A Studio Visit with Illustrator Zara González Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Zara González Hoang is an illustrator who is just beginning her career in children’s literature. She created the art for the picture book Thread of Love by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal and recently sold her book A New Kind of Wild which is inspired by her father’s experience moving from Puerto Rico to the United States as a child. We met at her studio in Falls Church, VA to talk about her journey to becoming an illustrator.

IMG_8475

 

Cecilia Cackley: Tell me a little about your path to becoming an artist

Zara González Hoang: When I was little my dad was really artistic and he used to draw with us. Some of my favorite memories are of me and my dad just laying on the floor in the porch or something and just drawing horses. My mom was a teacher so we always had paper and pens and I just always drew as a kid. And I think, too, everybody has things in their growing up that are probably not all that fantastically awesome and for me drawing was my escape. I would go hide in my room and draw and make up all these different worlds. I really liked to combine animals into new animals. My favorite was the “horseger”—it was a horse and a tiger which were my two favorite animals.

I’ve always been doing art, but I never considered doing it seriously. I went to college and took art classes but I also studied computer science and that was the practical side of me. There’s always been these two parts of me, the very logical side and the creative side. I’ve always been drawn to computers, and I’ve always been drawn to art. I majored in art, but then I worked doing network administration and web design—merging art and computers in a way. I didn’t start seriously drawing until the iPhone came out and I started a company with some friends making apps for kids and I illustrated them.

I never wanted to do kids books, it’s so weird! And it’s because I was afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be consistent, that it was too much work, that I just wasn’t good enough. After I had my son, and I was reading all these picture books, I came back to this place I really loved that I thought I couldn’t have anymore. I always looked at picture books and wanted to buy them, but I always thought, I don’t have any kids, I can’t buy them, which is such a silly thing. There’s no reason why you can’t have these things you want just because you’re not a child. It doesn’t mean they’re any less beautiful or valid. I’ve always been someone who hid that part of me. I always hid my sketchbooks. It was such a personal part of myself that I felt I couldn’t flaunt it.

It wasn’t until I had my son that I felt like I really had permission to do this. I was looking for something to do with more meaning, and I realized–or my sister realized for me–that I have this gift for art and for writing. So I started putting together my portfolio for children’s books, and then I started going to SCBWI conferences, and I realized that everyone there was just like me: super nerdy about books and picture books! My friends talked me into submitting my work to agents, and I got a super awesome agent who I love. When I queried agents, I queried them as an illustrator who wanted to write, and I sent my portfolio but not any writing. The reason I knew she was the right agent for me was that she read my story A New Kind of Wild, and she told me how to make it better, and we spent the next year working on it to get it to a place where we could send it out. I feel like I finally came back to where I was supposed to be.

IMG_8468

 

CC: You started out working digitally, but in your studio, you showed me more traditional media like pen, ink, and watercolor. How has that process gone?

ZGH: When I did Thread of Love, I didn’t think I’d want to do anything the traditional way. I didn’t think I was any good at it. I liked digital, I liked the control of it. So when I got the manuscript of Thread of Love, that was how I was going to do it. I could see the color palette as soon as I read the manuscript. I don’t know if it’s my background in graphic design or what, but I saw the color palette first. It wasn’t until after that project that I started moving into more traditional media. Two things happened. One, I started thinking about the things that I liked and the illustrators and artists who I love the most work traditionally. There seemed to be a disconnect for me between what I did and what I liked, and I wanted to bring that closer.

When I started writing A New Kind of Wild, it had originally been digital to me, and that’s how I submitted my dummy, but I wanted to do it traditionally because in my mind that’s how it was. So I was doing all these studies of my characters traditionally and posting them on Instagram. My editor was creeping on me, and she saw them and she asked me if I would consider doing it traditionally. It was like she was seeing into my mind or my heart because that’s what I wanted, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say what I wanted. I’m not at the point of making the art yet, so it may end up being digital, but it may end up being a hybrid mix. And that’s fine because I have a lot of comfort with the ability to erase mistakes digitally.

I’m a perfectionist in some ways. I don’t like the mistakes and even when I’m working traditionally because I’m using watercolor and colored pencil and ink, the things I love about watercolor I also hate. If you have a big swatch of color, you’re going to see the way the water moves in that swatch of color and those imperfections are the things that make it interesting.  I’m constantly fighting with myself to be okay with the imperfect, but I want to try and embrace it because the reality is, life isn’t perfect. I think there’s more emotion and interest in things that are loose rather than tight.

IMG_8470.JPG

 

CC: Thread of Love is about a very specific Indian holiday, Rashka Bandhan. What was the research process like for that?

ZGH: I am not Indian, so I had to do a lot of research to make sure I got things right. It’s something that was constantly on my mind while I was working on the book. Since I’m not of that culture, I worked really had to get it right. I checked out all the books I could from the library about the holiday, and I relied a lot on the authors telling me that I was portraying things correctly.  I also talked to friends who are Indian and who celebrate Rashka Bandhan. I wanted to make sure my illustrations depicted Raksha Bandhan accurately, especially since it is a holiday that is not one that I celebrate.

