R’Us for their autograph program, so it was the perfect thing to do outside. I staged most of my penguin and pinecone blog photos out here, including the “snowy” scenes! Clay penguin was also sculpted right on this table.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

If I’m starting a brand new book project, I always do a thorough cleaning of my studio spaces first. I find clutter very distracting, especially for creativity. I don’t mind toys all over the family room floor or even a few dishes in the sink (since I don’t have to see it while I work), but I DO mind an untidy studio space when I’m about to begin a new project.

What do you listen to while you work?

The voices in my head. 🙂
The only time I will listen to music while I work is when it doesn’t require as much thinking . . . like cutting, building, printing out things, or packaging up work. Otherwise, it’s silent.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee. Lots of it. With chocolate-flavored creamer. At least three times a day. But I’m not a snacker. I stick to just meals . . . big lunch and light dinner.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Knowing that my kids will be home by 3:30!  But this doesn’t mean I’m always focused. I can easily go through weeks, sometimes months, without feeling like I’m being productive at all, and then BAM! Inspiration hits, and an idea is in the works, and the submission dummy gets done in 3 weeks. Focus is sporadic and spontaneous for me. It is not regular. I do not work on books every day. Sometimes, I just think about it . . . or not. The less pressure I put on myself, the freer my mind will be to create new ideas. Being happy is a key ingredient to creativity! And vice versa.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
A book idea almost always starts on paper before moving onto screen. My initial rough sketches are pretty rough (and tiny). Here is an example of two spreads from Penguin and Pinecone.

The thumbnail sketch was about 2″ x 1″. The smaller I start, the less intimidating the work is. I write loose notes as I go, but let the picture tell the story before I know what to write. The story is more clear in scenes to me than actual words. As you can see, the final version of the thumbnails stayed relatively the same at finish. I flesh out the details at final stage. (Final spreads were 9″ x 18″, illustrated on Photoshop).

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I like to look at the whole book layout at once when I develop novelties or picture books. I print out my blank template for a 40-page PB layout, which is just 16 rectangles, each of them numbered. Often times, I end up cutting some of them out, replacing with a revised thumbnail, and taping it back on. In my work bag, I carry small child-safe scissors, tape, a fine mechanical pencil and eraser. These are in my work bag because I often develop story ideas at the library or at my local cafe. If my work requires the computer, I will be home. Whenever I can work outside of my studio, I take advantage of that just to change things up.

Rough thumbnail stage (first 8 spreads): (actual size of thumbnails here are about 3″ x 1-1/2″)


Sample interior spread:

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

Creating a captivating and eye catching cover that makes the reader want to open it! The cover is critical, both for my novelties and picture books. How do you capture the essence of the book with just one single image? It’s hard.

Kaleidoscope and Pinwheel (Little, Brown)



If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My 9-yr old son, no doubt. In fact, he often uses my drafting table when he’s got something he’s working on. And I’ve been giving him more drawer and cabinet space every year, so he’s slowly moving into my studio. We love working together, and even help each other out. If he needs a photo reference, I can quickly put it up on the screen for him or grab it from my reference library. Need a space book? Got it. Need a book on sea animals? Have that too. (And some are my own titles.)

Space Walk and Deep Sea Dive (Sterling, 2012)
And if I want his feedback on a book dummy, he’s more than happy to read and share his input. His initial thoughts are often surprisingly on the mark, sometimes to my dismay. We both enjoy working in silence, unlike my husband Chris who enjoys TV or music at all times while he works. It’s a good thing that his studio is on the opposite end of the house from mine! But he comes to visit me often. 🙂

Doors to Chris’ art studio. (Oh… look at that. THAT’S where the frisbee went!)
What is the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?
Don’t fall in love with your work. This isn’t to say don’t love your work. If you didn’t, you couldn’t develop it and put in all the time it requires. But be willing to accept shelving it because if you’re not, you won’t be able to move forward and create more work. Each project has its purpose in an artist’s/writer’s journey, whether they are published or not. Whenever I’ve sold something, I remind myself that this project would have never been developed if I didn’t keep going after the last several that didn’t. Don’t make yourself stuck by loving one ms too much. Move forward!

41 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Salina Yoon (and TWO Giveaways!)”

