Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Raissa Figueroa

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the tenth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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!

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Raissa Figueroa

Raissa Figueroa is an illustrator and graphic designer based in San Diego, California. Her art graces such picture books as Princess, Unlimited, by Jacob Sager Weinstein, and Oona, by Kelly DiPucchio.

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

A: I recently stumbled on some journals I had written in the 3rd grade at my parent’s house and found these gems:

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But life happened and I was too scared to succumb to the “starving artist” motif. I continued to sketch in the margins of my notebooks in school, fiddled with Microsoft paint and took a life drawing class in college, but in the end, I switched my major to graphic design so that I’d have a better chance financially. I learned a lot of things that I was able to use in landing my position at the small business I ended up working at from right after I graduated college in 2012 up until March of 2020. But my spark for pursuing art returned to me a bit earlier, in 2016, following a suicide attempt that left me unable to move around very well for a stretch of months. It just so happened that I stumbled across a channel on YouTube that focused on concept art. I was thrilled that such a thing even existed, and I became OBSESSED.

I watched every art-related video I could find on YouTube, blew through self directed online classes, bought books, and sketched profusely. Coincidentally, in the summer of 2016, my friend began a weekly paint night, and that’s where I discovered a love of watercolor. Even after she moved away, I still continued to practice painting, slowly building my confidence from primarily sketches and drawings with pencils, to the wonderfully frightening and exciting world of color.

I began to post to Instagram, and through a series of strange events, too long to list here, I landed a literary agent who introduced me to the world of children’s books. Through an act of God, I landed several book deals within a very short time frame, and so began the pursuit of this life path: returning to my childhood self, who seemed to know me better than I do now.

Art was a literal life-saver for me, seeing me through some very intense ups and downs in my life. There’s something that happens when I’m “in the zone” so to speak that feeds my soul and makes time, to-do lists, wants and worries, fears and anxieties, heck, even life slip away. And if that wasn’t enough, just knowing that my art can be used to bring joy others makes my heart swell with happiness and purpose. I don’t mind starving, but I definitely need to be an artist!

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

A: When I began arting, I had cycled through a few mediums here, dabbled in a few mediums there, but ultimately when I had landed on watercolor in 2016, it was love at first brushstroke. Ironically, because I’ve spent so much time recently in the digital realm completing client work, I sort of stopped using it along with any kind of traditional media. I love how the colors blend and flow together so wonderfully! I hope to do more of it in the near future, and experiment with different mediums I’ve never tried before! Using my hands (and even my whole body sometimes) just gives you a whole different experience that really connects you with the process of creating something; at least for me I’ve been unable to achieve the same thing digitally, but I am *so* thankful for that Ctrl+Z…sometimes when I’m painting, I find myself tapping the page like I would my iPad.

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

A: Not only are they a work of art but they give kids a chance to fall in love with reading. My mom was extremely good about that and I remember bedtime very fondly because she always made us an offer. Another hour of cartoons, or a new story for that night. We always chose the latter! That love of reading stuck with me and has undoubtedly helped me in my journey from child to adult. Not to mention you don’t need to plug them in or access the internet to immerse yourself in another world.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Erika Meza

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the eleventh in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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!

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Erika Meza

Erika Meza is a Mexican Migrant: colorful, bubbly, and a taco connoisseur. After studying graphic design back home (and moving house nearly 30 times) she lived in a dungeon with a princess in Paris to attend the Illustration (Image Imprimée) program at ENSAD, which got her addicted to chocolate éclairs and 2 am bike rides by the river.

She now lives with a cat in the UK where she works with ink, gouaches, and watercolor pencils as an author and illustrator.

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

A: I remember vividly being four or five years old, and watching a making-of my parents had recorded for me on a Betamax cassette (for the younglings, that’s the grandfather of the VHS tape) about the ink-and-paint girls in the Disney studios. All those women having access to all of those paint colors, and creating all those beautiful and precise paint strokes, was for me the equivalent of a dream-world: it quickly became one of the most rewinded tapes of my childhood. Later on, becoming a children’s illustrator turned into the obvious choice: it meant I could write, design characters, and my own little universes: in short, to wear all of the creative hats I wanted.

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

A: Oh gosh, watercolor pencils and inks. I love drawing, I love sketching – the messier it is, the better. But when I paint, I have a tendency to go clean and precise. As a result, people often told me that my final artwork lacked the energy and the vibrancy I had in my sketches.