IMG_8472

 

CC: A New Kind of Wild is inspired by your own family history, so what has the research process been like for that?

ZGH: I wrote this book without thinking that it was about my dad’s story—it wasn’t until I was reworking the book that I realized that was the story I was telling. My dad passed away, and he’s not here for me to ask him, so a lot of the stuff I’m relying on is memories of the stories he told me about him growing up. My dad grew up in Puerto Rico with his grandmother until he was ten or twelve, when his mom was in New York. So, in the book, there’s a page where he’s leaving his grandmother. Pieces of my dad’s story are woven through like that. When we went back to Puerto Rico, we went to my dad’s house that he grew up in, so there will probably be some of that place in the book.

CC: What are some goals you have for where you want your career to go as a writer and illustrator?

ZGH: I think where I want to go does involve being a writer, so it means telling my own stories, and that’s both on the Latinx side and also on my other side because I’m half Puerto Rican and half Russian/Polish/Belaruski because my mom’s family came from a place where the borders kept shifting. I want to tell stories about people who are mixed. I have all these ideas for stories about things that are interesting about being from two cultures. I’m also Jewish and I think I’m the only Jewish person I know who had a big pork roast on Hanukkah sometimes because Hanukkah and Christmas fell on the same day and we always had a big pernil and arroz con gandules. I want to write more about that experience. There aren’t really a lot of stories that talk about what it’s like to be part of a family where you eat pho and also matzo balls. It can be confusing to be in the middle of everything. I want to start telling stories about my reality and the reality of kids that are mixed growing up. I don’t really feel that there are books out there that are telling those stories in a way that shows all the fantastic things about having multiple cultures.

CC: What advice do you have for other Latinx artists who are just starting out?

ZGH: The only real advice I have is to find other people that are doing it and try to make friends. One of the best things I ever did was meet someone who created a critique group that let me in. Having people to talk to who understand what you’re going through is priceless; even if nobody’s published, just having somebody to say keep going. It’s hard to talk to people who aren’t trying to be in publishing because they don’t understand how weird this industry is. There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just persistence and luck. The advice is keep going and find people to share the experience with.

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia 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

 

 

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators: Andrea Galecio, Saskia Bueno, and Jeannette Arroyo

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the seventh in a series of posts spotlighting Latina illustrators and this time we are shifting focus slightly. Instead of interviewing illustrators of picture books, I had the honor of speaking to two artists who work on book covers and an artist who is publishing her first graphic novel soon.

 

Andrea Galecio

Andrea Galecio is a designer and illustrator from Lima, Peru. Her art can be seen on the cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, released in March 2019 from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney/Hyperion.

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

A: I always liked cartoons and then I began to draw little by little. But in adolescence I learned to draw better because I found a page that was called Deviantart and I saw many great illustrations of many good artists, that inspired me a lot.

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

Related imageA:  I work in all art media, traditional and digital, but I like more the digital art. The illustrations I make in Photoshop, there are a lot of great brushes. I learned to draw in the digital medium when I was 15 years old and at the beginning I was watching tutorials, exploring different techniques, then I studied at the university and improved my skills as an illustrator.

When I learned to draw in traditional and digital, I created a channel on YouTube where I talk about being an illustrator, I give advice and I love it.

Q: Please finish this sentence: Books with pictures are important because…

A: … they help us improve our imagination a lot more and give us a guideline about the literary world.

 

Saskia Bueno

Image result for saskia buenoSaskia Bueno is a graphic designer and lettering artist from Barranquilla, Colombia. Her work can be seen on the cover of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez.

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

A: Well I believe art runs in my family. My grandpa was a painter. I remember he used to sit at his table, which was full of papers, colors and art stuff, and he would paint for hours. Sometimes he would let my brother and I paint with him. He would give us some sheets and colors and he always loved what we did with them. Years later, my brother began to study Graphic Design, and I liked so much what he did. I even used to help him with his homework, and that’s when I realized I wanted to study Design, too. So yeah, if I am an artist today its thanks to my family.

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

A: My favorite tools are, without a doubt, my iPad Pro and Procreate. I fell in love with the iPad a few years ago, when I saw an artist on Instagram and her beautiful work. So the following week I went to an Apple Store and got myself one. What I love about the iPad is that is extremely practical and working with Procreate means having a world of possibilities. You can create sketch, draw, paint landscapes, portraits, watercolors and of course, letters, and that is just amazing.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Books with pictures are important because…”

A:…in every single one there’s world full of wonder that a kid can discover and be inspired.

 

Jeannette Arroyo

Jeannette Arroyo is the artist for the YA graphic novel Blackwater with Ren Graham, which will be published in 2020 by Henry Holt.

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

A: I’ve always loved drawing since I was little. I was mostly inspired by animated movies and a love for cartoons. Tom and Jerry is an old favorite.

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

A: Right now, I predominantly work in digital media. It is less frustrating for me and less messy. I got my first tablet around fifteen and I have just stuck with it since.

