For Women’s History Month, EnVi shows extra love to women across the Asian diaspora and beyond, with special features in Fashion, Beauty, Music, Film, and Culture.

Stella Hong, a children’s book illustrator based in Sydney, Australia, is making waves in the art world with her vibrant illustrations and tradition-inspired stories. Her portfolio is covered with whimsical drawings that range from “look-and-find” books to stories that exemplify family and acceptance among younger readers. With the desire to share the experience of reading with family while representing her Asian roots in the process, Hong has carved a unique niche for herself, capturing the hearts of both children and adults alike. In an interview with EnVi, Stella Hong shared her artistic journey, inspirations, and advice for fellow creatives navigating the art scene.

Early Artistic Journey 

Stella Hong was always drawn to creative activities as a child. Growing up introverted, most of her earliest memories involved sitting alone with her nose glued to her sketchbook, keeping herself occupied through colors and imagination.

The mystical and serene art of Studio Ghibli films also drew Hong in as a young artist. She found that the creations had a magical quality that transported her to other worlds, be it during quiet moments or climactic points of the plot.

“I would like to draw people but they would look more like potatoes,” Hong said with a laugh. “I really liked drawing animals too, so I would be drawing a lot of those. When I got to illustrate look-and-find books with my bugs and creatures, I think that was probably a dream project for me as well because I did draw a lot of animals growing up. So things just aligned.” 

Despite her early interest in the arts, Hong focused on other subjects in high school to get higher marks, on top of her parents’ desire for her to focus on academics. It wasn’t until university that she decided to officially pursue a creative career with a Bachelor of Visual Communication at the University of Technology, Sydney.

“I think, compared to other Asian families, my mom does give me a lot of freedom with what I want to do. But I could sense that, even with graphic design, they weren’t exactly happy with my choice. And they had a lot of patience with me, because it did take a while to get to where I am now. It was only in the past couple of years, when they saw what I could do — like actually land a book deal — that they were like ‘Okay, maybe there’s some growth in this,’” Hong said.

Image courtesy of Stella Hong

Although not her exact goal, the degree was the closest she could get to illustration within the available courses in Sydney. The program primarily focused on commercial work and typesetting, pushing Hong to explore her love for drawing and illustration on her own time, and through efforts outside of college.

First Venture into Book Writing

In the past years, Hong has pursued illustration work, initially taking on freelance gigs through platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Despite starting with less-than-ideal projects, these opportunities served as valuable stepping stones, helping her gain experience and shape her skills. As her experience and portfolio grew, Hong planned to apply to multiple agents that could potentially represent her work.

However, life took a turn as her current agent, Moe Ferrara from BookEnds Literary agency, discovered her on Instagram, captivated by her Lunar New Year illustration post for the Year of the Tiger.

With the agency, Hong was able to secure more remarkable illustration opportunities that aligned more with her interests, including her first book deal as an author-illustrator that eventually brought LunarTale to life.

“I hadn’t really written anything at all before [LunarTale]. When I illustrated for other books, I just received a script to guide the overall art, so I wasn’t too confident about writing. But it was such a good deal. And I did want to draw more illustrations relating to my culture, so I was like, ‘I really can’t pass on this,’” Hong said.


Hong’s breakout book, LunarTale (An Abrams Trail Tale): A New Year’s Adventure, combines her love for illustration with her cultural background, celebrating Lunar New Year through the eyes of two siblings. The story follows a brother and sister on their journey to grandma’s house as they travel through various landscapes in Asia, meeting the 12 zodiac sign animals along the way. At the end, they reach grandma’s house, have a huge feast with family, and finally enter Chinatown where they celebrate all the traditional festivities with their community.

Due to being new to writing, Hong brainstormed LunarTale by first mapping out designs she wanted to utilize for her story. Seeing it as a unique opportunity to draw what she enjoys, she first decided on whimsical landscapes she would love to include, highlighting her keen interest in horoscopes and zodiac signs that played a key role in shaping the story. The plot came together later on as she worked on the manuscript for three months, on top of tackling the challenge of fitting everything into a 52-page book. 

Image courtesy of Stella Hong

LunarTale also served as a representation of Hong’s growing appreciation for family. Hong revealed that the boy in the book is actually her brother and the girl is herself, and since she lives with her grandparents, she found a way to include her grandma and their New Year festivities.

Cultural Representation in Children’s Books

“I think, growing up, I saw Lunar New Year as more of a chore. But now, I feel really tied to it and it’s so exciting, so I wanted to share that in the book. I’d say [my] inspiration would probably be how I celebrate it with family — it’s a day to get together, a day to eat,” Hong said.

Because Hong finds that the Lunar New Year tends to be “chaotic” and overwhelming sometimes, she translated the feeling into illustrations by using huge pops of color and shapes across busy and detailed pages.

LunarTale started with calm, serene pages, but then transitioned to more exciting spreads. Even in the simpler scenes, Hong packed in lots of details so kids and their parents can find surprises and Easter eggs each time they flip through. The final spread of LunarTale also features a fold-out that, when flipped open, uncovers a huge Lunar New Year festival that features dragon dances, traditional clothing, cultural drum performances, food, and more. 

Image courtesy of Stella Hong

“There have been parents that contacted me on Instagram saying how enjoyable the book was for them. One comment did say she liked that every time she went through the book, there was something new that she found in it. And I think it’s nice to hear that people feel like they’re being represented,” Hong said. “Growing up, I don’t think I really had that many books that flipped out or, like, had holes in them. Much less ones on Asian culture. So it was nice to see that people were sharing the experience of reading together with your family, and just going through each page one by one. There were even kids who aren’t Asian enjoying it as well, which I thought was nice.”

Artists’ Online Presence and Experimentation

Hong acknowledged that her art style wasn’t always tailored for children’s books. However, a shift occurred as she noticed the influx of positive responses to her art on Instagram, particularly those in a children’s book style of simpler shapes and bright colors. Recognizing the resonance of this style with online audiences, Hong decided to lean into it, refining her craft to establish herself as a children’s book illustrator, which eventually paid off to reach her current agent and other book authors.

While Hong acknowledged the importance of online presence, she expressed frustration regarding the lack of balance between her creative expression with market demands, emphasizing the need to focus on personal artistic fulfillment.

“Right now, there’s like, Reels, and you sort of can’t predict what the algorithm wants. You just have to constantly put out content and I think because of that, I felt kind of stifled,” Hong mused. “I couldn’t really focus on my art as much, I feel like it sort of taints my creativity, like I am thinking about ‘What do the people want?’ instead of what I want to create. I think that’s why I’ve sort of taken a step back from Instagram. When I’m ready to share again, I’ll probably post a bit more.”

On top of working on more upcoming children’s books, Hong has recently instead found joy within art communities and markets across Sydney, as she plans to focus on booking conventions and selling her art at those spaces this year. 

As an artist, Hong is also constantly experimenting and trying new things that would bring her the most joy and profitable outcomes within art. She has recently dabbled in film and video game fan art through pop culture communities, her acrylic earring-making business and even experienced her first time painting a mural for Lunar New Year street decorations despite being less well-versed with traditional paints.

“I feel like in this career, you can’t just have one income because it’s so unstable. Focusing on different things keeps things interesting for me, so I’m not focusing on one thing, like, three months at a time. I’m juggling it all, which is pretty fun. And you can be creative, learn more about what you like in the process,” Hong noted. “Just keep experimenting, keep showing the work, and the right people will find you.”

Interested in learning about more creatives like Stella Hong? Check out our Brush by Vegalia feature here!