It took a lot of patience and confidence, but watercolor pencils solved that problem for me. I sketch in my usual way directly on the final watercolor paper, and then allow the splashes of watercolors and inks to flow and help me discover the illustration as I go. It means letting go of a certain amount of control, which is hard for my perfectionistic brain to accept (and probably nerve-wrecking to the art directors who have never seen me work, haha). But the end result keeps being a surprise, and retains all the joy I have in making it, even if I have to paint it again from scratch if something went wrong. And I very much think it shows in the final result.

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

 A:…because they establish the relationship we will have to books growing up, as well as start helping us understand the world we live in. They are the first window we have to other cultures, other stories, and to our own imagination.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Spotlight on Latinx Illustrators: Juliana Perdomo

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We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

By Cecilia Cackley

This is the ninth in a series of posts spotlighting Latinx 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!

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Juliana Perdomo

Juliana Perdomo is a writer and illustrator. She was born in Bogotá, Colombia, surrounded by nature, bright colors, music, weird fruits, sunshine, animals, friends and a huge and loving family. She currently lives there with her wonderful son, Luca.

Having a background as a psychologist and art therapist, she discovered the positive effects that art and narrative had on the kids she worked with. She then found her passion in children’s literature, and being inspired by her culture, has been creating her own illustrations and stories ever since. Her work is very heartfelt and personal, folkish, a bit retro and joyful, with a Latin touch.

She has illustrated numerous books, including Somos lo que somos and Alcánzame una Pera for Penguin Random House Colombia, Rainbow Colours, What is Baby Going to Do? What is Mommy Going to Do? and What is Daddy Going to Do? for Quarto.

EL CUCUY IS SCARED TOO, written by Donna Barba Higuera, will publish with Abrams in 2021.

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

A: I remember having a feeling when I was a little kid. I got it every time I was in my uncle Ismael’s art studio. The smell of the oil paints, the colorful splatters on the floor, the ceiling painted like a sky, the jungle of plants that intertwined with a thousand little quirky objects that made no sense. I felt a fire, a spark inside my chest. Something that told me I wanted to live like that, be like him.

I had the same warm feeling when I saw my grandma’s hands sewing, I sat next to her and explored the piled tin boxes full of buttons, and threads and shiny sequins. I wanted to use them all, somehow blend with them. It amazed me that everything Carmen Rosita (grandma) touched became beautiful.

Later on, I realized I could tune into that feeling when I looked through art and picture books, when I drew and colored my own scenes and characters, when I built little sculptures with wild berries, mud, and sticks in nature. 

Art made me a joyful kid, then saved me as a sad teenager, and finally gave me the chance to find peace and my path as I became a kid’s illustrator.

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


A: Right now I work mainly digitally. I use a tablet and a drawing pen. I like it because I can carry it anywhere, use as many textures, brushes and colors and make all the mistakes I want. 

I transitioned into digital art when I worked as a graphic designer some years ago, but from time to time I also give myself a day for playing with other art mediums. 

Crayons, pastels, watercolors, gouache, acrylics, they are all so much fun! 

It’s like a regression to my childhood when I use them. I also love that they open up a chance for me to connect with my 8-year-old son. We collaborate in improvised art projects that end up being precious conversations without words.

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

A: They provide a space where the reader can approach the world through visualization. 

This is especially important for kids. As they flip through the pages, the pictures and the sound of spoken words combined with written ones, allow a wholeness in the communication experience. 

Verbal and non verbal information is given at the same time as an emotional connection is created with the art, the contexts, characters, stories and even the person who reads the book.

Picture books are a wonderful tool for imagination, language development, thought patterns, identity exploration, personality, social and cultural behavior, empathy, among other important traits of humanity. 

This is why I feel there is a huge responsibility for all of us in the children’s literature industry, to create a spectrum of content, rich in diversity.

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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

Book Review: Dear Abuelo by Grecia Huesca Dominguez, illus. by Teresa Martinez

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Review by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos 

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: There is much Juana is going to miss as she moves from Mexico to New York, but nothing more than her abuelo. Through letters to her grandfather, Juana details her flight, he new apartment, and her first days of school, where everyone speaks a language she barely understands. When Juana makes her first friend, though, things begin to change.

OUR TWO CENTS: In Grecia Huesca Dominguez’s Dear Abuelo (2019) Juana and her mother immigrate from Mexico to New York. Through letters written to Abuelo, who is back in Mexico, she details her feelings about  new and anxious experiences, like traveling on a plane for the first time, settling in her new apartment, and her first day of school. On the bus ride, Juana notices everyone speaking in English, she has trouble understanding and speaking despite having practiced. In school, Juana’s teacher does not pronounce her name correctly; this incident makes her feel discouraged. In the following letters, Juana tells Abuelo that she’s  met a new friend, Elizabeth, who is also from Mexico. Elizabeth speaks both English and Spanish and explains to the teacher how to say Juana’s name correctly. Juana finds the library and meets the librarian. The librarian shows Juana books written in Spanish, and this inspires Juana to write stories in English and Spanish. 

