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Profile: UCLA Student Valentin Nguyen Talks New Children’s Book, Which Raises Funds And Awareness To Fight COVID-19

Valentin Nguyen is a second-year UCLA student and a newly published illustrator. Her children’s story, A Voyage to Virus Land, published this fall, includes text by author Matt Daly and dozens of colorful pictures explaining the Covid-19 pandemic in a kid-friendly manner. Her Campus at UCLA was able to speak with Valentin about her artistic process, balancing the project with student life and how she hopes the book will help fight the pandemic.

Her Campus: Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got interested in art?

Valentin: I’m Valentin! I’m a second-year studying design media arts and cognitive science, and I’m from San Francisco. Like many other artists, art has been my thing for my entire life. I had this one assignment in kindergarten where my teacher had us write journal entries about how we were feeling, and I would draw out my answers instead. Arts just have been the one thing that I come back to compared to anything else. 

HC: I’ve seen some of your illustrations, and noticed that you have a super unique style. How would you describe your type of illustration?

V: I would say that my art style is kinda goofy, kinda cute and derpy. I did have more of a fine arts background where I would paint and draw a lot, but now in a design major that’s more tech-based and about animation and video editing, I've been getting into digital stuff more. My style is really just trying to merge fine arts and tech; hopefully, by the time I graduate, I’ll figure that out! [bf_image id="2zhkfkbckf4hm42t2nsqtp7j"]

HC: You recently published a children’s book, what inspired you to take on the challenge?

V: I always wanted to make a children’s book. In my junior year of high school, I made a children’s book in my Psychology class about the five stages of grief. I read it out to the class, and people liked it! I wanted to publish it for real, but I couldn’t necessarily do that yet. I needed my parents’ permission, and I was too afraid of asking them because publishing and copyright take money and time. But now I’m 19! I saw a listing in a newsletter from the School of Arts and Architecture at UCLA. It was from this guy Matt Daly who was looking for an illustrator to work with on a children's book on COVID-19. I was like “Oh my god, this is what I want to do!” so I reached out to him. Things just went on from there! I’m the illustrator and he’s the author; he deals with the back end, and I deal with the front end.

HC: What about this project's story, in particular, drew you in?

V: We started this project back in mid-June, and I already knew I wanted to raise awareness on COVID, like to stay at home and wear your masks. That’s because I knew some people were not following the orders. I was back at home in S.F. at the time, and I was seeing my friends back in Westwood, who go to UCLA, going out. It freaked me out a lot. I wished that people were more COVID conscious. It was bugging me for a while, and seeing that I had the opportunity to educate the youth about COVID pushed me further to do something about it.

HC: How would you summarize the book A Voyage to Virus Land?

V: The book is about a little COVID virus character, and he just came out of nowhere and no one knows why. He starts popping from person to person, and there’s a timeline of people getting sick who interact with him. Throughout the book, there are little rules that people can follow to try and drive the coronavirus away, like wear your mask outside and wash your hands with soap etcetera. Eventually, in the end, there’s a little message saying if you do all of these things the virus will go away if we all work as a team. It’s a story of how the coronavirus came to be and how to drive it away, there's also a little glossary of words related to COVID. [bf_image id="fr867x6cnnv5w57bsgkg4j96"]

HC: That’s awesome! Can you walk me through the process of creating all of the artwork to go along with this story?

V: Right when we started working, the author gave me a rough draft of his manuscript. This helped the process because he already knew what he wanted each page to look like, and I just had to make it happen and draw it out. They weren’t super strict or detailed, so I still had creative freedom to create my own style! I would do one spread, a spread being two pages, at a time, and if he approved it I’d finalize and ink it on my iPad. Some of the spreads were pretty time-consuming. We did that 20 times because there were 40 pages. I spent about five to eight hours every week from mid-June to August sketching, outlining, and finishing a spread.

HC: What were you looking to achieve through undertaking this project?

V: I’d personally spoken to a few friends of mine about COVID, and they mentioned that they had younger family members who didn’t know why they were wearing masks when they went outside. And I was seeing this too, when I went outside I’d always wonder if kids knew why they were wearing masks or if parents just slapped masks on their faces. Matt and I both knew that we wanted to educate youth about covid because they are so important. 

HC: I understand that the proceeds from A Voyage to Virus Land are going to COVID-related organizations, which is amazing. Tell me about this donation aspect of your book!

V: We’ve collected all of the profits from the book, and we’re currently figuring out which COVID research and children’s preventative healthcare measures organizations we want to give the money to. I knew from the beginning that this was the plan; I’m not getting paid for this book. I don’t mind, it was a nice project overall and I don’t regret doing it. I'm just happy that the money will go to something more important; I don’t need it. [bf_image id="twxc3rwr6stqskhb5bkjnw8"]

HC: How did you juggle all of your normal work as a UCLA student with all of your work illustrating this book?

V: I did take summer classes at the same time, so it was pretty hard. At the time I was enrolled in two classes for Summer Session A, and I dropped one of them by week 3 because I couldn't handle all of it. I spent a lot of time on the book! I pulled all-nighters because I was aware of the timeline, and we had to stay efficient. I was just working day to night drawing and writing my essays and studying, it was a lot but I’m glad I went through with it because it was worth it.

HC: I think that it’s really cool that you found a way to use your artistic skill for the greater good, do you plan on pursuing more projects like this in the future?

V: I think I’d like to! I’m not sure that I want to do this as my career, but it’s definitely fun as a project every now and then. I love illustrating, illustrating for a purpose and for a message. I want to feel passionate about what I draw, and this is one of the most fun ways I can do that. I can just crank out a bunch of art for the greater good!

HC: Have you seen people buying your book? What has that been like?

V: I have some friends who’ve bought it and sent me pictures and I’m like “Omg!” It is so nice and crazy to see that my art is out there and people are buying it. It’s insane. And the author, Matt, has friends with kids, and they bought the book and sent pictures of kids reading it. He’s from a pretty small hometown and he’s reached out to bookstores to stock up on it, and we want to get the book in bigger stores too. I don’t know if that will happen, but I hope so.

HC: It’s been so nice talking to you, do you have anything else to add?

V: It was just a great opportunity overall, a lot of stress and work, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. It’s done and it’s out there; I just hope that kids read it and learn more about COVID. 

It was a pleasure to speak with Valentin about her work as an illustrator and learn about how one college student is using her talents to help fight the pandemic. Her book, A Voyage to Virus Land, is out now and available for purchase on Amazon. Go check it out!

Kate is a San Francisco native and third-year English major at UCLA. When she's not writing articles for Her Campus at UCLA, she enjoys getting lost in a good book and experimenting with vegan recipes.
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