  1. writingbyhart

    Thanks for the great post! I love reading about other people's work preferences and how they go from concept to final product.

    And thanks for the contest. I'd most like to win PENGUIN ON VACATION.

  2. Melodye

    A serene & highly personalized place in which to work…so lovely!! I want an office space that inspires the same level of creativity, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to make it happen. Papers & books, stacked high as the Eiffel Tower, and tiny treasures everywhere…Hi, my name is Melodye, and I'm a clutterholic. 🙂

    Should I be so lucky as to win one of your beautiful books, I'd choose Penguin on Vacation. (I plan to buy Kaleidoscope for my little neighbor-friend, Sara.)

  3. Jennifer

    What a wonderful post! Salina, I bow to your organization and tidiness in your work space — it's so beautiful! No wonder you're able to create such amazing things in there. Thank you both for sharing a lovely peek! ( We'd love to win Penguin, of course!)

  4. Penguin

    Thanks for reading/looking, Writingbyhart! I've enjoyed Jenn's series, too.

    Good luck!


  5. Vijaya

    I loved having a peek into your workspace — oh, my it is so tidy! Love the clouds on the ceiling! And your process. Love the advice too! I can use it now that I'm revising 🙂 Thank you so much sharing so generously. I'll be happy to win anything … I have a couple of darling Salina Yoon fans already.

  6. Penguin


    I love the visual imagery of the space you describe… even if it IS cluttered. "Tiny treasures everywhere" makes me want to take a peek! 🙂 And thanks so much for stopping by. I hope Sara enjoys Kaleidoscope! (that project was truly a labor of love. MUCH, much labor involved in the process….)


  7. Penguin

    Tidiness? Oh… I just stuffed everything in the closet! It's all out now. Big explosions of books and mess all over! 🙂


  8. Penguin

    Aw, Vijaya! Thanks so much for dropping by! I offered you virtual tea, even if you didn't know it! I would always offer you tea if you dropped by. Good luck on your revisions.

    I pick Penguin on Vacation for you! I think you would like it. 🙂


  9. Leslie

    What a delightful interview–and what a delightful workspace! Many thanks for sharing both. (I'd be thrilled to win a copy of Pinwheel! )

  10. Amber Turner

    Thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Salina, I wish my house ever looked that clean. "Penguin is up…You know what that means." I love that. You should have a t-shirt that says that.

  11. Penguin

    Thank you for coming by, Leslie! I feel like I'm having an open-house today! 🙂 Good luck!


  12. Penguin

    Ha ha… thanks, Amber. I bet we could ALL use a Penguin (to get our working time) in the home!


  13. Romelle Broas

    Thank you, Salina, for a sneak peak into your beautiful home! What a great place for creations. Thanks, Jenn for this fabulous interview! I'd be thrilled to get a copy of Penguin on Vacation

  14. Sylvia Liu

    Thanks for the inspiring interview and the peek at your work process. I would love either book. I am also very impressed by your beautiful and neat work space!

  15. Franziska

    Love the clouds. Love that Penguin is the household 'tiptoe and whisper' sign. Love the unclutteredness. Great blog post!

  16. Cathy Ballou Mealey

    Love your painted sky ceiling…I'd be just like Penguin on the beach, lying back and staring up at the beautiful blue. Penguin, come vacation with ME!


  17. Chiêu

    Wow, what a beautiful home and work space! And so neat too. My daughter loves Penguin and Pinecone, and I know she will love to have Penguin on Vacation. Oh yes, the clouds are amazing.

  18. Sarah Grimm

    Great post! I love getting a peek at your workspace and process. We love Penguin and Pinecone here, but my daughter's current favorite is Space Walk, she has it memorized. We'd love to win any Salina Yoon book!

  19. Penguin

    Sarah, that is amazing your daughter memorized Space Walk! I'm very impressed. Thanks for stopping by!


  20. Penguin

    Hi Deborah, thank you! I will tell him… about the clouds. It was so much work for him to do… but I do enjoy it so much. 🙂 And yes.. my mom is a total sweetheart. She's knitted and quilted a mountain of things for me! (and makes me lots of Korean food when she visits!)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  21. Penguin

    Thank you, Sylvia! People keep saying how neat my work space is. Well… I'm sure you'd tidy up if you were going to take photos and share with the world! I try to keep it tidy,… but it's certainly not always this way, ESPECIALLY if I have a project or two in progress. (Or if my boys have a big school project! The big table comes in handy. Husband made that, too!)