Teresa Martinez’s illustrations center a young, brown girl with bright rosy cheeks and short curly  hair. Martinez’s vibrant illustrations of  Juana’s experiences align brilliantly with her feelings, such as  depicting the feeling of anxiety or nervousness with her use of  grey and darker backgrounds and using splashes of bright greens, oranges, and yellows to capture Juana’s  feelings of zen and excitement. Mexico is represented with the use of bright flower garlands across the pages and those flowers are lost when Juana lands in New York in the middle of winter. At first, there aren’t any flowers at school because Juana has a difficult time fitting in. Once she meets Elizabeth, after the teacher pronounces her name correctly, and after finding books in Spanish, the flower garlands around the frame of the pages return. Not only are the flowers a connection to Mexico, but they also represent growth and opportunity. 

A significant aspect in Dear Abuelo is the use of the letter format to tell the story. The story ends with Juana maybe one day writing her own stories, but the entire book is an example of just that. The letters are a powerful device that allows Juana to process her emotions that come with leaving one’s homeland behind and needing to start anew. The letters are also a wonderful way to strengthen long distance family relationships, which helps Juana feel less lonely.  The letters also suggest that Juana is taking control of her own narrative; she is in control of the story she tells. 

Another significant aspect of Dear Abuelo is the importance of  embracing the uniqueness in names and the importance of connecting with family history through naming. The mispronunciation of (im)migrant student names in the American classroom is a far too common experience. Continual mispronunciation or mockery of a student’s name because they don’t sound or look “American” is an imperialist and white supremacist practice to try to other, marginalize, and erase people’s history, culture, and future. We appreciate that it was Elizabeth, also a child, who had the courage to disrupt assumed power relations and correct, and teach, the teacher how to say Juana’s names. It is also important that the teacher was open to learning something new. 

Dear Abuelo focuses on the Mexican immigrant experience that many children coming to the U.S at a young age might relate to. This picture book illustrates common hardships, including having a language barrier, the trouble of meeting new people, or finding interest in activities like the ones Juana participates in the book, such as playing in gym class or riding the bus. Other picture books that center a similar experience and conversation include Juan Felipe Herrera’s The Upside Down Boy  (2006) and Amada Irma Perez’s My Diary From Here to There (2009). 

Grecia Huesca Dominguez and Teresa Martinez do an excellent job at balancing the struggles young immigrants experience with the joys of still being a child. We wholeheartedly recommend this book to children and parents to read together and discuss the similarities and differences between Juana’s experiences and those of the readers. 

TEACHING TIPS:

  • Ask students to write letters to one another, to the teacher, to someone in their family.
  • Encourage students to also include an illustration or a flower garland border (or a different symbol that represents something about themselves).
  • Ask students to write about the origin and/or history of their names, about being the “new kid” at school, or about making friends.
  • More advanced students can probably write about the more difficult themes around immigration and belonging.

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Photo: Tracy Lane/Benchmark Education Company

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grecia Huesca Dominguez moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to New York when she was ten years old. She started writing poetry while pursuing her BA in English and Creative Writing at CUNY Lehman College. She initially used poetry as a coping mechanism and soon began to use it as a way to chronicle her life as a single mother and undocumented immigrant, and her Latinx identity. Her first poem, “Marilín,” was published in 2015. Since then, she has published more poems and written three books.

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ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Teresa Martinez grew up in Mexico loving to draw and decided to study graphic design. She spent many afternoons reading books on art in the university’s library. She also took many painting courses and even went to Italy for a short course at the Leonardo da Vinci School (Florence). Eventually she started working as a children’s book illustrator and has been doing that ever since. Now Teresa lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERS: Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

A Conversation with Lauren Castillo, illustrator of Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera

 

By Cecilia Cackley

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Cecilia Cackley: This is your twenty-first picture book! You’ve written three of them yourself, but you’ve also worked with a wide range of collaborators. How do you feel like your process has evolved as an artist?

