Updated: Jan 27
Illustrator Phoebe Im, known for her work as @bobblejot on Instagram, is releasing her first book, Cute Chibi Animals, on January 19. Im, who has 295K Instagram followers, spoke with The Hilltop Show about her artistic journey, creative process, and career growth.
Im said she has been an artist for as long as she can remember.
“I was inspired to start drawing at a very early age by my parents who are both artistically inclined,” she said.
She said she learned how to read from books her mother illustrated and grew up watching her father paint, skills which quickly rubbed off.
“As a kid, I would never leave the house without a sketchbook and pencil, and I would just be drawing everywhere I went.”
Her drawing style has evolved a lot since then, but Im said she still brings her laptop and iPad Pro (loaded with the MediBang Paint app) with her everywhere for when inspiration strikes.
“I used to draw on my computer using Photoshop, but I started drawing more while I was commuting and found the iPad to be a more mobile alternative.”
Growing up, Im said she watched a lot of anime, so her original illustration style leaned more toward anime and manhwa.
She even started a webcomic in that style but found herself being drawn to creating cuter characters. From there, her chibi webcomic series Tori and Samuel was born.
Tori, a lively corgi, and Samuel, a sassy Munchkin cat, get into all kinds of adventures on Im’s Instagram page.
“Initially, Samuel was based on my husband and Tori was based on myself, but over time I subconsciously started modeling both Tori and Samuel after the different facets of my husband’s personality,” Im said.
“Samuel encompasses my husband’s more nurturing and snarky personality, while Tori represents his more playful and curious side.”
She said that most of the ideas for Tori and Samuel storylines also come from her husband.
“We always sit around bouncing ideas off each other and discussing little storylines that come to us as we’re going about our day,” she said.
Once they find a story they like, Im said she takes the script and begins sketching out the characters.
“I will usually try and put myself in the characters’ shoes to visualize the kind of poses and expressions they would have in any given situation,” she said, “which I feel helps to make the characters more expressive and relatable.”
She said that many of the storylines are built around real-life experiences because it is easier to translate their emotions over to Tori and Samuel.
“One of our comics was inspired by a time when my husband started hiccuping, and I laughed so hard I started hiccuping too,” Im said.
When that comic came out, she said she was amused to find that her followers assumed her husband was the one who laughed at her and not the other way around.
In her comics, Im also has to work on character continuity.
“I’ve always wanted to keep my characters’ appearances consistent throughout a comic series,” Im said, “but over time I realized that even though I never actively made a decision to tweak the way my characters look, they started to take on slightly different shapes and forms as the story progressed and they were made to react to different situations.”
“As you draw a character over and over again, you start to understand the character’s personality and become familiar with their quirks,” she said. “After that, it becomes more intuitive to accurately portray their emotions, and they’ll start to become much more expressive and consistent in the way they behave.”
Im said she finds that the most appealing characters are ones that are relatable, yet slightly different enough in an absurd way that they are entertaining.
“The great thing about fictional characters is that they’re able to get away with things we could only dream of doing,” Im said. “For example, Tori brings home teddy bears three times her size, rewards herself with a dozen cookies for doing a jumping jack, and sets a kitchen on fire trying to prepare a birthday cake for Samuel.”
Im said she created the Tori and Samuel comics to spread joy and positivity, and her popularity on Instagram seems to prove her mission successful.
“We’re just really lucky and blessed that there are so many people who enjoy the comics we create,” Im said.
“I personally feel that people are more likely to share comics they are able to identify with,” she said, “so I would recommend creating comics that are heartwarming and relatable.”
The other note she has for artists trying to grow their social media presence is that there is no one route to success.
“The important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing and to not be afraid to take risks and try new things,” she said.
Im said she had always been drawing as a hobby but only started illustrating full-time in 2019 after much encouragement from her husband. Now, she is a published author.
She says the process for the book was not unlike her usual routine for creating illustrations.
“I would start by figuring out what I wanted to illustrate, and then I would proceed to sketch, outline and color the artwork,” Im said.
Then, she would get feedback from her publishers at The Quarto Group on format, dimensions, and fine-tuning the illustrations to make the book cohesive.
Cute Chibi Animals is a guide for illustrators wanting to draw in the style of Tori and Samuel and Im’s other characters. The book teaches its readers to draw 75 different cuddly creatures, from an axolotl to a narwhal and everything in between. It is available now for pre-order from Amazon and other booksellers.