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

 

By Cecilia Cackley

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“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

 

Illustrator Luisa Uribe Takes Us Inside the Making of The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just

 

By Luisa Uribe

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists of his time. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. He persisted in his research despite the discrimination and limitations imposed on him as an African American. His keen observations of sea creatures revealed new insights about egg cells and the origins of life.

Through stunning illustrations and lyrical prose, this picture book presents the life and accomplishments of this long overlooked scientific pioneer.

 

 

 

This book has truly been a journey for me. It was the first picture book I’ve ever worked on that told the story of a real person and, even though I’m a bit messy in real life, I’m methodical in the way I approach every project, so I had to know as much as I could before starting. Carol Hinz, editor at Lerner, recommended I start by reading Ernest E. Just’s biography (Black Apollo of science: the life of Ernest Everett Just, by Kenneth R. Manning) and it grabbed me! From there I started collecting every bit of info on all the places, people, ecosystems, etc. related to him and his work, so I could build the pictures from all this knowledge, and make them as true to history as possible.

I saved every and all relevant scraps I could find on the web, and even from Bogotá it was relatively easy to dig out lots of information and photographs from the time and places mentioned in the book. Also, I was incredibly lucky in that my only sister lives in Charleston, Just’s birthplace and —as it was about to become the birth place of my niece as well— I took the opportunity to investigate some more and see in person some of the places from his early life. Sadly, the house he was born in no longer exists but a couple others nearby still do, and I found the plaque that marks where it used to stand. I had never been able to do this level of research for any project before, and it made this book very special to me.

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After all this, it was time to come back to the studio and start drawing. I already had a lot of ideas in my head, which sometimes makes sketching harder, as I’m set on something before putting pencil to paper, but I also had all this collected information ready to come out. After a few thumbnails and when I had a better idea of each spread, I started working on the computer, drawing first a simple and fast sketch to figure out the final composition and then a cleaner and more detailed one.

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Something I always try to do for all my books is keep a file where I put every spread in thumbnail size in order, so I can see how the whole book is working out in terms of composition and rhythm, and if the color is consistent with the narrative. This keeps me in check, as I tend to stray and pick weird colors from time to time. For this book the water and the ocean were my anchors in terms of color and shapes, and I build everything from there.

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I loved working on this book, and it makes me think that there are a lot of less well known Latinx and Colombian figures who would make perfect subjects for picture books. It would be a wonderful way to introduce them to the world!

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luisa3peq[1]ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Luisa Uribe is an illustrator and designer of children’s media. She loves books most of all but has also worked in animation and TV. Her art has been selected for Iberoamerica Ilustra, a catalog that showcases the best work by Spanish-speaking illustrators, and she is the winner of the SOI 2018 Dilys Evans Founder’s Award for The Vast Wonder of the World. She is represented by The Bright Agency. Website: www.luisauribe.com Instagram and Twitter: @lupencita

 

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators: Lulu Delacre, Cecilia Ruíz, & Yesenia Moises

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the sixth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina 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!

Lulu Delacre

1136d-luludelacremediaphoto1Lulu Delacre is the author and illustrator of many books for young readers, including the Pura Belpré Honor books The Bossy Gallito, Arroró, mi niño, and The Storyteller’s Candle. Originally from Puerto Rico, she now lives and works in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her most recent book is Turning Pages, My Life Storythe picture book autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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

A: Creating art has always brought me to a place of inner stillness, comfort, and peace. That feeling and the encouragement of my family and teachers have inspired me. One of my earliest memories is of drawing on white sheets of paper to the classical music my abuela Elena played in the second floor apartment of that old pink house in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Abuela Elena saved every drawing I made inside her closet until one day the pile grew taller than my four-year-old self! Later, I clearly remember Sister Antonia, my kindergarten teacher, telling my parents in a very serious tone, “Lulu is going to be an artist.” Witnessing this faith in my talent definitely fostered its growth.

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

A: Hmm…this is a difficult question. I say that because I don’t think I truly have a favorite artistic medium. Many illustrators master a medium and stick with it throughout their careers. I thrive in challenging myself to figure out what medium and style each manuscript calls for, which is often a new technique for me. The 39 titles I’ve illustrated include oil paintings, watercolors, color pencil art, collages, oil washes, linocuts, dry soft pastels, graphite drawings, acrylics and mixed media images. It’s thrilling to stretch myself and forge new ground with my artistic endeavors.

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

A:…they are an art form like no other in which the images and words have equal weight in creating a unique experience for the reader. An experience that has the power to delight, move and/or change us.

