Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Sharon Sordo, Tatiana Gardel, Luciana Navarro Powell

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By Cecilia Cackley

This is the twelfth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx illustrators of picture books. Some of these artists have been creating children’s books for many years, while others will have their first book out soon. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but all are passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Sharon Sordo is an illustrator, cat hugger, and expert soup maker. As a Mexican girl growing up in the United States, Sharon found it difficult to relate to the many characters in children’s books that were available. Since then, she strives to represent different cultural backgrounds through her art. She lives in San Diego, California with her husband and cat.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: The magical way a story book can transport you into a new world through colorful illustrations captured my imagination as a young child. This is what inspired me to become an artist. Sharing my own stories and drawings with the people I love and igniting a sense of wonder in them, this is what will inspire me to do it forever. 

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

A: Through digital art, I have all of the traditional mediums at my disposal without the clean up and I can erase with ease. I don’t need a huge studio to store canvases and stinky oil paints, my pigments will never dry up, and sharing my art with the world and clients is amazingly simple. Drawing and painting in Adobe Photoshop along with my Wacom Cintiq, has made art more fun and stress free. One minute, I can try pastels, layer some watercolor on top, and finish it off with ink, never worrying about how these mediums will interact. I was introduced to digital art in college. It was there that I learned the basics. I’ve since continued to learn about different softwares for producing art and eventually landed on Adobe Photoshop as the most versatile and user friendly. I still dabble in traditional art, mainly ink and colored pencil, but I don’t think I will be illustrating children’s books this way anytime soon!

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: Picture books are important because they allow children to escape into different worlds and adults to keep our inner children alive and happy. We can learn great lessons from the stories we read and share. Also, we all get to own a piece of unique and original art.

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Tatiana Gardel is a Brazilian illustrator and teaching artist based in New York City. She started her career in fine art, and while exploring other ways to express her creativity, she found a passion for storytelling and illustration. Tatiana co-founded #LatinxPitch and is a member of the Black Creators in KidLit. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators in New York and American Illustration.

She is the illustrator of the upcoming books Xavier’s Voice, written by Ashley Franklin (Innovation Press, 2023) and Painting the Sky with Love, written by Mary Baca Haque (Feiwel and Friends, 2023).

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

 A: My grandfather had a passion for drawing and was the one to encourage me to draw when I was a child. I also grew up watching lots of cartoons, animes, reading comics, mangas, and playing video games. All of that sparked my interest in creating art and imagining stories. But it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned I could have a career as a professional artist.  

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc. 

 A: I’m a traditional artist who transitioned to making digital art. In the past 2 years, I went from scanning and adjusting images to mixing up techniques to working fully digitally. This was an organic process and my goal was to mimic my traditional pieces. I really enjoy the freedom of working with this medium, how you can combine and explore possibilities without having to recreate the whole image. My portfolio is a blend of traditional, mixed media, and digital artwork.  

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

 A: Picture books are important because they are a gateway to imagination, knowledge, empathy and connection.

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Luciana Navarro Powell is an artist living in San Diego, California, with her husband and two children. She has illustrated many children’s books over the years and has now started writing them as well. Her first two as both author and illustrator are My Dad Is the Best Playground and My Mom Is the Best Circus.

Q: What or who inspired you to become an artist?

A: There was not a single event or artist in particular that inspired me. Ever since I can remember myself as a child I was always drawing and reading, so storytelling through drawing evolved in an organic way. My father is an architect and I remember watching him sketching and marveling over beautiful architectural renderings, so I am sure that played a part as well. When it was time for me to go to college, there wasn’t a school that offered an Illustration major where I lived. I graduated with a degree in Industrial Design, which I enjoyed a lot and it had some classes that offered a good foundation for Illustration. I worked as a designer for a few years while I freelanced doing illustration projects. Eventually I circled back to become a full-time illustrator.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium–why you like it, when you first learned it, etc.

A: I worked in a variety of analog media in the beginning of my career – acrylics, color pencils, printmaking;  but most often watercolor and pen and ink for black and white illustrations. When Photoshop came into the picture for me, it was a perfect way to integrate traditional media and digital art. My favorite artistic medium is mixed media, I used analog painted bits mixed with digital brushes. If I work on a book, the final art phase will usually last for about 3 months – when I finish it I usually take a few days off the computer by doing some analog-only projects on the side. Lately I have also enjoyed immensely doing sidewalk chalk art around my neighborhood and also plein-air painting with watercolor whenever I travel. You can check all these side projects at my Instagram account, @lucianaillustration !

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Picture books are important because…”

A: …they offer a merger of imagery and language that will be an essential building block for a child life-long love of reading!

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

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