Ninja! July 01


Chance Encounters and the Kindness of Strangers by Arree Chung

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As a child, I never imagined I would be an author and illustrator.  I thought I was going to be a doctor.  Sure, I drew cartoons and read all the time but it wasn’t the practical thing to do in life, especially to first generation Chinese immigrants.

So how did I end up making picture books?  Well I started to listen to that inner voice inside and I had a few chance encounters with kind strangers that pointed me down a new path.  For me, those few key moments helped steer my direction in life.  I wanted to share a few of these chance encounters with you.

In 2002, I was working as a consultant, making spreadsheets all day and wondering if there was more to life.  On the commute home one day, a group of art students piqued my interest with their canvas bags and drawings.  I was so impressed with their work and their passion for art.  They were kind enough to invite me to visit their drawing workshop and I took them up on their offer.

The following week, I decided to attend their workshop right after work.  I showed up in my my navy suit and drew a lot of stares.  They must have wondered, “Who attends a drawing workshop in a suit?”  Undeterred, I pulled out my yellow legal pad and started to draw.  I sucked.  I thought I could draw but I realized I couldn’t.  During the break, everyone gathered around and reviewed each other’s drawings.  I hid mine in embarrassment.  Despite my failed attempt at drawing, the guys that I had met embraced me and introduced me to other people.  I picked their brains on drawing techniques and soon I was hooked.

A few years later, I would quit my job at Pixar to attend art school.  Little did I know, a chance encounter with a group of art students would lead me down a path of becoming an artist.

My path to publishing also started with a chance encounter.  At the time, I was working as a game artist but dreamed of making picture books. I didn’t know how to get started and shared my frustrations with co-workers.  I felt stuck.  One day, my co-worker’s wife, Kim Baker, introduced me to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and I’m so glad she did.  I attended my first conference and learned so much.  I started becoming a SCBWI regular attendee and a few years later, I made Ninja as an exercise for a SCBWI Illustrator workshop.  Little did I know that would be my break into publishing and to think, it all started with encouragement from a co-worker’s wife.


My path to becoming a picture book author and illustrator has been a windy road filled with many chance encounters with kind strangers from various communities.  Today, they are my dear friends and I am grateful to  everyone for helping me in my journey.  What I have learned is, don’t be afraid of meeting people from communities that you aren’t familiar with.  Chances are, they will welcome you with open arms and help you get to where you want to go.

Ninja!Arree ChungArree Chung has worked in video games as a designer and art director. He received his ninja training at Art Center College of Design. When he is not practicing his ninja moves, you can find him playing basketball or riding his bike. Ninja! is the first book he has written and illustrated. Arree lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his family. Find him online at and on Twitter @arreechung. You can read more about his journey to becoming an author on his blog here.