        


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Cecilia Ruíz

Cecilia Ruíz is an author, illustrator, and designer originally from Mexico City, now living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Her first picture book A Gift From Abuela, was published by Candlewick Press in August 2018.

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

A: I think my biggest influence in becoming a visual artist was my aunt. She is a graphic designer, and when I was little and saw the kind of work she did, I knew right away that I wanted to do the same. I think I went to graphic design school because of her, and that’s how my career path in visual storytelling started.

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

I love printmaking techniques. My first encounter with printmaking was in college in Mexico City. We had a class where we learned screen printing, etching, and linocut carving. I was enamored with the process, the crafty texture, and the charming accidents. It was years later that I discovered that I didn’t need access to a printmaking lab to do it. I started carving erasers and rubber instead of linoleum and printing at home with just a stamp ink-pad. I now do a mix of traditional and digital— technique that I learned and developed while going to grad school at SVA in NY. I carve and print multiple pieces by hand. I then scan all those separate pieces and put them together in Photoshop. I also do the final coloring in Photoshop. This allows me to have the best of the two worlds—the crafty look of printmaking, and the control of the computer.

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

A: They are a door, a window, and a mirror.


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Yesenia Moises

Yesenia_HeadShotYesenia Moises is an Afro-Latina illustrator and freelance toy designer from the Bronx. When she’s not off filling the world with bright and colorful art, her pastimes include playing really silly dating sims and kicking back with her wildly photogenic dog Divo. Her first picture book is Honeysmoke: Finding Your Color by Monique Fields, which will be published by Macmillan in January 2019.

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

A: Growing up I watched a lot of cartoons and I started off drawing because I wanted to draw my favorite characters. I do think a big turning point that got me really wanting to get better at drawing was when I started watching Sailor Moon. I really loved how it was unlike the other shows I was watching in both its plot and the way the characters are portrayed. The show was also what started my interest in anime and continues to inspire my work to this day. Unlike the episodic nature of American cartoons, there was an overarching plot and characters that were developed over the course of a show’s season and not just quick shorts that wouldn’t leave too much room to get invested in them. Sailor Moon was the first time I felt like I could relate to characters in a show and as I found myself wanting to draw better because I wanted to be able to capture all the details in my fan renditions of the character but also to be able to create stories of my own that others could find to be relatable and could invoke the kinds of warm feelings I get when I remember those days. I’m still working on it but for now, I think it’s safe to say that the show really inspired me to want to draw more!

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

A: My favorite medium would have to be watercolor. I don’t often get to use it because a lot of the work I do now involves frequent revisions that would be tough to accomplish as quickly as I can digitally. The medium was something that I picked up on my own back in my high school days. I was really into doing everything traditionally since I couldn’t afford a Wacom tablet and I was addicted to looking up as many tutorials as I could on Deviantart to try and teach myself anything and everything just for the sake of being able to create. Watercolor ended up being the medium that I had the most fun using out of the many things I was trying at the time. I loved how soft and delicate things could look with them and how you could really feel have a physical connection between you, the paper, the paint, and the water (provided you got over the initial learning curve of course.) Last year I took part in Blick Art Materials’ 31 Days of Watercolor Challenge and I really enjoyed applying some of the techniques and color palettes that I’d built up from years of working digitally to a medium where prior to that I’d only ever aimed to have a delicate touch. These days I spent a lot more time working on projects for clients in Photoshop but there’s a special place in my heart for the tactile feeling you get when putting paint to paper that digital art just can’t replicate.

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

A: Picture books are important because they offer a viewpoint that children don’t get to directly see in the world around them. They offer a space of imagination and creativity that helps create a gateway to an early interest in reading and learning which I think is a really important lifelong skill.

 

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist Jose Pimienta Gives Advice and Talks About Tools & Techniques

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Joe Pi’s almost full name is Jose Pimienta. He was born in the Imperial Valley and raised as a Cachanilla in Mexicali, BC. During his upbringing, he was heavily influenced by animation, music and short stories. He’s been drawing as long as he can remember and loved analyzing everything on the TV screen.

After high school, he left his garage band and ventured toward Savannah, Georgia, where he studied Sequential Art and discovered the wonders of Storyboarding. He also discovered a wider variety of music, traveled more and made friends. By the age of 24, he ran into a good suggestion, which was to move to SoCal and pursue a career in storyboarding. In 2009, he packed his belonging and drove to Los Angeles, with a friend. Nowadays, he resides in Tujunga where he takes walks every morning along with a big cup of coffee. He draws comics, storyboards, and sketches for visual development.