Q: Please finish this sentence: “Books with pictures are important because…”

A: Books with pictures are important because it’s another avenue of expression and communication. I myself have always found it difficult to convey what I feel just through text, and the ability to incorporate images, color, texture into a book is important to me, and something I am having a lot of fun doing with our graphic novel.

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia 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

Book Review: Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World by Gary Golio, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez

 

Review by Lila Quintero Weaver

DESCRIPTION OF THE  BOOK: Carlos Santana grew up surrounded by music. Carlos’s father, a beloved mariachi performer, begins teaching his son how to play violin at an early age. But when Carlos later discovers American blues, he is captivated by the raw honesty of the music. Unable to think of anything else, he loses all interest in the violin and for a time, loses his way as well. Only after receiving an electric guitar of his own does he find his true life’s path.

From his early exposure to mariachi music to his successful fusing of rock, blues, jazz, and Latin influences, here is the childhood story of a legendary musician.

MY TWO CENTS: The magazine Rolling Stone places Carlos Santana within the pantheon of rock music’s greatest guitarists. But to put some perspective on his contribution as a Chicano, he was among the first to fuse blues-rock with Latinx instruments and rhythms, sometimes accompanied by lyrics in Spanish. In the mostly white world of rock and roll, Santana’s Latinidad stood in sharp relief, and his rise came at a time when Latinx performing artists rarely achieved notoriety on a national scale. Santana broke through this wall of invisibility. He did it by offering the world a sound that could not be ignored.

How did it all begin?

A captivating picture-book biography for readers of any age, Carlos Santana: Sound of the Heart, Song of the World brings us the background story. Told in poetic prose, the narrative opens in the subject’s infancy and follows the early years of his musical development, culminating in the moment when his love for blues-rock ignites.

One of this book’s greatest strengths is the art of Rudy Gutierrez, whose high-powered illustrations explode with movement and color. Page spreads vibrate with psychedelic swirls, suggesting the fluidity and intensity in Santana’s music.

Born in 1947 in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico—a town of “dirt roads and mud houses”—Santana’s humble beginnings do not hold him back for long. Thanks to wise and loving parents, he receives rich exposure to music. His father, José Santana, is a bandleader in the mariachi tradition. Carlos seems destined to follow his father’s career path, but then discovers a musical expression that speaks to him far more convincingly.

As a child, Carlos looks on his father with great admiration. “When Papá plays the violin, even little Carlos can see how people’s eyes light up, filled with el espíritu de la vida. Everyone wants José Santana to entertain them on their special days, and Carlos believes his father is an angel, flying on a bicycle with his golden harp as he rides to play in the church orchestra.”

At home, José is the younger Santana’s violin instructor. Unfortunately, “Carlos doesn’t really like the violin, and the smell of wood, held close to his face, gives him no pleasure.” In an effort to expand his son’s possibilities, José takes Carlos to the cantinas where he plays, offering the budding violinist time on the stage. Yet for Carlos, something important is missing in these occasions: joy.

But everything changes once he hears American blues guitarists on the radio. “Names like Muddy Waters and B.B. King seem magical, their songs raw and honest.” After this critical discovery, clashes between father and son become more frequent, especially when Carlos tries to sneak a bit of blues-style improvisation into a mariachi performance. Eventually, José leaves Mexico to pursue better paying gigs in the United States. With his father gone, Carlos finds a bit of breathing room to indulge his musical tastes.

Then, unexpectedly, a package arrives from San Francisco. It’s a used electric guitar! Coming from his father, this gift sends a profoundly affirming message. “There will be no turning back. Now [Carlos] can start to play the song inside him, the one that has been there all along.”

The book’s closing paragraph hints at the brilliant career that lies beyond the scope of this story. “Young Carlos Santana will create a new flavor of rock and roll, charged with Latin passion and the raw honesty of American blues.”

TEACHING TIPS: For a broader understanding of Santana’s significance in the history of rock and roll, check the back pages of the book, which include a “More About Carlos Santana” section, a brief list of discography, as well as Internet and print sources for further information. See also this article on the PBS website.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gary Golio is a visual artist, a child therapist, and the author of numerous other picture-book biographies, whose subjects include Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and John Coltrane. Learn more about his work on his official website.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Rudy Gutierrez is the distinguished creator behind the cover art for Santana’s multiplatinum album Shaman and the recently released In Search of Mona Lisa. He also illustrated a U.S. postage stamp in commemoration of Jimi Hendrix. Learn more about Gutierrez in this interview.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Lila Quintero Weaver is the author of My Year in the Middle, a middle-grade novel published in 2018 by Candlewick Press. She’s also the writer-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & WhiteDarkroom recounts Lila’s experiences as a child immigrant from Argentina to Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. The Spanish edition is now available, under the title Cuarto oscuro: Recuerdos en blanco y negro.  Learn more about Lila on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Review: Lowriders Blast from the Past, written by Cathy Camper, Illustrated by Raúl the Third

Reviewed by David Bowles

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: When new friends Lupe, Flapjack, and Elirio are each bullied by Los Matamoscas, they know they’re going to like one another. When they find out they all love lowrider cars, they know they’ll be friends for life. But the bullies won’t leave the Lowriders alone—and they don’t let any girls or babies into car clubs. Can these three determined outcasts prove they deserve to be in the car show? Humor, Spanish words, and lowrider culture come together in this heartwarming graphic novel of three friends navigating the bumpy terrain of friendship, bullying, and standing up for what you believe in.

