¡Felicidades! to the 2018 Pura Belpré Award Winners and Honor Books

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Congratulations to the authors and illustrators who were honored at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference!

The newest Pura Belpré Awards went to Ruth Behar for Lucky Broken Girl and Juana Martinez-Neal for her illustrations in La Princesa and the Pea.

Click on the links below to get more information on the creators and their work!

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators (including Juana Martinez-Neal)

The Road to Publishing: Juana Martinez-Neal on Landing an Agent

In the Studio with John Parra

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Pablo Cartaya

Spotlight on Middle Grade Authors: Celia C. Pérez

Pura Belpré Award (Author) honoring Latino authors whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. Click on the cover images to see our review of the title or to get more information.

Winner:

Lucky Broken Girl Cover

Honor books:

     

 

Pura Belpré Award (Illustrator) honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience. Click on the cover images to see our review of the title or to get more information.

Winner:

Honor Books:

     

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!

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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.

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 3: Sara Palacios, Claudia Rueda, and Tania de Regil

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the third 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 this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. 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!

Interview answers from Claudia Rueda and Tania de Regil have been translated from Spanish.

Sara Palacios

Sara Palacios is an illustrator from Mexico. She studied Graphic Design at Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico DF, School of Design, INBA  (National Institute of Fine Arts) Mexico DF, and Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Mexico DF. She studied illustration at Academy of Art University, San Francisco CA, where she has been part-time faculty since 2014. She received the Pura Belpré Honor for illustration in 2012 and is the illustrator of the Marisol McDonald series by Monica Brown for Lee & Low, as well as numerous other books. Her newest picture book, One Big Family (written by Marc Harshman) will be published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers later this year.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I always liked to draw, but I didn’t know that illustrators even existed until I was pursuing my Graphic Design degree in Mexico. I was invited to an illustration exhibition. That was the first time I became aware of what illustration was. I was in awe! and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The same friend who invited me to the exhibition told me that one of the illustrators was looking for somebody to help him. My friend encouraged me to go to the interview and show my drawings and I got the job! I started washing brushes and cutting paper until little by little I was taught to paint in watercolor. That job was my first school of illustration and I’ve been doing that ever since. After finishing my degree in Mexico I went on to study for my BFA and MFA in illustration in the US.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I don’t really have a favorite medium. The first technique I ever learned was watercolor and for years that was the only medium I used until I started working toward my BFA at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Through the classes, I began using gouache, acrylics , pastels, the computer etc. At first, I was afraid of mixing one technique with another, but I started experimenting on my own and I realized that what works best for me is mixed media. I also like collage, so all my illustrations are done with mixed media now. I use everything from colored pencils, watercolor, markers, gouache, digital. I don’t think I can just pick one technique.

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

A: They can bring some magic to children and adults alike.

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Claudia Rueda

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Claudia Rueda
 is a Colombian picture book author, New York Times Best Seller illustrator and a 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award nominee. Her books have been published throughout North America, Europe and Asia and have been translated into more than ten different languages. In the United States, she is best known as the illustrator of the series Here Comes theCat by Deborah Underwood. Her concept books for young readers have been published in Spanish by the publisher Oceano Travesia.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I have always liked to draw, like all kids. And I’ve always liked to imagine things and create stories, also like kids when they are playing. Basically, when it was time to put away the colored pencils and imagination to become ‘grown up’ I decided not to do it.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: Graphite pencil on white paper is my favorite medium. The capacity for expression in the strokes, it’s simplicity and versatility goes very well with my creative process.

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

A: The combination of visual narration with the verbal enriches the experience of reading and allows the story to happen in the mind of the reader that combines the two languages.

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Tania de Regil

TaniaTania de Regil is an author and illustrator from Mexico City. When she was five, she moved to Stockholm, Sweden with her family, where she discovered her love of reading and decided that she wanted to be a professional author some day. Tania studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York City and finished her studies in her home country of Mexico. Her work as a costume designer in film and television has helped to better grasp the art of storytelling through images. Tania’s illustration work is always filled with interesting details for children to discover. She uses a variety of media in her work, such as watercolor, gouache, color pencils, wax pastels and ink to create richly textured, engaging images. Tania’s debut picture book, Sebastián y la isla Tut, which she both wrote and illustrated, was published in November, 2015 by Macmillan Mexico.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: When I was a girl, my family and I went to live in Sweden. Since I didn’t know the language, what helped me the most was reading. My teacher gave me lots of books and among them were books by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake. In that moment, I fell in love completely with the stories and illustrations and I decided that one day I would be a great writer and illustrator like them. I was eight years old.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I like watercolor a lot because I can never have complete control over it. It’s a medium full of surprises and makes it much more expressive and fun to use. I also like to mix it with other materials like colored pencil, oil pastels, gouache and ink. I liked to always continue experimenting with new materials but the basis of all my illustrations is watercolor.