Joe’s latest book is the YA graphic novel Soupy Leaves Home, a historical fiction story by Cecil Castellucci set during the Great Depression. He was kind enough to talk to us about his background and work as an artist.

Did you read comics as a kid? What were your inspirations for becoming an artist? 

Unfortunately, I didn’t read many comics as a kid. I tried getting into superheroes several times, but they never really hit a chord with me. It wasn’t until my teens that I discovered other graphic novels, manga, and slice-of-life stories in comics that rocked my world. I did, however, read a lot of newspaper strips, but I also felt that wasn’t my fit for the type of stories I wanted to tell.

As a kid, my inspirations tended to come from animated movies, books with illustrations and music videos. As long as I can remember, I’ve always liked all those “making of-” featurettes and interviews with film makers and artists. They tended to reveal parts of the process and how a piece of art (whether it was a cartoon, a movie, or a song) was made. So, I guess I was inspired to be an artist by learning more about the arts I liked. The thought seemed logical: I like this Art and this is how they’ve done it and I want to do that because when I try it, I love it. Conclusion: learn more how to do it and keep going.

Please tell us a little bit about the tools you used to draw Soupy Leaves Home.

For Soupy Leaves Home, I drew it the way I prefer to draw comics, which is:

On regular type paper, 8.5 by 11 and a mechanical pencil (0.5, to be precise). I draw 1″ by 1.5″ rectangles and that is the thumbnail for a comic page. I draw my thumbnails small while reading the script, so it helps me to plan out the pace and what the beats of the story are. That way I know if I want to build up to a big scene or if I want to keep a steady pace for a few pages.

After that, I draw on 9×12 2-ply bristol board. Personally, I like the Smooth surface better than the Vellum, but sometimes, Vellum is all the store has, so… ANYWAYS, I draw the page with a blue-lead 0.5 mechanical pencil. I keep my pencils a bit loose, but knowing that I can tighten up later with the inks.

Once the pages are approved, I ink on top of the original pencils with micron pit pens, brush pens, India ink and brush, liquid paper white-out, and sometimes a few fountain pens. After that, I scan the pages and color them digitally with Photoshop. In this stage, I also do some more specific edits, such as deleting certain pencil marks that I couldn’t erase, or making sure the white out looks cohesive on the page. If the blacks look a bit too strokey, or if I just want a solid black instead of having visible brush marks, this is the stage to fix that. After that, my editor takes my files and has a letterer do that which I cannot: letter the book. Those are all my tools: papers, 0.5 mechanical pencils, brush pens, India ink and brush pens, AND Photoshop.

Soupy Leaves Home joins a growing field of comics of all genres, aimed at a teen audience. Are there other titles you recommend to people looking to read more YA comics?

Oh, absolutely:

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Surfside Girls by Kim Dwinell

Chiggers by Hope Larson

Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castelucci

The Leg by Van Jensen and… me, hehe.

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While comics for kids and young adults has been exploding as a publishing field, there have been comparatively few Latinx authors and artists getting attention, with the exception of the Giants Beware and Lowriders series. What advice do you have for young Latinx artists looking to break into comics? 

Dear Latinx who want to break into comics: Be bold, fearless, humble, and optimistic. Bold, because it reflects confidence and strength. Fearless, not just because of the current atmosphere, but also because that’s how we fight fear mongering, which is used to keep us quiet and divided. Humble, because, it reminds us that there is a bigger picture in our society, and that which benefits our community, automatically helps us grow to be better individuals living together. And optimistic, because as artists, our spirit is essential, so it’s important to keep it bright.

About breaking into comics? We can post and share. Ask everyone for support, launch Kickstarters, look at companies that you’re interested in, and see their submission guidelines and follow directions, while showing why your stories matter and why they’d be a great fit for their company. Go to conventions near you, small or big (of course they can be expensive, but plan for that. See how many you can make it to), make minis to hand out to show what you’re interested in doing. Go to conventions of what you like (for example, if you like baking, wrestling, cars or music; go to those conventions) get a small vendor table and sell your comic (about baking, wrestling, cars or music.) Starting a Patreon account, I hear, is a popular avenue these days. Most importantly: KEEP GOING. Do not stop making art and telling others about it. I’ve heard several quotes, and the one that still fits best is: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Do not give up sharing your stories.

On a last note, see if I can end well here: When I first became interested in comics, I wished I had known more Latinx cartoonists (which there were, but I didn’t know about that many). To those who see my work, I hope I can make a positive impression, but furthermore, I hope that they go on to make art that inspires even more people.