MY TWO CENTS: The third book in Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third’s wonderful Lowriders graphic novel series may seem at first to break with the genre of the previous installments by giving us an origin story, but the series has already established itself as genre-bending, going from sci-fi to mythological adventure. A bit of historical fiction seems to fit nicely in the creators’ wide-ranging work. It’s lots of fun and uplifting to see young versions of our heroes push back against the sexism of Los Matamoscas, a group of bullies who have been making the kids’ lives difficult. It happens that these overly macho men also dictate the ad-hoc rules of a popular car show so they can bar women from competing. As the women in question are furthermore queer (Mamá Impala and Mamá Gazelle, Lupe’s two mothers), the affirmation and representation of marginalized, intersectional identity is particularly poignant.

Just as in life, the hurdles male bullies set for the women are ridiculous (cross speed bumps without scraping the bottom of car, make sure a 5-gallon jar of agua fresca doesn’t spill during a full lap, paint car with no visible brush strokes). But the three new friends (united as allies of the women and victims of Los Matamoscas’ bullying) use their individual skill sets to beat the gang at their own game. Along the way, they earn the respect (and possibly friendship) of some of the macho dudes.

Along with Raúl’s amazing ball-point art (he brings green in this time!) and the linguistic exploration of Spanish and indigenous languages, Lowriders Blast from the Past takes advantage of its historical setting to introduce young readers (and old) to Chicano art of the 70s and 80s, specifically the work of ASCO (great name, heh), an East Los Angeles art collective that was active between 1972 and 1987. Raúl’s recreations of some of their signature pieces was a highlight for me, showcasing just how diverse his talents are. (Full disclosure: he and I have been working on a graphic novel together.)

Camper deftly defies the stylistic patterns that a middle-grade book might normally default to, and if the storyline itself is comfortably predictable, the execution (with its edifying digressions and code-switching) is one-of-a-kind and culturally spot-on.

I loved this volume, and can’t wait to see what adventures Lupe, Flapjack, and Elirio go on next!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cathy Camper is the author of Lowriders in Space, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth and Lowriders Blast from the Past, with a fourth volume in the works, all from Chronicle Books. She has a forthcoming picture book, Ten Ways to Hear Snow (Dial/Penguin), and also wrote Bugs Before Time: Prehistoric Insects and Their Relatives (Simon & Schuster). Her zines include Sugar Needle and The Lou Reeder, and she’s a founding member of the Portland Women of Color zine collective. A graduate of VONA/Voices writing workshops for people of color in Berkeley, California, Cathy works as a librarian in Portland, Oregon, where she does outreach to schools and kids in grades K-12. Cathy is represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. For insights on the creative originas of the Lowriders series, read Cathy’s Camper’s guest post.

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Raúl the Third is an award-winning illustrator, author, and artist living in Boston. His work centers on the contemporary Mexican-American experience and his memories of growing up in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Lowriders in Space was nominated for a Texas BlueBonnet award in 2016-2017 and Raúl was awarded the prestigious Pura Belpré Award for Illustration by the American Library Association for Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. He was also a contributor to the SpongeBob Comics series. Raúl wrote and illustrated the picture book ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to The Market!, which Versify will publish on April 2. For a fun and lively conversation about art, comics, growing up in El Paso and more, check out this one-of-a-kind audio interview with Raúl, conducted by illustrator Roberto Trujillo.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: A Mexican-American author from deep South Texas, David Bowles is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written a dozen or so books, including Flower, Song, Dance: Aztec and Mayan Poetry, the critically acclaimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths, and They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. In 2019, Penguin will publish The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, co-written with Adam Gidwitz, and Tu Books will release his steampunk graphic novel Clockwork Curandera. His work has also appeared in multiple venues such as Journal of Children’s Literature, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Nightmare, Asymptote, Translation Review, Metamorphoses, Huizache, Eye to the Telescope, and Southwestern American Literature. In April 2017, David was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for his literary work.

A Studio Visit with Author-Illustrator Lulu Delacre, one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today

 

By Cecilia Cackley

img_8433

“I’ve decided that this is going to be my best decade!” declares Lulu Delacre. She has just turned sixty and after thirty-eight years in the publishing industry, she has written or illustrated over thirty different books for young readers, making her one of the most prolific Latinx artists working today. Her latest book, Turning Pages is an autobiographical picture book by Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and arguably Delacre’s highest profile collaboration to date.

img_8423

Delacre was born in Puerto Rico to Argentine parents who encouraged her love of drawing. After beginning her college career in the Fine Arts department of the University of Puerto Rico, she transferred to L’Ecole Supérieure d’Arts Graphiques in Paris, France. Delacre says she was inspired to apply for the school after learning that a famous Puerto Rican artist had trained there. Her father was skeptical, telling her she wouldn’t get in because of the quality of work required, but she was accepted into the third year of the five year program and eventually received a full scholarship to finish her degree after her family ran into financial hardship. Delacre studied many different artistic disciplines at the school, including typography and print-making, and the course included real-world assignments such as designing a new currency that she remembers as challenging and fun. Some of the more traditional European assignments had amusing results for a student from the Caribbean, she says.

