Internet sensation: Mom turns naptime into Baby in Wonderland

San Jose Mercury NewsApril 4, 2014 

MOMS-BABYWONDERLAND-MUSIC-SJ

Mom and freelance commercial artist Sioin Queenie Liao designed and snapped this scene of her sleeping baby Wengenn, after her husband Sen-Ben Liao, a music lover, came up with the idea.

COURTESY OF SIOIN QUEENIE LIAO — MCT

  • While baby sleeps

    Inspired? Here are some tips from Sioin Queenie Liao:

    • Keep bed sheets handy in a variety of colors to create various backdrops.

    • Be creative with toys and other household objects. Crumpled toilet paper becomes fluffy white clouds, a belt becomes a snake, and tiny black paper cutouts became Lilliputians in a scene inspired by “Gulliver’s Travels.”

    • Set up the scene ahead of time in a well-lit room. Dress your child in a sleeping suit that doubles as a “costume,” including accessories such as little hats or booties.

By anyone’s standards, Wengenn Liao enjoyed a pretty remarkable first year.

The Tracy, Calif., baby flew on a trapeze, scrambled up a tower to rescue Rapunzel, plucked a few stars out of the sky and ventured to the fabled land of Lilliput.

He even managed to stop in Washington and nail an exclusive with President Barack Obama.

Wengenn went on all sorts of adventures, in fact – all while taking his afternoon nap.

Needless to say, his mother, freelance artist Sioin Queenie Liao, had an unusual idea of what naptime meant in her home.

Once Wengenn was asleep, Liao would lay her youngest son down in the middle of a fantastical tableau she’d created on her living room floor using a bed sheet, toys, stuffed animals and household objects. Then she would begin to snap away.

By the time he’d turned 1, Liao had photographed Wengenn in more than 100 scenes that evoke the imaginative worlds of children’s storybooks.

“It was the best way to show my love, and it’s a wonderful way to keep track of his growth,” says Liao, who was a children’s book illustrator before becoming a full-time mom to Wengenn and his two older brothers. “I take a lot of pictures because they grow so fast.”

As with a small number of clever and creative parent projects, Liao’s photos have garnered renown among mommy bloggers and interviews with various media outlets, including the BBC.

Her photos can be found on her website – wengenninwonderland.com. She already has collected them into a book published in Asia. She hopes to soon produce an English-language version for U.S. fans.

With her photos of Wengenn, Liao joins a growing number of parents finding new and unusual ways to photograph their children.

Among them, the sleeping child photo represents a distinct genre – witness the beatifically lit newborns curled up in feather-lined baskets, now popular with many commercial photographers and sometimes emulated by parents.

Perhaps best known is Santa Cruz, Calif., mom Jessica Shyba who won social media and morning TV show fame this past fall when she posted to Instagram photos of her toddler son sleeping with the family’s rescue puppy.

Then there are the parents who shoot photos of their kids – wide awake – as favorite TV, film and other fictional characters.

Fairfield, Calif., photographer Karen Abad – karenabad.com – has photographed friends’ kids dressed up as Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones” and the stars of “True Detective.”

And who knows where the trend will go once “Neighbors” – a Seth Rogen-Rose Byrne comedy in which they dress up their daughter as Bryan Cranston’s Heisenberg alter ego from “Breaking Bad” among other characters – arrives in theaters in May?

Liao’s inspirations are less edgy. She grew up immersing herself in fairy tales, and she studied literature in college while also painting and drawing. She and her husband, Sen-Ben Liao, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, moved to Tracy nine years ago.

When Wengenn was born in March 2010, Liao discovered the “Mila’s Daydream” photos by Finnish artist and mother Adele Enersen, who also presents her sleeping daughter in storybook backdrops. Like Enersen, Liao was inspired by the stylized baby photos of Australian photographer Anne Geddes.

Liao began photographing Wengenn when he was 5 months old. It helped that he went down for naps easily.

“He was also a sound sleeper,” she says. “Otherwise, I couldn’t have finished.”

Preparation is key. Liao worked out scenes ahead of time in her head or on a sketch pad, typically setting up a scene in the morning before Wengenn’s nap.

Now almost 4, Wengenn is still his mom’s model, but he likes to be photographed wide awake. His big brothers, Wentinn, 11, and Wenlun, 6, also have gotten into the act, sometimes supplying their mother with ideas – as in letting them pose as characters from their favorite “Super Mario Bros.” video game.

Of all the photos Liao took of Wengenn, her favorite shows him posed as if he is climbing a ladder through a soft blue sky and fluffy clouds to catch a star.

“The star catcher reflects my dreams and hopes for my baby,” she says. “I want to see him growing and reaching his dreams like that.”

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