 

 

 

Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington, DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 5: Alyssa Bermudez, Elisa Chavarri and Zara Gonzalez Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fifth in a series of posts spotlighting Latina 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!

Alyssa Bermudez

Photo by Mark Cowles

Photo by Mark Cowles

Alyssa Bermudez is a New Yorker who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and now lives and works in Tasmania. She illustrated Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, which was published in 2017 by Pow! Kids Books.

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

A:  I have always wanted to be someone who makes things. Whether it was designing shoes or learning to sew, I have always felt most like my true self when I’m making something. Growing up in New York, I had access to incredible artistic resources, and being exposed to that from a young age also made it feel totally natural. I don’t actually remember a time that I didn’t want to become an artist.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Watercolor and Photoshop are my current absolute favorites. Watercolor has a mind of its own and sometimes that spontaneity shows up on the page. I love the confidence of its presence and combining it with digital techniques where I can control it afterwards.

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

A: Picture books are important because it allows children to visualize and understand their own stories as they grow up. They can see their lives reflected in this way. The world is an exciting and colorful place full of adventure, and picture books highlight this to kids and adults.

Lucia the Luchadora Cover

Elisa Chavarri

Elisa Chavarri is a freelance illustrator originally from Lima, Peru. She did much of her growing up in Northern Michigan where she now resides with her husband, baby girl, cat, and dog. Elisa graduated with honors from The Savannah College of Art and Design, where she majored in Classical Animation and minored in Comics.  Books she has illustrated include Rainbow Weaver/Tejadora del arco iris from Lee & Low Books, Maybe Mother Goose and Fairly Fairy Tales from Aladdin Books and various titles for American Girl.

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

A: For me, it was my love of the old classic Disney movies and cartoons, once I discovered that people actually created these characters and worlds by doing countless drawings and concept art, I was hooked. In addition I’ve liked drawing and coloring as long as I can remember.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: This is a tough one for me because I like different mediums for different reasons. My top favorites are pencil/paper, acrylics, watercolors, and digital. The one I use the most is digital, and it’s the one I learned last, but for completing work on time and revisions, it is the most versatile and efficient medium. To play around with on my own time and for personal projects I really enjoy acrylics and watercolors for their ease of use. I’ve been using these and oil paints since I was a kid thanks to my mom encouraging my artistic leanings and putting me in various classes. Digital painting I began learning in college, but mostly am self-taught.

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

A: They introduce children to stories/reading and the arts which are among the most life enriching things in the world!

RAINBOW_WEAVER_fnl_JKT.jpg  maybe-mother-goose-9781481440363_hr.jpg  5246204269_e722bedb32_b.jpg

 

Zara Gonzalez Hoang

Zara Gonzalez HoangZara Gonzalez Hoang is an illustrator originally from Minneapolis, now living near Washington, D.C. She studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will illustrate the upcoming picture book Thread of Love by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal for the Simon and Schuster imprint Beach Lane.

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

A: I was lucky enough to be born into a family of teachers, so paper and art supplies were always around. I think at the heart of it all was the feeling of connection I got as a child drawing with my dad. I remember him lying on the floor with me, a sketchbook between us, drawing horses (my favorite) and boats (his favorite). My dad had a creative soul that wasn’t often expressed, so to be able to share a piece of it was always something special.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I work primarily digitally. I’ve always been drawn to computers (I was actually a computer science major in college for a little while), so I think the idea of merging art and technology appeals to me on different levels. I like working digitally because it’s so easy to change things if you’re not satisfied. I have a tendency to change my mind a lot so being able to change colors with ease or move elements around is really appealing. I draw so much digitally that when I’m drawing traditionally and make a mistake my mind tells me I need to hit the undo button (even though that is obviously not possible!)

Also, being a mom of young son, it’s a lot easier to turn on my tablet and get some “painting” done without having to worry about my paint drying on my brushes or making a giant mess that I don’t have time to clean up when my guy needs me. There are so many great brushes being created for Photoshop these days (Kyle’s Brushes are my favorite) that emulate different traditional media that it’s become a lot harder to tell the difference if you know what you are doing.

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

A: They help children make sense of the world around them. There is a quote that I read recently that really resonates with me and gets to the heart of why I think picture books are important so I will just put that here because I don’t think I can say it any better than Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirror in books.”

I got into picture books because as a mixed-race Latina Jew married to a Vietnamese refugee with a Vietnamese/Puerto Rican/Jewish Buddhist child I want to help create mirrors for children who don’t have them. There are so many stories that are not represented, I feel like part of my purpose is to help bring them to life.