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

A: They take you to worlds where the imagination never ends.

 

Books to Look For:

Brown, Monica. Marisol McDonald Doesnt Match

Brown, Monica. Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

Harshman, Marc. One Big Family

Rueda, Claudia Is it big or is it little?

Thong, Roseanne Greenfield. Twas Nochebuena

Underwood, Deborah. Here Comes the Easter Cat

Underwood, Deborah. Here Comes Santa Cat

Underwood, Deborah Here Comes Valentine Cat

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 2: Juana Martinez-Neal, Maya Christina González & Laura Lacámara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the second 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 this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. 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!

 

Juana Martinez-Neal

Children's Illustrator Juana Martinez-NealJuana was born in Lima, the capital of Peru. She has been illustrating for children since she was 16. Juana attended the best art school ever, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru – School of Fine Arts. After 3 years of a crazy 8-to-8 schedule and way too many all-nighters, she was in desperate need of a semester-break and decided to give L.A. a “test drive.” She has lived in the US ever since.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: My father and grandfather were artists. The walls of our house were full of their paintings, and we had art supplies all around the house. Drawing and painting were natural ways to use our time. Every Summer, my mom enrolled us in a different art classes. She always took us to visit Museums, and her special treat was taking us to see puppet shows. Art was part of our life. There is nothing else I could be but an artist.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I love the process more than a specific media. I think that’s the reason why I’m a mixed media illustrator. When I add materials and change my the process, the work becomes even more interesting. The idea of solving the problem makes the process so very exciting.

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

A: They expand a child’s mind, fulfill their soul, and show new points of views.

    

 

Maya Christina González

Maya Gonzalez is an artist, author, educator, activist, peacemaker, publisher, equality lover, obsessive recycler, traveler, river lover, tree talker, sky kisser……

Her fine art graces the cover of Contemporary Chicano/a Art and is well documented as part of the Chicano Art Movement. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning children’s books, several of which she also wrote, Her book My Colors, My World won the prestigious Pura Belpré Award Honor from the American Library Association and her most recent picture book, Call Me Tree was listed in Kirkus’ Best Picture Books of 2014 that Celebrate Diversity. Since 1996, Maya has been providing presentations to children and educators about the importance of creativity as a tool for personal empowerment. Her work with children in public schools helped her develop several lines of curriculum that offer a holistic approach to learning and open doors to new ways of thinking and relating in the world. In 2009 she co-founded Reflection Press, an independent press that publishes radical and revolutionary children’s books, and works that expand spiritual and cultural awareness. And in 2013, Maya co-created an online learning environment called School of the Free Mind about expanding the mind and reclaiming the creative. The School offers e-courses for those who are ready to uncover and connect with their unique and most powerful way of living and creating.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I remember as a child drawing my round Chicana face into the backs of books. I think on some level I knew I needed to see myself in my books. I didn’t. I know in many ways those early ‘self-portraits’ were my way of affirming my existence in a world that did not include me. We are born artists. Creativity is our greatest tool to express and transform our world. I think it was a natural act to be an artist. I think I’ve remained visually expressive because it is the most powerful and immediate way to communicate and create change.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I am notorious for trying different mediums in my children’s books. Acrylics, watercolors, oil pastels, ink, charcoal, painted collage, photo collage, color pencils and combinations of all of those. What I love is the feeling of exploration and not completely knowing what I’m doing. I know that’s how kids feel all the time. Everything is new and curiosity rocks. So I follow that feeling. I’ve made so much art that I’m familiar with all the materials so now I’m exploring how to use them differently. More expression. More immediate and raw. This is how kids create because this is how kids feel. I’m always exploring the edges of my expression.

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

A: Picture books are important because they are powerful tools of expression, support and potential healing. I believe children’s books are one of the most radical things we can do for ourselves and our communities.

