Going For It: Q&A with Illustrator Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara was featured in a previous round-up of Latina illustrators here on Latinxs in Kid Lit. When I found out she was also the inaugural recipient of a mentorship from the We Need Diverse Books organization, I wanted to find out more about her experience in the program and how it affected her work. Alcántara worked with the illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores (who has also participated in a Latina Illustrators post) as her mentor and recently announced her second book deal. She will illustrate the book Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, which will be released by Candlewick Books in 2019. She will also illustrate The Field by Baptiste Paul, which is scheduled to release with NorthSouth Books in Spring 2018.

How did you hear about the WNDB mentorship and what made you decide to apply?

A friend/illustrator in my critique group forwarded me the email announcing the mentorship. He knew my work included a lot of diverse characters and knew that my interests were in pursuing projects that featured diverse main characters, so thankfully, he assumed I would be a good fit! At that time, I knew that I needed someone to help guide me, give me feedback on my work, grow my network, and help me build confidence. I wasn’t sure if that would be a friend, agent, editor, or mentor but was doing everything I could to find relationships like that. I decided to apply because it was honestly exactly what I was looking for!

What has been the best part about working with your WNDB mentor?

I think the best part of a mentor/mentee relationship is that there’s no other reason you are working together, other than to improve your work and career. Relationships with other people in the industry, i.e. agents, editors, fellow illustrators, etc are wonderful and critical as well, but there are quickly a lot of other factors those people can be thinking about in addition to your work when giving you advice or suggestions. Conversations with my mentor helped not only to allow me to see a path for myself within the industry, but also to see my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. Carolyn is brutally honest, which I love. She has really wonderful instincts and fantastic advice. I believe a lot in instincts and trusting my gut, but working alone and pursing this dream can become really difficult. Carolyn is always reminding me to trust my instincts and to have fun! So I built up a lot of confidence in myself relatively quickly once we started working together. Not only confidence in my actual illustrations, but in goals, ideas, and direction of my career. I also felt a pressure to succeed, now that I had not only Carolyn, but WNDB holding me accountable! When you work for yourself, there is no one to push you or hold you accountable, so it requires a lot of self confidence and motivation. The boost I got from WNDB was great for that, but I also knew I finally had the resources to make it happen!

The next best part of working with my mentor was that fact that Carolyn introduced me to Adriana Domínguez at last winter’s SCBWI conference. Adriana and I continued talking for months after that and I ultimately signed with her and Full Circle Literary over the summer. That was the best possible outcome from the mentorship, and it actually happened! Relatively soon after working with Adriana, I got my first picture book offer. I’m very happy to share that I’m now working on 2 books, one with North South and the second with Candlewick. The first will be released in 2018, and the second in 2019.  I cannot wait for them to come out!

What other artists and writers do you consider your greatest influences (kidlit or not)?

In the kid lit world, my greatest influences are Chris Raschka, Patricia Pollacco, Chris Van Allsburg, and Kadir Nelson. As for traditional artists I’m a bit cliche; Picasso, Matisse, and Redon are some top favorites. Picasso’s sketchbooks are a constant source of inspiration for me. Redon and Matisse, I love their use of color and the imagination they brought into their work. I’ve also been in love with Japanese Ukiyo-e art since I was young. I think a lot of my energy and inspiration also comes from music. I have music on constantly in my studio, different genres depending on what I’m doing, but there’s a lot of electronic, disco/soul, hip hop. My favorite writer (currently) is Neil Gaiman.

You were a high school art teacher at one point. Do you think your students influenced your work, and if so, how?

I taught high school art for a short time before school funding was cut significantly in Illinois. Our department (along with many art departments state-wide) saw massive cuts, so I took the opportunity to push my own artistic career. I will always be influenced by my time teaching (I hope to still have teaching opportunities in the future) and the students I had! Remembering a personality, hairstyle, attitude, or name for character can be inspiration—or remembering a conversation or story a student shared about their life. I left teaching wanting to be a successful working artist, but I also wanted to do work that would directly influence, inspire, and speak to children.

What advice would you give other Latinx artists who might want to apply for the WNDB program?

Be open to everything. Participating in this program has led to so many other relationships and opportunities, and has launched my career. WNDB has really opened the door for a lot of people, beyond those who have received mentorships or grants. They are bringing the issue to the forefront of the industry, and editors and agents are definitely listening and searching for new diverse talented writers and illustrators. It’s been so encouraging. It’s an industry that can seem daunting and a job that seems too good to be true. It takes a lot of patience and time, but it’s really important work, so if you are thinking of pursuing it,  get involved ASAP! It’s much more fun to do with a network of people around you, and SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), WNDB and others are all fantastic ways to do so.

 

Cackley_headshotCecilia 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 4: Carolyn Dee Flores, Christina Rodriguez, and Jacqueline Alcántara

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the fourth 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. 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!

Carolyn Dee Flores

Carolyn Dee Flores grew up around the world and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. She worked as a computer analyst, rock musician and composer prior to becoming an illustrator of children’s books. She illustrated Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers and Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing, which were both named to the Tejas Star Reading list. Her illustrations for the book Daughter of Two Nations won a Skipping Stones Honor Award. Her most recent work can be seen in the book Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita, published in October 2016 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Publico Press.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A:   My Uncle Rey. He was a professional artist. He made me realize it was something you could do. Be an artist for a living.

When I was little, I used to go over to my grandmother’s house and see his drawings and paintings framed on the wall and I would think, “How on earth does someone get that good?” Later, I found out he had gone to art school and become an artist for the Air Force. When he passed away, my aunt gave me his art books. I read every page … over and over and over. That’s when I first learned about Goya and Rembrandt and Velázquez. It meant everything to me.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium. 