“[For] one of my first assignments we had to illustrate the four seasons, and of course, I was coming from Puerto Rico. So, winter—I did something in pastel pinks and blues and everyone laughed, but of course it was a matter of perspective! I came from an island, I had never witnessed winter before, never in my life.”

Delacre says that she had no idea at that point that you could become a children’s book illustrator. “Books that we got in Puerto Rico were mostly fairy tales from Spain, which didn’t speak to me. The concept of the picture book was entirely foreign to me.” She discovered picture book illustration at an American gallery in Paris which was showing art from the book In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. “That was a revelation. I had no idea before that moment what I wanted to do.” Delacre had been focusing on graphic arts because she wanted to earn a living and recognized, “I was not at the level of a Picasso,” but now she had found the work that would become her passion.

After finishing school, Delacre moved to San Francisco with her husband, who was in the military. She had no contacts, but started knocking on doors and found work doing textbook illustrations and commercial artwork. When her family moved to Massachusetts, she started giving to the children’s section of the public library and taught herself to create picture books by analyzing examples such as Where the Wild Things Are. With no connections in publishing, Delacre had to hustle to break into the industry.

“In order to get into the field, I went to New York. I created two identical portfolios and made twenty-two appointments in five days, stayed at the Y, and by that Friday, I had my first job illustrating for Sesame Street magazine. From there, [I moved to] Simon & Schuster when they had Little Simon. I started illustrating public domain material like these [nursery rhyme] board books.”

img_e8428

Delacre’s first book to incorporate Latinx culture was inspired by the birth of her daughters, to whom she wanted to introduce to traditional Latin American children’s rhymes.  “I went to the library looking for a book of our folklore, from Latin America, our nursery rhymes, and I couldn’t find anything. Why do American kids get to have these books and kids that come from Spanish speaking countries don’t?” Delacre had recently published the Nathan and Nicholas Alexander books with Scholastic, so she went to her editor there and suggested the book of songs and rhymes that eventually became Arroz con leche, which turns thirty this year and is still in print.

Delacre’s first books with Simon and Scholastic were done in colored pencils, over a thin layer of watercolor to make the process go a little faster. In her home studio in Maryland, she has two large art tables surrounded by materials, including colored pencils, acrylics, watercolors and collage materials. “I do everything the old-fashioned way,” she says. “I like to touch materials. I try to do things that the computers cannot do yet. That’s why I use collage and the textures, pressed leaves—things that the computer doesn’t do or doesn’t do as well.”

Delacre pushes herself to try new art styles and materials for each project she takes on. Salsa Stories has linoleum cuts because the stories are being told by characters who would have been familiar with that style of art in Puerto Rico in the 1950’s. Her book US in Progress pairs short stories with illustrations created from collaged newspaper, pencil drawings on acetate and texture created from tiny holes in rice paper. Olinguito A to Z, a Spanish alphabet book, was based on scientific information about the different animals who live in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. The different species were painted in flat colors, a graphic version of each animal that reaches back to Delacre’s work as a graphic designer. The background paper for each spread was created from actual leaves from the cloud forest. She also created the typography for the letters that appear on each page. “I created the letters because I wanted them to fit in a square to mirror the shape of the book. I wanted to show the kids what the mist looked like. In the cloud forest, you would see everything through the mist, so to reveal the true colors of the species, I gathered the mist in the squares surrounding the letters.”

Delacre’s most exciting recent project is the picture book autobiography Turning Pages by United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She explains that the process of getting the assignment was a bit unusual. “I got an email from [editor] Jill Santopolo asking if I had an agent, and I said not any more, and so she goes, “I need to talk to you, can I call you tomorrow?” and I said sure and gave her my number. I get a call the next day and she begins by saying, “I have a somewhat secret project that needs to be fast tracked and we want you for it.” And then she explains about the project and I pause, it’s sinking in and I said “Why me?” I had never worked for this publisher, and I had never worked with her. And she answers, “’Because she chose you,’ meaning the justice. This is very rare—this is the very first time that the author handpicks me.” Delacre goes on to explain that Sotomayor was given a stack of picture books to look at when selecting an illustrator and that one of the reasons she chose Delacre was because the justice wanted the illustrations to be lifelike. “I know that one thing that was very important to her was to portray her mamá and her abuelita as close as possible to reality.” Sotomayor also appreciated that Delacre has a strong relationship with the island of Puerto Rico. Although the book mostly takes place in urban settings such as the Bronx, Delacre began each oil wash with a layer of green sap oil, because Sotomayor wanted the island to be present in the illustrations. The original artwork from Turning Pages can be seen in the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University through March 17, 2019.