            

Laura Lacámara

Laura_photo_2015-300 dpiCuban-born Laura Lacámara is the award-winning author and illustrator of Dalias Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia (Piñata Books), a bilingual picture book about a clever girl who transforms her unruly hair into a vibrant garden. Laura also wrote Floating on Mamas Song / Flotando en la canción de mamá, a bilingual picture book inspired by her mother, who was an opera singer in Havana. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales and published by HarperCollins, Floating on Mamas Song was a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2010 and was a Tejas Star Book Award Finalist for 2011-2012.

Laura earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach. She studied printmaking at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles and began exhibiting and selling her work.

When a fellow artist suggested Laura’s images would be ideal for picture books, Laura signed up for a children’s book illustration class at Otis College of Art and Design. She instantly fell in love with both writing and illustrating for children. It was in that class that she wrote the first draft of Floating on Mamas Song.

Laura illustrated the 2012 Tejas Star Book Award winner, The Runaway Piggy / El cochinito fugitivo (Piñata Books), as well as Alicias Fruity Drinks / Las aguas frescas de Alicia (Piñata Books). Laura is a popular presenter at schools, book festivals, and conferences, and she is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Laura lives in Southern California with her husband, their daughter, and a lovable mutt.

Q:  What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Having an artist father, who made a living as a graphic designer and illustrator, inspired me and showed me that it was possible to be a working artist.  In high school and beyond, I had many artist friends – we found inspiration together in art classes and museum visits.  And, to be honest, as a young adult, doing art was the only job I didn’t get fired from!

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I like painting with acrylics on a variety of surfaces – my current favorite being wood. (I love the texture.)  I also enjoy adding collage elements to my paintings.  I’ve always loved bright patterned fabrics and papers – the more the colors and patterns clash, the better!

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

A: Picture books are important because they teach us about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities.  Stories with pictures can give young kids a great deal of validation and comfort.  A picture book may be the first time a child realizes, “I’m not the only one who feels that way!”

    

 

Books to Check Out:

Lacámara Laura. Dalias Wondrous Hair

Luna, James. The Runaway Piggy

Ruiz-Flores, Lupa. Alicias Fruity Drinks

Elya, Susan Middleton. La Madre Goose (coming in July)

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. Call me Tree/Llamame Arbol

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. I Know the River Loves Me/Yo se que el rio me ama

Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo

Alarcon, Francisco X. Animal Poems of the Iguazu

Perez, Amada Irma. Nanas Big Surprise

Perez, Amada Irma. My Diary from Here to There

Alarcon, Francisco X. Iguanas in the Snow

Spotlight on Latina Illustrators Part 1: Angela Dominguez, Juana Medina, and Ana Aranda

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the first 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 this year. Some of them live in the US, while others live overseas. They come from many different cultural backgrounds, but are all passionate about connecting with readers through art and story. Please look for their books at bookstores and libraries!

Angela Dominguez

Angela DominguezAngela Dominguez was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go Hugo!, Santiago Stays, Knit Together, and Maria Had a Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. Recently, she received her second Pura Belpré Honor for her illustrations in Mango, Abuela, and Me written by Meg Medina. Her new books How do you Say?/Como se Dice?  and Marta, Big and Small (by Jen Arena), will both be published later this year. To see more of Angela’s work, visit her website, blog or twitter.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: Like many of my artist friends, I’ve always liked to draw. Growing up, I was obsessed with books and art in general. I’d spend evenings watching VHS tapes and drawing all night (if I wasn’t doing homework). Still, I didn’t really consider art something I could do professionally until high school. Fortunately, my high school really had a great art program and teachers who were supportive. Then I received a partial scholarship to Savannah College of Art and Design based on my skills and academics. That sort of sealed my fate as a professional artist.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I still love drawing with pencil. It feels so good in my hand. I even love the way a freshly sharpened pencil smells. I also enjoy working with ink especially with a dip pen and brush. I just like how there is less control. It forces you to work boldly and confidently. My last favorite medium is tissue paper. I just really enjoy collage and the texture it produces. It’s really fun to work with all three at the same time. In graduate school when I saw that Evaline Ness worked that way, I was inspired to do it even more!

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

A: Picture books are important because they can speak universal truths to people of all ages. They can make you cry and laugh all in the same little book. (Also there are pictures!)

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Juana Medina

Photo by Silvia Baptiste

Photo by Silvia Baptiste

Juana Medina was born in Bogotá, Colombia, where she grew up, getting in a lot of trouble for drawing cartoons of her teachers.

Eventually, all that drawing (and trouble) paid off. Juana studied at the Rhode Island School of Design – RISD (where she has also taught). She has done illustration & animation work for clients in the U.S., Latin America, & Europe.