A: Oil. Oil. And then oil. I am very excited about a new technique I developed for painting with oil on cardboard. It completely saturates the board until it looks like brushed felt. It also enables me to control the bleed and dry quickly. This is the first time I have been able to get those intense colors that you get with oil paints – in an illustration. I use this process in my new book “A Surprise for Teresita” which comes out this month.

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

A: They are a child’s very first glimpse into all the possibilities of being a human being. Whether it is stepping into the Wizard of Oz, or a Dr. Seuss landscape, or playing with the pigeon in Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – or going to a playground down the block – the reality for a child is the same. The world is full of color, and rhythm and courageous deeds and breathtaking imagination. Picture books affirm a child’s vision … forever. Nothing could be more important than that!

Dale, Dale, Dale / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It Cover  Canta, Rana, Canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing Cover  

 

Christina Rodriguez

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Christina Rodriguez lives in Rhode Island and has illustrated more than twelve books for children. She is a three time nominee for the Tejas Star Book Award. Among the books she has illustrated are Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts, Mayte and the Bogeyman, We are Cousins/ Somos primos, The Wishing Tree and Adelita and the Veggie Cousins.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: I became a children’s book illustrator thanks to the adults who steered me in that direction as a child: from my dad who taught me how to draw horses as a child, to my teachers who encouraged my love of art and reading, and finally to my mother for supporting my decision to go to art school at RISD.  Without the continuous support of the role models in my life, I might not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: I have two favorite mediums: digital and watercolors. Watercolor painting was one of the first techniques I learned, but I didn’t really get into it until college, when it became a safer alternative to oil paints (the fumes were giving me headaches). Most of my books are done in a mixture of watercolors, watercolor pencils, and gouache -an opaque type of watercolors – that gives me a lot of control in the details and the ability to add depth and texture. I also carry a travel-sized watercolor paint box with my sketchbook everywhere I go.

My other favorite medium is digital: I’ve illustrated a few books completely in Adobe Photoshop, from sketches to finished art. Many book illustrators incorporate digital programs into their workflows at some point, whether it’s resizing sketches, or cleaning up and enhancing finished paintings. I use a Microsoft Surface Pro which makes creating digital illustrations even easier.

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

A: They introduce children to many rich and important concepts at a young age: a love of reading and art, active listening, and critical thinking of complex subjects while in a safe place. Picture books can provide the foundation upon which a rich education can be built.

  Mayte and the Bogeyman/Mayte y El Cuco Cover  We Are Cousins/Somos Primos Cover    Adelita and the Veggie Cousins/Adelita y Las Primas Verduritas Cover

 

Jacqueline Alcántara

photo credit @eyeshotchaJacqueline Alcántara is a freelance author and illustrator who previously taught high school art and photography. She won the inaugural We Need Diverse Books Illustrator Mentorship Award in 2016. Her first book is The Field which will be published in 2018 by NorthSouth Books.

Q: What inspired you to become an artist?

A: For as long as I can remember, I loved drawing, cutting, gluing, painting, inventing characters, and writing stories. As a kid, my mom would take me down to the Art Institute’s kids programs, and I still remember the texture of the paper they gave me, and how excited I felt about creating art inside the museum. When I was in high school, my dad took me to Honduras a few times, and each time, we visited with one his best friends who happened to be a fantastic painter and brilliant musician. His name was Carlos Brizzio, and he quickly became the coolest person in the world to me. By the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to work within “the arts,” even if I hadn’t yet figured out what that meant.

After I graduated from college, I worked as an art teacher, and I decided that I wanted to combine my love of art  and kids, and pursue children’s illustration. Lots of artists have inspired me along the way, but my first loves, beyond Quentin Blake and Chris Van Allsburg, were Dalí, Picasso, and Redon. I still look at a lot of art and visit my favorite paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but now I’m mostly inspired by silly things that happen throughout the day, serious things that are happening in the world, and all of the beauty that I find in between.

Q: Tell us something about your favorite artistic medium.

A: At this point in time, I’m most in love with markers and gouache. I love gouache because of the opaque/flat feeling of the color. I like that it’s an old medium as well—that it has history and depth. I started using markers recently, when I became interested in fashion illustration. Markers allow you to work fast and consistently, and I love the way they layer on top of one another  to almost look and feel like watercolors, or digital painting. I use Photoshop for almost all of my illustrations to collage, experiment, and play with light, color and composition.

Mixed media is so much fun because you can have a plan for your piece, but so much is still left to chance and experimentation, which is exciting when you’re creating a piece, and so satisfying when it’s complete.

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

A: Along with TV and movies, books are largely responsible for how we formulate our ideas about people, cultures, and especially, ourselves from an early age. The stories and characters we read in picture books represent some  of the first ways in which we begin to explore these things, and those impressions stick with us, whether consciously or subconsciously, for a very long time. Picture books ask questions about our world and ourselves and can provide us with comfort, curiosity, hope and empathy. But my favorite part is  the details, and the magical way in which the words and pictures can tell the same story while saying different things. I also love that children can “read” a picture book even before they are ready to read the text, and how repeated readings help them to discover the details, thought, humor and care that goes into the process of creating them. Picture books are important because they help us to visualize our pasts and futures, as they feed our imagination.

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Books to Look For:

Dale, dale, dale: una fiesta de números/Hit it, hit it, hit it: a fiesta of numbers by Carolyn Dee Flores

Canta, Rana, Canta/ Sing Froggie Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores

Una Sorpresa para Teresita/ A Surprise for Teresita by Carolyn Dee Flores

Un día con mis tias/ A Day with my Aunts illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Mayte and the Bogeyman illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

We are Cousins/ Somos primos illustrated by Christina Rodriguez

Adelita and the Veggie Cousins illustrated by Christina Rodriguez