Delacre says that her advice to Latinx illustrators trying to break into publishing is “Follow your heart. Tell the story that you really have within you and you really must tell. Don’t feel like you have to be like someone else. Just be yourself.” Delacre points out that unlike other children’s book illustrators such as Tomie DePaola, she doesn’t have a specific, recognizable art style. “In the beginning of my career, I thought it was a flaw because I understood if I didn’t have a certain style, I wasn’t as recognizable name wise. But I can’t be that way because I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. I have to push myself to try new things because each project is about learning for me. What can I do with this that I haven’t done before?” She is talking about using mono prints for her next project, in black and white, a major departure from her usual paint and colored pencils. “Now it’s like I don’t have to prove anything. You know, this is going to be my best decade and after that who knows? Maybe I’m not going to do another book. I’ll be creating, but something different. Every single project I do is really to reach a community that perhaps wasn’t finding their image in books. I’m always trying to create what is needed.”

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia 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

 

What Goes Into Making a Book Cover? An Interview with Zeke Peña, Mirelle Ortega, Jorge Lacera, and Kat Fajardo

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Whether we’re perusing the shelves at the library, walking into a bookstore or clicking on a tweet, the first part of the book we see is usually the cover. As more Latinx authors are publishing teen and children’s books, we’re also seeing more Latinx artists being featured on book covers. I was lucky enough to chat with four different artists about their creative process and how they got their start in publishing.

Cecilia Cackley:  What first inspired you to become an artist? 

Mirelle Ortega: I don’t think there was ever an “aha moment” for me. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen, and crafting stories has just always been my favorite thing to do. When my parents first asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told them I wanted to make cartoons, so I think what inspired me to become an artist was just my sheer love for the art I saw in TV and books. Those stories and those drawings made me feel things, and I wanted to make people feel that way too.

Zeke Peña: I think comics and cartoons were really what inspired me to draw when I was young. Also my older brother was so good at drawing and I always looked up to him.

Jorge Lacera: Growing up, I always drew for fun.  My mom worked in clothing factories and kept a stack of cardboard inserts that go in dress shirts in her purse. I’d draw on those whenever I’d get bored.  I also knew my uncle in Colombia, where I was born, had at one point made a living as a graphic designer. I knew it was something I really wanted to do as an adult.

Kat Fajardo: Like most artists my age, I grew up with an obsession for anime and manga. I was a big fan of series like Digimon, Dragon ball Z, and Clamp manga series. They were unique and different compared to the classic cartoons and comics I grew up with like Tom & Jerry or Archie. I turned my admiration for that genre into creativity as I spent my free time sketching characters from these series, even taking requests from my classmates. Confident in my abilities, eventually I started creating my own characters and comics (which have been destroyed since then thankfully, they were really bad) and decided that I wanted to be an artist when I grow up. Several years later after honing my skills and experience in art high school and art college, I’ve been making comics and illustrations since then.

 

CC:  How did you become a cover artist specifically? Did an art director reach out to you, or did you submit samples for a particular book?

Mirelle: For Love, Sugar, Magic I was lucky enough to be approached by the publishing house after Anna (the author) found samples of my work on social media. For other projects, it’s been through the agency I am represented by. Sometimes it requires me to do art tests for projects, especially when the client wants something that they don’t specifically see in any of your sample work.

 

 

Jorge: I was actually approached by designer Kate Renner at Viking Penguin via email. She had seen my portfolio and knew from my bio that I grew up in South Florida (where The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora takes place).

 

Kat: I didn’t get into cover design until I started working with my agent Linda Camacho. Unlike me, she is well-versed in the YA publishing world, so it was nice to have that access to the industry through her. I was able to find freelance work such as The First Rule of Punk book and working on Disney’s Isle of the Lost. So if anyone is looking to do cover design work specifically, I recommend hiring an agent in that field, it’s incredibly useful!

 

Zeke: I started doing cover illustration in the music industry for bands and community organizing campaigns. This experience is really what helped me develop my style and understanding of covers. Then in 2014 Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso reached out to me to do my first published work for a book cover.

 

CC: When you get hired to create a cover, do you get to read the book before doing the artwork? 

Mirelle: Sometimes.

Zeke: When I have time, I like to read the text, but sometimes timelines and my workload don’t allow that. So I’ll usually ask editors and art directors to suggest excerpts to read that will give me a good sense of the scene or character I’m illustrating. I like to do this because it helps me visualize things while I’m working.

If it is a children’s book, yes, because I will also be making all the illustrations for the interior art. Even if it’s just partially illustrated.

For middle grade, sometimes you get a manuscript and other times you get just a couple pages or a chapter or two and a detailed description of the characters. Sometimes even a mood board with things that inspired the manuscript itself.