Lauren Castillo: It feels like I’m choosing a different medium for each project, but somehow it ends up looking like the same type of art to others. Imagine for instance, doesn’t look too different from Nana in the City, but to me, I definitely worked in a lot of different ways to make the art. For example, because this book had so many landscapes, I really wanted to embrace that imperfect, texture-y feeling in a more abstract way. I wanted to have a looser style, so I used something that I had been playing around with in workshops with children—printmaking by painting on foam. It’s really fun because you don’t know what you’re going to end up with until you run the print. That’s kind of the beauty of printmaking, that nothing is going to be exact and precise. I think my art, over the years, felt like I was tightening up and it felt a little too crafted. I think it was because my drawing wasn’t as strong at first, so it gave this energetic, free feeling to the work and I liked that. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to trick myself into loosening up. For this book it was helpful to use this type of printmaking for the backgrounds. I would paint on the foam and then flip it over and stamp it on the paper. I work in a much smaller scale so when it’s enlarged it gets even more texture. With each book I need to use different types of materials to keep things interesting.

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CC: Is this your first non-fiction picture book about a living person?

LC: Yes.

CC: How was the research process different than for, say, your book about E.B. White?

LC: It was very different! I did not interact at all with Juan directly. I sent some questions through the publisher Candlewick because it was a poem and it was non-descriptive in terms of the locations and the years and that sort of thing. I had this vision for it so I didn’t want to know too many details but I wanted to gauge the era, the decade and the locations that he was speaking about. I had looked at some photographs of him and most were current so I decided, although I probably could have gotten some childhood photos of him, to do my own version of him and what I imagined he looked like when he was younger. So the character development was done without photo reference. But they gave me some locations to work with so I could get photos from the computer for those. It was a lot freer than working on E.B. White’s life, for example, because that was very descriptive and specific, even down to the animals that were in the barn.

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CC: Would you say this is the most poetic text you’ve ever worked on?

LC:  Probably. I would definitely call some of the other books I’ve worked on poetic, or poems but this feels most definitely like it was pulled out of a poetry book and it’s gorgeous. The first time I read it I thought “Well, I have to illustrate this!”

CC: Tell us a little about your own Latinx family background.

LC: My dad’s father is Cuban, and my mom’s mom is Puerto Rican.

CC: Is this the first book by another Latinx author that you’ve worked on?

LC: It is, which I was very excited about. I grew up asking a lot of questions about my grandparents’ lives and their parents’ lives, coming to the United States, and it seemed like I was more interested in my background and culture than a lot of my friends. I did a lot of reports as a kid, interviewing my grandparents. I would be curious to see how connected to my art Juan Felipe was, if there was anything that reminded him of his own life or if I took liberties that were very different. It would be interesting to have a conversation about it.

CC:  Do you think that you’ll ever make any work connected with your own family history?

LC:  My Puerto Rican great-grandfather was a musician, and when he moved to New York, his family lived in the Spanish Harlem area. My grandmother told me stories about when she was young and he had a band that would play around different venues in Spanish Harlem. So when I moved to New York for graduate school, we had to do a book project, and I decided I wanted to do a visual journalism project about this really old music store in Spanish Harlem called Casa Latina. I went there and asked them if I could spend a month coming in and out of their store and do drawings, so basically I did this whole visual journalism project that I turned into a book about the people in the store and how they interacted with each other and their customers. I would have conversations with them and take notes, so it was kind of like a diary, but it included drawings from the shop and portraits of people that work there, and I called it Casa Latina. I’ve wanted to turn that into a picture book at some point because when I was going to the store I had it in my mind that although that store wasn’t around then, that’s the same neighborhood that my great-grandfather was spending a lot of time in and playing music in. So I got really invested in that area, and for a while, I’ve been keeping some drafts of stories that I want to do, some ideas to turn that project into a picture book. So yes, I definitely want to do a project that connects to that Puerto Rican background.

CC: What are you working on now?

LC: At the moment I’m working on a very unusual project for me, which is completely imagined, because so far, my three picture books have all come from some sort of life experience, and so I’m working on this early chapter book. It’s about the hedgehog character that I had drawn that kept popping up in my sketchbook, and it’s all animals and one human character, and it’s very much a made up story. And also it’s a long format book, which is a lot of fun since I don’t have a lot experience with that!

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MORE ABOUT LAUREN CASILLO: Lauren studied illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She is the author and illustrator of the 2015 Caldecott Honor winning book, Nana in the City, as well as The Troublemaker and Melvin and the Boy. Lauren has also illustrated several critically acclaimed picture books, including Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley, Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, and City Cat by Kate Banks. She currently draws and dreams in Harrisburg, PA. You can find out more about her at http://www.laurencastillo.com/

 

 

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

 

A Studio Visit with Illustrator Zara González Hoang

 

By Cecilia Cackley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc