Lolo’s Sari-Sari Store: Sketches

Hello October!

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a while, but some personal life events (birthing a human!!!), as well as working on a book deadline, has delayed me just a bit. But here it is! Early character sketches from LOLO’S SARI-SARI STORE written by Sophia N. Lee, and illustrated by me.

Every project starts with research and gathering reference photos. These help inform and give life to character sketches. I took note of the hot weather in the Philippines, what the people there would wear, and the playful energy when visiting sari-sari stores.

When I find a design that I like, I create turnarounds to help me keep the characters’ looks consistent throughout the book. Here you can see the narrator and Lolo. 

Aside from our narrator and Lolo, another main character is the sari-sari store itself! As I’m living in NJ, it wasn’t easy to blindly visualize being in the Philippines. I relied on the numerous reference photos, YouTube neighborhood walkthrough videos, and photos I took on my last visit to the Philippines. 

Another incredibly helpful resource has been HAJIMETE NO OTSUKAI by Tsutsui Yoriko and Hayashi Akiko. In the story, a little girl goes shopping by herself for the first time, kind of like the “Old Enough!” show on Netflix. The artist depicted different angles and perspectives of a Japanese corner store, which helped me expand how I can visualize the sari-sari store. I bought this book from Kinokuniya years ago, and I was so happy to have it come in handy!

Lastly, one of the most fun reference sheets to draw - the snacks! My goal was to make them recognizable but without such “on the nose” branding. How many can you identify?

I am forever grateful that my first illustrated picture book was Sophia’s story. I’ve loved hearing people’s reactions to her writing, how its reminded them of their own immigrant story, of their own childhood. 

You can order LOLO’S SARI-SARI STORE here:

Bel Canto Books | | Simon & Schuster

Happy Filipino-American History month! 

CURRENTLY… newborn life!


Love is Blind, season 5. It’s not good. 

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