Jorge: Yes. I was sent a sample at first and eventually a PDF of the book to read. Both Kate and Joanna had ideas for how they wanted the cover to feel inspired by passages from the book itself. For our second cover for Pablo Cartaya, I was sent the entire manuscript upfront, and I read it all in one sitting late into the the night.

 

Kat: If my schedule allows it, I try my very best to read as much of the material as possible to get some ideas or feel for the piece, which is why most editors provide that material for designers. Although, for The First Rule of Punk, it was super cool to have read the first draft of the book and even the pitch material (it had a really cute comic explaining the synopsis of the book by Celia). It was Celia’s debut book, so it was an honor to have been able to read it before the public.

 

CC: For books with Latinx themes, how do you decide whether or not to include specific cultural imagery? Do you get to decide that or is it something the author or editor weighs in on? 

Jorge: It’s a collaboration. The Editor, Art Director/Graphic Designer, and I usually have a conversation to kick things off, and they always have great ideas for things they want to see. I then read the manuscript and come up with additional ideas based on the themes and imagery that jumps out at me. I think the most important thing is for the art to feel authentic to the story and make a person walking by want to pick it up.

Mirelle: In my experience, the art directors of the projects always have some specific cultural imagery they want you to incorporate, but they’ve also been very open to hear if I have a different idea or if there’s anything I feel strongly that should be included.

That said, I do get to pick a lot of the things that appear in the background and how the characters look and dress, and I always try to think of specifics about the characters whenever I can. There is a lot of beautiful diversity within the Latinx community, and I am always trying to make people feel represented, or show parts of it that I haven’t seen a lot of in media.

Kat: Depending on whether Latinx imagery is essential to the story, I aim to include some cultural elements to my pieces. But for The First Rule of Punk I was very lucky to have worked with a team that understood Latinx imagery was essential to the book. Thankfully they already had a list of illustrations to include such as Worry Dolls (a handmade doll found in Mexico and Guatemala), Traditional Mexican rebozo, Olmec heads, Calacas (Day of the Dead skulls), coconuts, quetzal birds, punk band references, Lotería cards, etc. I thought, wow this is a perfect bridge to Latinx culture and zines, all I needed to add was a delicious Concha (Mexican sweet bread) and this Mexican punk cover is all set to go! Which I did and the team loved it.

Zeke: I think it is a sum of all things. I definitely have a strong sense of what I want to do but editors will usually weigh in on whether or not I’m getting something right. The process is collaborative, and I think that only helps make the work stronger so that any ideas of culture are treated appropriately.

 

CC: I asked each artist to talk a little about a specific cover they had created, including how many versions they went through, their creative process, etc.

Mirelle on the book Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano: I come from a background in Animation, so I always start by designing the main character. I did a billion doodles of Leo on my notebook and then sent over some options. From there, I did a few sketches of the composition, and there was some back and forth with some tweaks here and there. Most of the sketches I did were digital, so they were really easy to tweak.

Jorge on the book The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya: After my initial conversation with Joanna and Kate, I went back and did several rounds of thumbnails, exploring different approaches to color and subjects from the book. After a round of internal feedback from various departments at Viking, including Marketing, we ended up moving away from the initially approved direction. This is ok and totally part of the process. Luckily, we very quickly arrived at the idea of Arturo pushing the text. After that it went pretty quickly to final.

Kat on the book The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez: The process of creating The First Rule of Punk cover involved a ton of revisions and notes between myself, the editor, project designer, and the writer. In the beginning, Celia had a couple of fantastic ideas for her cover design, and she was inspired by fun series like Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. The first idea was based on the cover from my zine Gringa!. As fans of the zine, the editorial team loved the idea of a literal split of two cultures for Malú (one side being traditionally Mexican and the other is punk) and thought something similar to that would work with the story. The second idea was the direction we took with the final image which echoed the more traditional cut and paste approach of images found in zines. In the original design, Celia had a cute stick figure surrounded by beautiful cut out flowers on a yellow background. Inspired by this design, I took it further with having photocopied cut-out images of certain story elements. After the first rounds of sketches based on both ideas, we eventually went with the design of the current cover. Since it was my first middle grade project, and I had been working in indie comics by then, I didn’t realize Malú looked older in the original sketches until the editor had pointed it out. After that, for each revision, I made sure to age her down a bit, which sounds silly, but it’s an incredibly important lesson to learn when working in the children’s literature industry. As with the final image, Celia and the editorial team loved the lightning illustrations I added as the finishing touch. Though the entire process took a couple of months, it was very rewarding working with this team! A year later, I had the luck to work with them again for the tip-in illustrations which could be found in the newest hardcover editions.

Zeke on the book Gabi: a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: I had the unique opportunity to be in direct contact with the author, so the process was very collaborative. Isabel gave me lots of feedback and even sent over some collages she made as inspiration. I usually sketch thumbnails then go to a larger pencil sketch. For this cover, I had lots of great ideas, so there were a lot of compositions that I tried out. Actually, I have a version that I would love to use for something. It has more of a comic book feel to it. The final cover, I think, had about 5 or 6 versions that varied in composition and scale. I picked some bright colors, so the book would stand out on the shelf and did some custom hand-drawn typography for the title. Not many people know, but I also drew the zines on the inside of the book based on Isabel’s collages, and I designed the layout for the book.

