Lessons through color

In the quiet of the night, Diamond Bar High School art teacher Vianney Hwang pulls out his worn Reeves watercolor set, gently laying down vibrant base colors. After the watercolor has completely dried, Hwang begins tightening the borders of his images with Prismacolors, keeping both his and the author Geneva Witmer’s vision in mind for the children’s book “Josephine’s Pouch.”

“When I heard about this one [project], it really lined up with my values, so I was really excited for it,” Hwang said.

Hwang was notified about this opportunity to be the replacement artist to illustrate a children’s book last December from Dr. Matt Witmer, father of the author. Having met Witmer at a recent leadership seminar, Hwang shared his passion for art with Witmer, and was then asked to read Geneva’s story.

Although Hwang has been approached many times to take on similar types of projects, he always turned them down since he didn’t believe in the story’s themes.

“It’s a really great story about acceptance,” Hwang said. “[Growing up] we always kind of notice things about ourselves that are different from other people, and the book really embraces those differences and really talks about forgiving those who kind of don’t understand why we’re different.”

Agreeing to illustrate the story, Hwang first presented the different style options to Geneva, exploring what tone she wanted for the images of the book. Witmer wrote notes with the specific pages that she wrote for the book, giving Hwang an idea of what she wanted to be illustrated on the page.

“Before I came in contact with Mr. Hwang, I was slightly worried about finding an illustrator who would understand the deeper emotions within the story and who could capture these emotions with illustrations,” Witmer said via email. “Mr. Hwang understood the themes in my story and was willing to communicate with me and work with me, as a team.”

From there, it was a lengthy communication process, in which Hwang updated Witmer on the progress, and she would give the OK to move on. Hwang then sent the completed works to DBHS photography teacher Bill Foley, who helped photograph them to be sent back to Geneva.

“I think we both had extremely busy schedules, so I would be communicating with her parents rather than her directly,” Hwang said. “Sometimes that was a little difficult to balance, but for the most part [the process] was pretty smooth.”

From January to February, Hwang worked about three hours a day on the project. Hwang said that for projects like this, he would ideally prefer a six-month period, but had to work on a tighter time frame since he was a late replacement.

“It was quite a commitment,” Hwang said. “I was very surprised that I could hit that deadline without having pages look incomplete.”

The book was published in the summer, and was followed by a Barnes and Nobles signing in mid-June in Tustin.

“I was very proud to be a part of the signing,” Hwang said. “We ordered 100 books to sell and we sold out immediately, so that was pretty amazing.”