She now lives in Washington, DC. where she teaches at George Washington University. Juana draws and writes stories from a big and old drafting table, in an even older -but not much bigger- apartment.  Juana is the illustrator of the picture book Smick! by Doreen Cronin. Her new books 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book and Juana and Lucas will be published later this year. You can find out more about Juana on her website and blog.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I grew up in a family where pretty much everyone had some kind of artistic outlet; my grandfather was a great draftsman, my grandma was a fantastic carpenter, my aunt a potter… everyone found a way to use arts as a way to express themselves, so it took me a while to realize not everyone in the world did this! Moreover, I went to a school that valued arts very much. So for the longest time, I thought art was just one more fabulous aspect of being human. I didn’t think of art or my ability to draw as super powers; they were simply an added feature, almost as a bonus language. Now that I recognize not everyone draws, I have dedicated a lot of time to using this ability as best as possible, to tell stories.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A:  Ink is one of my favorite mediums, because I find it very expressive. I enjoy the high contrast between the stark white paper and the very dark black ink; it makes it very exciting to see lines and traces -almost magically- appear on the page.

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

A:  Picture books are important because they don’t require more than visuals -and a handful of words- to understand a story. And understanding a story can lead to a shared experience with those who have also read the book. This not only serves for entertainment purposes, but allows us to learn about other people’s feelings, struggles, and dreams. Picture books also allow us to see the world through a different point of view and they tend to teach us things we perhaps didn’t know about, like how people live in villages we’ve never visited, or what dinosaurs used to eat, or how giant squids live in the darkest, deepest waters in the ocean, all valuable lessons to be learned.

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Ana Aranda

Ana ArandaAna Aranda was born and raised in Mexico City, where she studied design. From there, she moved to France, where she lived for three years while doing her undergraduate studies in illustration. Ana now lives in San Francisco thanks to a grant from the Mexican Fund for Culture and Arts (FONCA). Her biggest inspirations are her childhood memories, the vibrant colors of Mexico, and music. Her work focuses on transforming the every day into fantastical situations, and often includes images from nature and whimsical creatures. Ana’s work has been featured in different galleries and museums in the United States, France, Mexico and Italy. In San Francisco, she has painted murals in the Mission District, for the Consulate General of Mexico, and for the prestigious de Young Museum. Ana’s illustrations can be found in picture books published in France and Italy. Some of her forthcoming titles include “J’ai Mal à Mon Écorce” (Éditions du Jasmin, France, 2015). She also illustrated ¡Celebracion! by Susan Middleton Elya, coming in 2016 and The Chupacabra ate the Candleabra by Marc Tyler Nobleman, coming in 2017.

Q:  What inspired you to become an artist?

A: When I was a little girl, I lived in a colorful city in Mexico called Cuernavaca, also known as the “City of Eternal Springtime”. My childhood memories in this city full of flowers always inspire me to create colorful and joyful pieces for children of all ages.

I have also been very inspired by my family, teachers, Mexican muralists and printmakers, growing up learning about women artists such as Remedios Vario and Leonora Carrington.

Q: Tell us about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I first learned to use acrylics when I was around 14 years old and fell in love with it! Since then I’ve been playing with bright colors and mixing that technique with others such as pigments, scratchboards, etc. I’m in love with color and finding how every color can be part of an emotional experience.

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

Ana Aranda Cover

 

A: Picture books are important because they help you travel to different worlds!

 

Books to Check Out:

Dominguez, Angela. Lets Go Hugo

Dominguez, Angela. Maria Had a Little Llama

Dominguez, Angela. Santiago Stays

Dominguez, Angela. Knit Together

Medina, Meg. Mango, Abuela and Me

Brown, Monica. Lola Levine is NOT Mean!

Elya, Susan Middleton. ¡Celebracion!  (coming Fall 2016)

Cronin, Doreen. Smick!

Medina, Juana. 1 Big Salad: A Delicious Counting Book (coming Summer 2016)

Illustrator Joe Cepeda Talks to Latin@s in Kid Lit, Part 2

By Lila Quintero Weaver

We’re continuing a fascinating conversation with acclaimed illustrator Joe Cepeda. His work graces many Latin@-themed children’s books. Did you miss the first installment? Go here.

Lila: When did your interest in art begin? How did you train for a career in illustration?