  22. Penguin

    I'm glad I didn't take photos of my closets and drawers… because they certainly are more cluttered… especially my kitchen tools drawer. Takes 10 minutes to try and locate the peeler! I digress.

    Thanks for stopping by, Siski!

    I am loving everyone's love of the clouds! Chris painted clouds on a big life-sized cow once for the La Jolla Cow Parade! We call him Cloud Man around here.

  23. Penguin

    Hi Cathy,
    So good to see you here! Thanks for your lovely comments. Penguin would LOVE to vacation with you! And so would I! 🙂


  24. Penguin

    Thank you so much, Chieu! You know I am an admirer of your work, too,… especially AWAY WE GO! Give my hugs to your daughters!


  25. tinamcho

    What a beautiful walk through your home, Salina! I love your office, shelves, and tidiness! How neat to have clouds on your ceiling to look up to and have a painter hubby on the other side of the house!

  26. Penguin

    Hi Tina!

    Thanks for coming to visit! Yes… it's nice having a painter-hubby. The paintings hanging in my office are his— the ones with the metal frames, all hand-built. He even put up the crown moulding. Jack of many trades. Me… I just do books. 🙂


  27. Linda Lodding

    LOVED this tour, Salina! If I had to sign 1,500 book plates that's exactly the spot I'd choose…with a cup of coffee and gooey chocolate chips cookies on a plate. (Which, of course, would mean that half of my signed book plates would have chocolate smudges on them:) By the way, do you rent out your magic wand? I could use a couple of granted wishes about now…

    Happy to win any of your books — or that cute scarf!


  28. Calliope

    I'd love to win a signed copy of Yoon's Pinwheel for our library's storytime shelf. I use real pinwheels to get the kids' attention during stories, and I could build a theme around this book! Love her books! Love your blog!

  29. Penguin

    Thank you for visiting, Linda! I visited your studio space, too! It is absolutely lovely! I can totally envision myself in that space, esp the house in Sweden. 🙂 *space envy*

    I think if we were in college, we'd make fine roomies. Chocolate chip cookies and coffee sound like the perfect breakfast! 🙂 And I, too, frequent my local cafe and library.

    Sending you magical sparkles from my wand! I know you'll use it for GOOD! ****************************


  30. Penguin

    I would LOVE for a library to have one of my novelty books! It's quite rare that libraries purchase these types of books since they can damage easier by little ones, but I promise you that it will engage your audience! I've received many OOOOOH's and AHHHHH's from this book when I've shared with large groups. Thank you so much for entering, Calliope!


  31. jesswriteshere

    What a wonderful interview and peek at your work space, Salina! (You've inspired me to clean off my desk today;-) And thanks, Jenn, for bringing us this inspirational interview. I am a HUGE Penguin (& Salina Yoon) fan, and I would love Penguin on Vacation!

  32. Penguin

    Thanks for stopping by, Jess! And for all of your wonderful support! I'm glad I inspired you to clean off your desk, lol! It will give you room for new ideas!


  33. Evelyn

    Salina, I've really enjoyed our interactions on the Blue Board, so this was an extra treat to get to see and read more about how and where you do your marvelously creative work. Your space is amazingly tidy. Maybe it'll inspire me to clean up some my clutter. 🙂

    If I should be blessed to have my name drawn, I'd be delighted to have either book, but since I'm a math person I think I'll choose PINWHEEL. (I'm already a big fan of your KALEIDOSCOPE.) Thanks and best wishes to you as you continue to create such wonderful and amazing books.

  34. Penguin

    Hi Ev!

    I've enjoyed our conversations, too! You are the closest to a novelty-author on the boards… so I always think you and I are connected that way. Thank you for being a fan of Kaleidoscope! It's a book close to my heart.

    So glad you dropped by!


  35. Jenn (From the Mixed-Up Files)

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. The random number generator has selected Sarah as the winner of PENGUIN ON VACATION and Calliope as the winner of PINWHEEL. Please email me your mailing addresses so Salina can get the books out to you.

    Thanks again to all for commenting! I hope you'll check back for future giveaways, interviews, and other bloggy goodness.