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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

¡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:

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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

taniadrTania 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