Joe: When I was young, I enjoyed drawing enough that my mom enrolled me at the Los Angeles Music and Art School in East Los Angeles, a small jewel of a place where I first tried painting. By my teens, though, I stopped going and after graduating high school found myself headed to college to study engineering. It took me awhile before I changed all of that. Initially, I thought I’d be an editorial cartoonist, but as soon as I got a brush back in my hand, I realized I wanted to do something that had an artfulness to it as well. Illustration afforded the perfect combination of content and creative articulation for me.

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To be honest, my training was largely guided toward editorial work. I sort of fell into children’s books. Creating a piece for a magazine article is much like doing work for a cover. There is a certain amount of seduction employed in influencing a magazine reader to stop and read an article, much the way you’d want someone to pick up a book off a shelf. A combination of abstraction, mystery, emotion, and information might play a role in creating that single image that will lure the audience in.

From the books I’ve illustrated, I pretty much taught myself sequential image-making and continue to do that. With a portfolio largely lacking any real samples that reflected page-turning sensibilities, it was very fortunate that I was signed up to illustrate those first books. I believe that it was an inclination to write a picture as much as illustrate one that may have been evident to my first editors and art directors. They seem to have responded to that and took a risk. I’m grateful to them for doing so.

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Lila: Most of us have no idea how an illustrator goes about his work. Can you give us a tour of the process?

Joe: In many ways, the real work is done throughout the sketch phase. For editorial work, I usually create a few alternate ideas for a director to choose from. The sketches need to be tight enough for the director to envision the finished art.

For books, the sketch process is more comprehensive. The first sketches are thumbnails in which I mostly brainstorm, trying to find the basic rhythm, character introduction, action, choreography of the story, etc. The second phase of sketches, laid out as a dummy (a design/template that allows you to see the whole book planned out) focuses on the essential content of the story, as well as soundly composing the images. This is the working plan to be shared with editors and art directors. It’s important to understand that this design is as much for others as it is for oneself. This is where mistakes are caught.

Finally, in the last draft of sketches, details are included to a more specific degree. The emotions of your images many times are expressed in the details of your illustrations. It’s where things become funny, scary, thrilling, suspenseful, etc. This shouldn’t be confused with complexity—a simple picture has as much power as an ornate one. Once the dummy is okayed, it’s on to the finished work. Almost all of my books have been executed as oil paintings over acrylic under-paintings on illustration board. A recent book I illustrated was delivered as digitally rendered finishes. Whatever your medium of choice, the more confident you are of your plan, the more enjoyable the last part of the process will be. I leave color out of the initial plans because I prefer to be responsive when it comes to that, leaving a level of spontaneity for the end.

Milagros_jacket_finish72Lila: Let’s close out this conversation by returning to a book cover, the one you recently did for the e-book version of Meg Medina’s Milagros: A Girl from Away. It’s breathtaking, truly exceptional. I know Meg was thrilled with it!

Joe: Thanks for the kind words. Milagros is a great story and it was a wonderful opportunity to illustrate the cover of the e-book. After reading the manuscript, I couldn’t help responding to Milagros as a girl between two worlds. It’s the “between” part that intrigued me as a source for creating a provocative image. Milagros is not only traveling from one place to another, as she does in the story, she’s also between the clarity of a wide-open sky and the deep mystery and profundity of the ocean. The magical realism of the story, in my mind, calls for a more symbolic and open-ended image. Alternative ideas depicted Milagros closer to the viewer, larger in the design. This would emphasize Milagros more. A reader might respond to that kind of image, “That girl looks like me, i want to read about her.” It’s certainly popular to create covers that are more character-based, but, I’m glad that we decided to go the other way, that is, emphasizing the mystery, the peril of the journey, and the hopefulness and optimism of Milagros’ spirit. A reader here might ask, “Where is that girl going? What is she facing? Is she lost? Is she on her way somewhere? Is she safe? Will she get there? What will she find? Keeping her small in the design also helps the reader ask, “Who is she?” My first sketches didn’t include the manta ray, inclined to depict Milagros navigating her way alone, but, as we discussed, it’s a central part of the story. I’m glad mantas are such mysterious and, perhaps, very poetic creatures. I wanted it to have an ambiguous posture… is it a threat to her, or is it a witness, or, even something more? For me, the more questions you ask when looking at a cover, the better a cover does its job.

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To learn more about Joe’s craftsmanship and illustration technique, see this extensive interview by Kathleen Temean.

Want to see Joe in his studio and hear more of his story? Here’s a video interview, worth the double click-through!