 

CC: Imagine you could create a cover for any Latinx writer working today. Who would you want to work with? 

Mirelle: I honestly would be happy creating cover art for every Latinx writer out there, well-established or newcomers. As long as their story moves me, I want to be a part of it!

Kat: A while back, I did get the chance to redraw one of my favorite writer’s book cover, Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath for Disney-Hyperion. In the end, the editor decided to go with the original cover artist, which was a great decision considering I’m big fan of Cristy C. Road’s work (she did an absolute perfect job on the first cover). However, it was a huge honor to have been chosen to work on Rivera’s book cover, though I would love to work with her again in the future and hopefully meet in person!

Zeke: I would love to collaborate on making a cover with Lilliam Rivera, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Jorge: I’m a big fan of the work of Meg Medina, and it would be incredible to get to illustrate one of her covers. It would be really cool to have the opportunity to illustrate one of Daniel José Older’s books since I’m such a fan of scifi and fantasy. Guillermo Del Toro’s work is a big influence on me and I know he’s written a few things, and I’d be honored to collaborate with J.C. Cervantes.

 

CC: Thank you all so much for chatting with me! Any upcoming projects (cover art or other work) that we should know about? 

Mirelle: Yes! I’m illustrating a series of books called Gavin McNally’s Year Off that will be out next year! And, there’s a beautiful Latinx project in the works, but I can’t really talk about it yet.

Kat: I’m excited to share that I’m signing with a children’s publisher for my first solo graphic novel. I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it’s going to be a semi-autobiographical coming of age story taking place in Honduras. Having spent every summer there as a kid, rather than hanging out with friends back in the US, this book is a love letter to my culture and all the painful experiences I had growing up there as a “weird Gringa”. I hope readers with similar backgrounds will identify with the story and know they are not alone. And to be honest, I don’t see much positive representation for Central Americans in US media. I really hope this book can shed some light on the lovely and honest lives of the folks living there. With that said, I’m super excited to show readers that embarrassing side of myself and my family; it’s going to be really fun.

Zeke: Yes, my first children’s picture book written by Isabel Quintero will be published in 2019 by Kokila a Penguin Books imprint. I’m also working on an illustrated project about the river in my border community of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

 

Jorge: Why yes! My wife Megan Lacera and I have our first picture book coming out in April 2019 from Lee and Low. It is called Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! Megan wrote it and I illustrated it. It’s about Mo Romero a zombie who loves nothing more than growing, cooking, and eating vegetables. Tomatoes? Tantalizing. Peppers? Pure perfection! The problem? Mo’s parents insist that their niño eat only zombie cuisine, like arm-panadas and finger foods. They tell Mo over and over that zombies don’t eat veggies. But Mo can’t imagine a lifetime of just eating zombie food and giving up his veggies. As he questions his own zombie identity, Mo tries his best to convince his parents to give peas a chance.

Very excited that our book will be released in both English and Spanish simultaneously.

I’m also thrilled to be illustrating a book by Deborah Underwood for Disney Hyperion as well as a book by Nancy Viau for Two Lions publishing.

9781620147948

 

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

zp-portrait03-crop2webZeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator working on the United States/Mexico frontera in El Paso, Tejas. He makes comics to remix history and reclaim stories using satire and humor; resistencia one cartoon at a time. He recently received the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for a graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide (Getty Publications 2017). Zeke studied Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Texas Austin. He has published work with VICE.com, Latino USA, The Believer Magazine, The Nib, Penguin Random House, Holt/Macmillan and Cinco Puntos Press. He is currently working on a children’s book written by Isabel Quintero to be published in 2019 by Kokila, a Penguin Books imprint.

 

Avatar.jpgMirelle Ortega is an illustrator and concept artist currently living in California. She’s originally from the south east of Mexico, and has a passion for storytelling, sci-fi, film, tv, color and culture. Mirelle has a BFA from the Tecnológico de Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico) in digital art and 3D animation, and a MFA from Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

 

 

 

PictureJorge Lacera was born in Colombia and grew up drawing and painting in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him in Miami, Florida.

After graduating with the honor of ‘Best of Ringling’ from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge chose to ‘Flee to the Cleve’ where he worked as a visual development artist and IP creator at American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. There he met Megan, his wife and Studio Lacera partner-in-crime. They’ve been creating and collaborating together ever since.

Jorge was formerly the Lead Concept Artist at award-winning Irrational Games.

 

Kat Fajardo is an award-winning comic artist and illustrator based in NYC. A graduate of The School of Visual Arts, she’s editor of La Raza Anthology and creator of Bandida Comics series. She’s created work for Penguin Random House on The First Rule of Punk (written by Celia C. Pérez), CollegeHumor, and several comic anthologies. You can find her working at her Brooklyn studio creating playful and colorful work about self-acceptance and Latinx culture.

 

 

 

cecilia-02-original 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