Thank you for the feedback regarding the author/artist profile series - we look forward to featuring their work in upcoming newsletters.
This week's interview is with Rafael López, one of our favorite children's book illustrators...ever! Rafael's latest work is part of a collection of poems written by Margarita Engle, Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics.
Bravo! celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of a community that continues to evolve and thrive today. Biographical poems include: Aida de Acosta, Arnold Rojas, Baruj Benacerraf, César Chávez, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca, Félix Varela, George Meléndez, José Martí, Juan de Miralles, Juana Briones, Julia de Burgos, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Paulina Pedroso, Pura Belpré, Roberto Clemente, Tito Puente, Ynes Mexia and Tomás Rivera.
Where were you born?
I was born in Mexico City in the early 60's, the son of 2 hippie architects who surrounded themselves with artist friends of all kinds, musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, writers and dreamers. My father had serious book passion and collected old books. I remember our early adventures to La Lagunilla, a charming flea market in the north of the city where we searched for treasures heading back home with a serious stack of fascinating old books under our arms.
How did you get started in picture book illustration?
After illustrating for corporations and doing editorial work for almost 20 years, I received a call out of nowhere. This friendly voice on the other end explained that she worked for a small editorial house and had a project in mind for a children's book. For some reason she thought my work was a perfect fit for what she had in mind. I thought she had the wrong number explained to her that my work regularly included flames, skeletons and devils, a product of my Mexican culture, but she insisted. She was very persuasive and my first children's book My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia was born. It won the Americas Award and a Pura Belpre honor that year! Perhaps she knew something I wasn't aware of yet.
The research is always one of my favorite parts of developing a book because it is the genesis of new ideas and direction. I knew I wanted to try something unfamiliar and incorporate some of my personal experience in editorial work. I didn't want simply to create portraits but add something that spoke to the spirit of each individual. Margarita's poetry is immensely helpful, like listening to music, and her words weave their way into visual ideas and are often portrayed in the spot illustrations that are a carefully crafted side dish to every portrait. The fact that the Art Director had the courage to let me break away from traditional portraits and pursue something more graphic and experimental made all the difference.
Given that illustration is different than many day to day jobs, how do you manage your time and maintain a daily routine?
You are describing the allure and perils of illustration. Days full of bliss are quickly followed by moments of questioning or even outright terror. Thankfully most are filled with intrigue, discovery and gratitude for the opportunity to work with fascinating people and collaborate to create something out of lines scribbled on paper. Having a routine is difficult, so everyday you take on the challenge and get used to embracing the unexpected and making it part of your day.
What are your favorite children's books?
Ones that break rules and unzip your eyes. As an illustrator, I connect to stories and the effort of gifted illustrators who experiment with visuals that are conceptual and tell diverse stories. I try with every one of my books to push the innovation button as much as I can get away with. That is 90% of the magic and I have learned that young readers are way smarter than we give them credit for and can teach us all a thing or two about how to get along in this world. I work hard to stay fearless and full of hope like them. This moment is a golden age of possibility and telling diverse stories that value all young people is an experiment I want to be part of.
In 2012, he was selected by the Library of Congress to create the National Book Festival poster. He has been awarded the 2017 Tomás Rivera Children's Book Award, three Pura Belpré honors and two Américas Book Awards. The illustrations created by López bring diverse characters to children's books and he is driven to produce and promote books that reflect and honor the lives of all young people.
Bravo! Poems about amazing Hispanics.
and other great reads from La Casa Azul Bookstore's